York City: 2012-13 season preview
For most football fans, the wall-to-wall coverage of Euro 2012 and the Olympic Games has banished the customary pre-season blues. However, it has been scant distraction for the York City faithful, for whom Saturday 18th August has been a long time coming.
While the players will be focused on kick-starting their npower League 2 campaign with a win, the fans will allow themselves to revel in the enormity of the occasion, as Wycombe Wanderers visit Bootham Crescent for the season-opener. The first whistle will signify the end of an eight-year spell in the wilderness, and a long overdue return to the Football League.
Last Saturday's Capital One Cup first-round tie marked the side's first official foray back into league competition, as Doncaster Rovers made the short trip north to meet their local rivals. While a frustrating shoot-out defeat denied the Minstermen a fairytale comeback, it did little to dampen the optimism of a side still riding high from last season's success.
Victory in the FA Trophy final was followed by a 2-1 triumph over Luton in the play-off final – a match that will live long in the memory of all who witnessed it. Wembley has become a happy hunting-ground for the club, and an apt arena in which to display the neat, passing style instilled by boss Gary Mills. Fuelled by boundless confidence, and the funds accumulated from a pair of Wembley trips, Mills' side are in perfect position to take the league by storm.
However, Saturday's fixture will be a baptism by fire. Wycombe spent the 2011-12 season in League 1, and will be hungry to prove that they possess the requisite quality to move straight back up.
This is followed by a gnarly midweek trip to Morecambe, that will see City take on the side who scuppered their 2006-07 play-off campaign at the semi-final stage. Bootham Crescent will then play host to Oxford United – York's conquerors in the heartbreaking 2010 play-off final – in what is sure to be a fiery affair.
While York City's summer has been one of anticipation and excitement, Oxford's has been rife with instability. The departure of chairman Kelvin Thomas, and constant speculation as to the future of talismanic striker James Constable have heaped pressure onto a side desperate to redeem themselves, following a dismal end to their last campaign.
Mills intends to avoid such upheaval, and consequently, the starting eleven is likely to feature several of last year's Wembley heroes. However, Mills has been shrewd in the transfer market, to ensure that City's squad is deep enough to maintain the challenge until the last day of the season. Former Oxford United marksman Oli Johnson will offer another attacking outlet, while the returning Jonathan Smith and Lee Bullock will bolster the midfield in their second spells at the club.
Michael Coulson also appears to be an impressive acquisition, and delighted the crowd by scoring a long-range effort on his début against Doncaster.
Once the initial excitement subsides, most realistic supporters would be satisfied by the club consolidating its league status. However, Mills is likely to aim higher, and will be encouraged by the topsy-turvy nature of League 2.
Crewe Alexandra recovered from a woeful start to gain promotion last season, while Southend United seemed sure of an automatic promotion place, only to lose out in the lottery of the play-offs. Now cash-strapped, the Shrimpers face a difficult season, having let several of their marquee names go.
Mills is experienced enough to know that fortunes change quickly in the lower echelons of the game, and that his side are more than capable of making the transition from non-league competition. The opening fixtures will make an interesting yardstick, but even a sluggish start is redeemable, and City could well find themselves in the mix for play-off spots at the back-end of the season.
For now though, let's all hold off on the predictions, and just enjoy the moment. City are back.