A LANDMARK day for right-back Joe Oastler was the happy side-issue to a perfect day for the Gulls at York City.
The young defender scored his first professional goal on the hour-mark to seal a 2-0 win for the Yellows after Danny Stevens had struck early to erase the bad memories of recent defeats.
United boss Martin Ling made three changes to the side swept aside by Southend at Plainmoor last weekend, one enforced, one tactical and one fitness-based. Firstly, goalkeeper Michael Poke was restored in place of Martin Rice after recovering from an abductor strain.
A red card shown to captain Lee Mansell against the Shrimpers ruled him out of a midfield that also saw Damon Lathrope withdrawn for strategic reasons. Nathan Craig, therefore moved in from the left flank to support Craig Easton.
The two vacant slots went to Stevens, recalled to wing-duty, and Ryan Jarvis, who was given the task of operating alongside Rene Howe in attack. The Yellow bench included new loan signing Angus MacDonald after he rejoined the Gulls from Reading in midweek.
York manager Gary Mills made just one alteration to the side that battled back to secure an impressive 2-2 draw at Port Vale last weekend, with Jon Challinor preferred to Ashley Chambers.
A painfully slow start to proceedings was perhaps welcome for the Gulls, as Ling’s team sought to settle down after the 4-1 hammering by Southend, although York also entered the game on a dismal run of no wins in their previous six attempts.
From nowhere, United took a vital lead after a fine run by Billy Bodin allowed Kevin Nicholson to make an overlap down the left, and his dangerous cross was met by Stevens with a terrific first touch and the finish was even better.
The contribution of Nicholson could not be under-stated but Stevens, back in the side after a season blighted by niggling injuries, deserves the greatest credit for such an assured finish.
It was the perfect start for the Gulls and the chance to protect their lead was taken with stoic determination, as York were denied the space or time to generate any rhythm in their normally-fluid passing game.
When the Minstermen did threaten a breach of the visiting defence, Poke was equal to the shot from Matty Blair after his break from midfield. At the other end, Howe was in typically combative mood, ruffling a few York feathers with his industrious approach.
Poke was called into action again moments later, saving well from an ambitious drive by Lanre Oyebanjo. Bodin responded with an instant counter and Michael Ingham needed his wits about him to block the eventual effort from his goal-line.
United’s former Swindon youngster had an even better opening on the half-hour after being picked out by a sweet cross from Nicholson but a poor first touch allowed York to scramble clear.
On the defensive side, Brian Saah had stepped in as replacement captain and his leadership style was one of outstanding bravery, throwing his sizeable frame in front of a fierce volley by Danny Kearns to prevent a certain equaliser.
It was a block that summed up the growing momentum being built up by the home side and the Gulls were also grateful to a fine clearance from Aaron Downes after a dangerous Blair cross two minutes before the interval.
A solid first half ended with United’s lead intact but the home side came out strong from the restart, and Poke was soon required to palm clear a vicious cross by Alex Rodman. The Gulls survived the foray and settled back into a pattern of composed containment.
There was also the constant desire to double the Yellow advantage and a superb turn from Howe allowed the big forward to whip over a quick cross that narrowly evaded the run of Jarvis. Seconds later, a deflected shot from Howe looped inches over.
York came back quickly with a powerful strike from Rodman, expertly repelled by Poke and Nicholson was in the right place to help out his ‘keeper, and hack clear. Rodman was emerging as the main threat and Oastler needed a stern header to thwart the winger from a deep cross.
After introducing Scott Kerr at half-time, Mills made a double-change on the hour, introducing the forward combo of Chambers and Jason Walker. Surprisingly, Rodman was withdrawn along with the ineffective Jamie Reed.
The change had the opposite effect for York and United’s hero was the unlikeliest name on show, as Oastler profited from strong work by Howe to score from close range. It was a marvellous pass from Howe after being released by Bodin and Oastler’s finish was calm and confident.
The plaudits swiftly shuffled to the imperious Saah, as he made yet another brave challenge to thwart the increasingly frustrated Minstermen. Oastler then returned to his day-job with a brilliant tackle in the box on Kearns.
United were in control and Ling had the luxury of replacing the hardworking Jarvis with the stabilising influence of Lathrope in a move that enabled Craig to push further forward in support of Howe.
Poke was returned to the fore moments later with a brace of fantastic saves to stifle a shot by Kearns and then a Challinor header from the subsequent corner. Thomas Cruise was then brought on in place of Stevens for the closing minutes.
York needed a flash of inspiration from somewhere but a hopeful free-kick from Oyebanjo was never likely to be the source, as he was charged down by the excellent Nicholson. Bodin, meanwhile, was terrific in working the channels at the other end. Ling’s final change was a first outing of the season for Saul Halpin in place of Howe.
Naturally, the home side toiled to the end but this was United’s afternoon, and in the context of recent disappointments, it was an admirable performance, full of impressive character, courage and cohesion.
The final word goes to Saah and Downes, who, after a tough day against Southend, were back to their magnificent best at the heart of United’s defence. Added to that was Poke, who was fabulous on his return to the side.
York (4-3-3): 24 Michael Ingham; 2 Lanre Oyebanjo, 4 Chris Smith, 23 Chris Doig, 16 Jamal Fyfield; 6 Danny Parslow (8 Scott Kerr H-T), 17 Matty Blair, 20 Jon Challinor; 28 Daniel Kearns, 33 Alex Rodman (10 Ashley Chambers 59), 7 Jamie Reed (9 Jason Walker 59). Substitutes (not used): 1 Paul Musselwhite (GK), 3 Danny Blanchett, 5 David McGurk, 26 Patrick Mclaughlin.
United (4-4-1-1): 1 Michael Poke; 2 Joe Oastler, 5 Brian Saah (capt), 4 Aaron Downes, 3 Kevin Nicholson; 15 Billy Bodin, 18 Craig Easton, 20 Nathan Craig, 19 Danny Stevens (21 Thomas Cruise 82); 8 Ryan Jarvis (6 Damon Lathrope 76); 9 Rene Howe (17 Saul Halpin 89). Substitutes (not used): 13 Martin Rice (GK), 16 Angus MacDonald, 23 Ashley Yeoman, 29 Niall Thompson.
Booked: Oastler 73, Howe 87
Referee: Rob Lewis