BURY went to Bootham Crescent praying for a miracle that never came as the Minstermen’s strong-arm tactics denied David Flitcroft’s side the victory they needed to keep their season alive.
Keith Lowe handed York an early lead which they staunchly protected with a mixture of tough tackling and “gamesmanship”, according to the Shakers boss, who described their first defeat in eight matches as galling and deflating.
The three points kept Nigel Worthington’s side in the final League Two play-off spot and opened up an unassailable 10-point gap over 10th-placed Bury, with two games remaining.
“I know how important it was for us to keep the season alive and I’m deflated because we did more than enough to win the match,” said Flitcroft.
“We dominated the game but we’ve been beaten and it’s galling.”
Top scorer Daniel Nardiello clearly shared his manager’s frustration, picking up two bookings in quick succession to be given his marching orders with 10 minutes remaining.
At that point, Bury had four strikers on the pitch and were beginning to work up a head of steam after struggling to impose their passing game in the face of a barrage of niggling challenges.
“That was probably frustration from how it was refereed,” said Flitcroft, describing the red mist that descended on Nardiello.
“It’s the small decisions you have got to get right. We were playing against a set-piece team that love stopping the flow and tempo of a game and love destroying football.
“Look at their results – they are very good at it.
“It’s the gamesmanship – the stopping of the play, the late fouls, the professional fouls – it all adds up and you have got to have a really strong referee to stamp it out.”
Conceding in the fifth minute unfortunately played into York’s hands.
The Bury defence were caught flat-footed as Will Hayhurst’s corner was swung in and Lowe – the Minstermen’s centre-back – was able to side-foot the ball inside the far post.
Calvin Andrew almost doubled York’s lead moments later when he unleashed a 30-yard rocket that Brian Jensen did well to tip over.
That was the final save the Shakers stopper had to make all game, but the visitors never really looked comfortable, as York’s aggressive style ruffled their feathers.
The usually unflappable centre-back Pablo Mills looked nervous and edgy in possession while Bury’s central midfielders – Chris Sedgwick and Andrew Tutte – were unable to sustain any meaningful possession.
Hallam Hope, however, was a constant threat to the home defence.
The 20-year-old striker, on loan from Everton, twice stole in behind before taking the ball around keeper Nick Pope, but centre-back John McCombe cleared his first effort off the line and he failed to turn his second chance on target.
Flitcroft’s men started to get more joy after the break as Danny Mayor tested Pope with a snapshot he just managed to turn past the post.
But the Minstermen always posed a danger from set-pieces and the referee’s assistant had to come to Bury’s rescue, flagging for offside after McCombe turned home the loose ball following a high free kick into the box.
Buoyed by a Soares strike that whistled just over the bar from 12 yards, Flitcroft threw on the cavalry.
But after referee Geoff Eltringham refused several opportunities to book York players for late tackles, he suddenly found his cards for Nardiello, who was punished for two mis-timed challenges in the space of eight minutes.
It is testament to Bury’s new-found belief under Flitcroft that they continued to pour forward, but while Rose and Soares created chances, none of them were clear-cut.
“We’ve tried to do everything to win this football match so I can’t ask any more from anyone associated with the badge,” said Flitcroft.
“We’ve had good momentum and we’ve worked hard to get in this position.
“It’s been an adventure. Unfortunately, it’s ended, but now the journey is over it gives me another adventure to plan for next season.”
And if Bury can rekindle the same form and attitude they have shown in recent weeks, it is unlikely Flitcroft and the Shakers will need to rely on miracles come the final reckoning next year.
YORK CITY: Pope; Oyebanjo, Lowe, McCombe, Davies; Brobbel , Penn, Montrose, Hayhurst (Reed 46); Coulson (Bowman 90+2), Andrew.
Not used: McGurk, Jarvis, Platt, Allan, Ingham.
BURY: Jensen 6; Jones 7, Mills 6 (Cameron 90+2), McNulty 6, Hussey 6; Soares 6, Sedgwick 7 (Rose 6 59), Tutte 6 (Platt 6 74), Mayor 6; Hope 7, Nardiello 5. Not used: Procter, Miller, Charles-Cook, Obadeyi.
Goals: York – Lowe 5.
Yellow cards: York – Andrew 41, McCombe 89. Bury – Mills 63, Nardiello 72 & 80.
Red cards: Nardiello 80.
Referee: Geoff Eltringham (County Durham).
Attendance: 5,225 (976 visiting).
Star man: Hallam Hope – The 20-year-old striker, on-loan from Everton, has gone four games without scoring, but he could not have come much closer at Bootham Crescent. He never shied away from the battle against two of the most imposing centre-backs in the division and always showed for the ball – despite taking a clattering on more than one occasion. The rough treatment was probably testament to the danger he posed after twice getting in behind the defence in the first half. Hope showed great composure to take the ball around the keeper each time, but just missed the clinical finish his approach play deserved.