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Have a Kit Kat

Your editor has long forgotten the joys of long Northern away trips in recent years, what with being in a profession that does require you to work Saturdays.

Which is why Third From Bottom 0 Third From Top 2 will be savoured a bit more at SW19 Towers than usual.

OK, it’s still too early in the season, we’re bound to come a cropper at Chesterfield next week, and we’re awaiting the inevitable collapse in form that will see us glad we managed to get all these points that we have.

But right now, you don’t care about that.

To be fair, I don’t think this would count as one of our best performances of the season, somehow. But we did something yesterday that we haven’t quite been able to do in the last couple of campaigns, which may make the next eight months a lot more enjoyable – we’re able to go to these sort of venues and get a good result these days.

York aren’t that good (and more on them later), but in the past this would have been a 0-0 at the very best. And even so yesterday, there were still a few moments of nervousness that previously would have cost us.

But the confidence is up, and we’re trying to win the ball back whenever we lose it. And when we do get the odd chance to score, we’re starting to take them more (although Smith’s first goal really did come out of nothing except a long ball).

We did all that yesterday, which is why we’ve got the three points and we won’t be spending this week brooding about how shit we are. Something that has happened a lot recently, and we’re taking it all the while we can.

We are in nosebleed territory once again, and this is the highest we’ve been in the table since the early stages of the first FL season for AFCW. Could we go on another slump like we did back then, where the stats of that bleak run are still eyewatering?

You sense that we won’t, simply because there’s more to this collection of players. Much more. We’ve got a couple of games coming up that even now still make you plop your pants a bit, but should we lose them both they would be considered a blip rather than anything more fundamental.

The game? A lot of it was League Two nothingness, to be honest. Plenty of head tennis at times, and we were on the back foot a little bit more than the result suggests, although I don’t think York were anywhere near good enough to properly hurt us.

We more or less did what we had to do, and did it well enough. Arthur (or if you’re the researcher at Sky Sports News, Porter) came on and made the best impact possible within a minute. Almost literally. That killed the game there and then, although if it hadn’t one suspects we could have still gone up a gear.

Midson once again was on the bench, once again he came on and once again he left the field without scoring. And the longer that goes on… That said though, the usual score-once-and-he’ll-score-many-more-times theory still applies, and he’s certainly still trying.

A lot of people don’t seem happy with Worner. Personally, I don’t think he’s any worse than most keepers in this division – he doesn’t flap at crosses, he’s quick to the ball, and if his double save against Fleetwood is anything to go by, he can stop shots too.

OK, his kicking on his right foot is still iffy, although it’s a lot better in the month he’s been playing properly with us, but as somebody pointed out yesterday – our defenders are trusting him a lot more these days.

Speaking of our back line, it’s definitely better with Benno and Framo at the back. Though admittedly I am comparing it to the Brentford game. We seem to say it every week, but it looks like a unit these days.

What has been genuinely impressive is how Fenlon and Weston have come in where needed and you’ve almost forgotten they’ve hardly played this season. Fenlon in particular yesterday.

Granted, he won’t play every game because he’s still 19 years old. Although he has clearly worked on his physique in the close season. But one would have expected Sweeney not to be benched so soon.

But that’s good, because we finally know that if one gets injured, we have another to readily replace them. Except maybe up front, and we are still short of one decent centre back (I still don’t rate Antwi as much as others). And that’s before we start dipping into the u21s…

Speaking of which – Charlie Fayers on the bench yesterday? Not bad for somebody who signed his first pro contract this close season, although I think I would have liked us to be 5-0 to see him come on.

We may see more of him on the bench, ditto Bamba and Beere, especially if injuries start hitting us. Though one wonders how much of it is simply giving these kids a taster of what it’s like to travel up with the first team squad, overnight with them, get them used to pre-match discipline and preparation etc.

But then, you want to see that. Plenty has been written about our development system on here, and finally it’s looking like it’s serving the needs of a club in the Football League.

Earlier this week, yoof teamer Dan Pearse spoke about it, and Shaun North in particular seems to be getting a lot of the credit. Remember in the close season SW19 said that North could be one of the most important signings in 2013? Starting to look that way already, isn’t it?

I don’t doubt that NA asked North whether Fayers was ready for his initial first team outing, and one would presume there’s a plan involved for the other promising youngsters.

We’ll need the big guns for Chesterfield and Burton, but perhaps we might see him on the bench against t’Stanley? We need to develop and bring through our own, and thankfully it looks like we’re starting to do it.

Got to be honest here and say that Sammy Moore is improving again. In a way he was lucky he still had another season on his contract in the summer, because he couldn’t have had many complaints if he was on the “out” list.

The scurrilous rumour mill suggested that after the Exeter game, NA told all the squad to focus on football and not on sideline ventures – reportedly aimed at Midson and SM. How true that is I don’t know, but you have to say his performances have improved since he seemed to stop flogging Herbalife…

There are still many “what ifs…?” about our squad, but they’re nice ones to have. And yes, we all know that Smith is on loan, but you suspect NA and co are already making plans for January.

At least, I hope so.

Plus points: We won. Away. Clean sheet. Smith’s two goals. Winning without playing spectacularly well. Looking reasonably solid at the back. Worner’s kicking with his right foot. Framo playing with a big head bandage. It didn’t rain.

Minus points: No goals for Midson. The realisation that Smith is on loan.

The referee’s a…: He had a head. And he wore purple. Put “purple” and “head” together and that’s the part of the body he was.  His assistants weren’t much better – somebody suggested in the second half we kept playing down the left because the lino on the other side was a Frannie…

Them: They have a long, hard season ahead of them if yesterday is anything to go by. I know that we’re paranoid whenever the other team even gets within 30 yards of our penalty box, but they were, well, flat.

They seemed to be like us this time last season – they too had a massive cull in the summer, and managed to bring in players who were as bad as they were last time out. Those ITK suggest that their budget isn’t much bigger than ours, which makes you wonder just how much of it is down to management.

Their keeper applauded us at the end, and others say that he was rolling his eyes at their performance. Which is never a good sign for any team. At least he didn’t turn around and tell us to fuck off, unlike a certain other keeper at that end…

Your editor got a rare joy of listening to local radio after the game, which is always fun after we win, and I think the switchboard at BBC Radio York must have been re-routing all calls to the local Samaritans branch. Comments like “dire”, “awful”, “lifeless”,  and “no passion” could have sounded like any of us at too many points last season.

Mind you, there was the somewhat brilliant comment made by one individual, who said that in the last five minutes they’d started to make words about the game from letters off advertising hoardings. Oddly, I didn’t see any adverts for Sheffield Hallam Institute of Technology…

Point to ponder: We’re all still pinching ourselves over our good start – but should we be?

The phrase “much of a muchness” gets used a lot about this division, and I wonder if we’re surprised because, let’s be honest here – we collectively still know little about this division.

Our current squad is solid, if sometimes unspectacular. It’s working hard, in many ways, and we look like a team that can dig in and fight for results. There’s no little skill either, and it’s full of players who have plied their trade in this very division. And if Pell had managed to hit the net rather than the bar at the end yesterday, scouts everywhere would be trying to get in for the Burton game.

In short, nothing significantly different from your Rochdales, or Cheltenhams, or Southends over the years.

It was mentioned a fair bit in the close season, but it feels we’re playing right now with a point to prove. It may be clearing with each passing weekend, but there’s still a bit of a mental hangover from last time out which I think is currently driving us along. Perhaps even just simply a case of getting things out of our system.

And I wonder how much of this good start is down to NA finally putting his stamp on the squad? He needed a good start after so much talk about getting one, and that’s exactly what he did. The identifying of players has, for the most part, been good and the approach of getting a team together rather than highly paid individuals has clearly worked.

So if he’s sitting at home this morning feeling vindicated, he’s got every right to be.

Your editor mentioned listening to BBC Radio York yesterday, and they had Worthington on. He basically sounded like Mr Cliche, coming up with stuff like “sticking together”, “working harder”, “digging in” and other such platitudes that really don’t mean much.

He had that kind of 0f air about him that TB had in his dying days as AFCW manager, and listening to him you wouldn’t have felt particularly lifted and raring to go for the next game.

Even at our lowest ebbs (plural) last time out, NA never had that kind of defeatism. He was pretty pissed off, but that’s different (and probably better) to sound like believing you’re doomed.

Maybe we’re doing well simply because NA pushes the players a lot harder than other managers do? Both physically and between the ears too.

Yesterday, we kept going even when we were 2-0 up. In fact, more so. We know what happened with Scunthorpe and the three points we didn’t expect at half time.  Teams who do well tend to do that, and it might be that straightforward.

Of course, if it was that simple every manager would be able to do it. It’s telling that a rookie like Ardley has managed to get his side playing well, whereas a former international manager in Worthington – who had a similar clean slate and apparent similar budget to ourselves – hasn’t.

We all expect things to turn to shit, but should they? Indeed, if anything, there’s a sense that we can even get better…

Truth is stranger than fiction: 1) Your editor going to a game at Bootham Crescent and not see us lose 5-0. Or 4-1. Or getting the game called off. Or it raining. Wonders will never cease. 2) BBC Radio York playing interviews of Friday’s England game on their main sport bulletin. To be fair, with it being Yorkshire they only just found out the result. 3) Any reason why Ashley Bayes pointed to his watch at the end of the game in the post-match applauding? 4) Pixies songs, fans thinking they were watching Swindon, and one female fan talking about penetration. I bet the train journey home was fun. 5) Chasing a rainbow back home yesterday. No, literally. The bastard nearly caught us up as well…

Anything else? I dunno if there is much else to add right now, to be honest. Nothing major seems wrong, for a start.

Perhaps that’s the biggest thing right now – there isn’t really much to complain about? Little gripes here and there, and any issues with how the club does things aren’t exactly new.

Yesterday was enjoyable in so many ways, that even the football didn’t ruin things for once. If anything, it enhanced it. And while the close season was about doing it better and making sure we didn’t struggle again, we still had to go out and do it.

And that wasn’t guaranteed.

We’re clearly more relaxed and enjoying things at AFCW again, which is what football should be all about of course. But it’s games like yesterday where you get to appreciate that.

Walking out of the ground with that post-victory buzz, and that sense that we’re actually not too bad is a very nice feeling to have. Even now, there’s not much complacency about these sort of victories – we do still savour and appreciate wins right now.

And this is when we’re genuinely doing well. Imagine if we’d got off to the start that York have had. Or Hartlepool. Or even Northampton. That would have been a serious test of the character and patience, and probably one more test of the faith too far.

It would have been a case of yet another close season where it hadn’t worked out, that the NA revolution wasn’t having any more effect than anyone else, and it was yet another season of struggling to cope with the Football League.

You can cope with the odd crap season, most clubs do, but to go through it all again would just have pounded any remaining enthusiasm into the ground. And for a club and a set of supporters who appreciate being in the 91 Club more than most…

Your editor saw a few Barnet fans at Leicester Forest services on the way back, and I really didn’t want to be in their position. Not just because they lost 2-1 to Halifax yesterday, but because their whole Football League existence was built upon finishing just one place above the drop zone.

I’d rather much be the club we’re trying to be than the sort of outfit they’ve been. We might be having nosebleeds at being third, and we might roll our eyes whenever players say we’re aiming for the playoffs, but that ambition is really no bad thing.

After all, chanting “we are staying up” yesterday is so much better when it’s done tongue-in-cheek than when it’s 100% serious…

So, was it worth it? Four hour journey up to t’Yorkshire to see us win? Nah…

In a nutshell: We are staying up