The two pre-season title-favourites, York City and Salford City, come face-to-face in a key clash at Bootham Crescent this weekend.
One of those has certainly lived up to their top-billing as the visitors are currently five points clear of the rest with fourteen games remaining.
Meanwhile, the other has endured a difficult first season at this level, with a whole catalogue of inconsistent displays soon ruining their own chances of automatic promotion.
Now it’s a case of work in progress for their latest manager Martin Gray following his succession to three-time Wembley winner Gary Mills in October.
However, York should still make the play-offs; although their all-too-regular ‘off-days’ continue to seriously threaten hopes of fighting through a sure-to-be hugely competitive series of elimination fixtures.
Salford are themselves looking to recover from a couple of recent away defeats to promotion rivals Brackley Town – one of those in the league and the other in the FA Trophy – while also notably being turned over at neighbours FC United of Manchester.
There will be a special presentation at half-time to the family of late, great York legend Keith Walwyn: his 1983-84 Fourth Division championship shirt recently recovered by the football club and accordingly funded by its eternally grateful and devoted supporters.
“You want to challenge yourselves against the top teams, so mentality and discipline are important,” manager Martin Gray told BBC Radio York. “We want to win this game, as Salford are going to want to win; so from a neutral’s point of view it sets itself up for a fantastic game.
“Defensively they are very strong. I don’t see them conceding many goals. I see them winning lots of games 1-0, 2-1,” he continued. “They are a very solid unit. They haven’t got a Jon Parkin in the team that scores 25 goals. But equally having a strong defence is as good as having Jon Parkin. They are ahead of everybody because they do things better in that department and we’ve got to make sure we become better as well.”
York City Team News:
The Minstermen have key players returning with 25-goal leading marksman Jon Parkin available having missed the latest 1-1 draw at Tamworth due to the artificial playing surface. Highly-rated midfielder Alex Pattison also rejoins the squad after re-signing on loan from Middlesbrough for the remainder of the season. Striker Louis Almond is another back in contention following his recovery from a dislocated shoulder.
York City (probable): Bartlett, Brown, Burn, Bencherif, Ferguson, Moke, Heslop, Newton, Pattison, Connolly, Parkin
subs (from): Simpson, Law, Parslow, Almond, Gray, Smith, Correia
Player to watch: Alex Pattison
The Middlesbrough youngster could be the spark that suddenly ignites a serious play-off challenge.
Salford City Team News:
The visitors are currently missing midfielder Scott Burton due to a seven-game suspension after receiving successive red cards over Christmas.
Salford City (probable): Crocombe, Nottingham, Touray, Maynard, Piergianni, Hogan, Haughton, Mafuta, Phenix, Redshaw, Walker
subs: Livesey, Shelton, Beesley, Dudley, Askew
Player to watch: Liam Hogan
Skipper and centre-back who has already scored in both earlier meetings with York.
Match Facts & Stats
This is a first-ever meeting at Bootham Crescent.
York – Curzon Ashton (A); Salford – Alfreton (A)
Friday Game: FC United of Manchester v Chorley
AFC Telford v North Ferriby; Alfreton v Tamworth; Blyth v Brackley; Boston v Curzon Ashton; Bradford PA v Darlington; Gainsborough v Southport; Leamington v Harrogate; Spennymoor v Kidderminster; Stockport v Nuneaton; York City v Salford