First-half capitulation is the last straw for board
THE final whistle was still echoing off the back of the Bootham Crescent stands when a beleaguered Mark McGhee arrived to conduct what turned out to be his last post-match press conference.
"Here we go again," he said, as he slumped into one of the seats in the main stand. "Another inquisition."
Questions were asked and answered until someone said: "Do you think you'll get the time to turn this situation around?"
"I've no idea," replied McGhee, shrugging his shoulders. "I hope so. I think I deserve it. I've not been here a year yet and we have had quite a lot of setbacks since the summer.
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"I'm a realist, however, and I know how the game works. I still hope that I will be given time to go into the transfer market in January and next summer to build a better team for the start of next season."
Minutes later, McGhee took a phone call from Nick Higgs that dashed his hopes for good. The exact nature of the conversation which took place between chairman and manager remains private, but perhaps the sentence that spelled the ending of the Scotsman's time in charge at Rovers started with the words, "It is with regret".
Many supporters and other people associated with the club were willing McGhee to turn it around because he is a genuinely nice guy. Yet, when poor results are too often coupled with performances like the one Rovers served up on Saturday, the end is always going to be near.
Few would move to defend McGhee or criticise Higgs for firing the manager after a woeful first-half display at Bootham Crescent.
It may not be worth going into the gory details. Suffice to say, Rovers can't defend a cross, struggle when they are exposed to any sort of pace in behind and have no midfielder capable of putting his foot on the ball or dictating the tempo of a game.
There was an improved second-half performance play, but the damage had been done following an own-goal from Garry Kenneth, a double from Ashley Chambers and a single strike from Jason Walker before the break which York took with a 4-1 lead.
"There wasn't blood on the walls or anything like that," said McGhee, when asked what he said to his players in the changing room at half-time. Perhaps not, but the writing certainly was.
Maybe, the realisation that Rovers do not have immunity from relegation to the Blue Square Premier had finally resonated inside the boardroom. The timing of McGhee's sacking, just minutes after the final whistle, was the only surprise.
Who would have predicted that this campaign would have turned so sour towards the end of last season when it appeared that McGhee was being hailed as the manager Rovers had long been seeking.
Alarm bells suggesting that all was not perhaps as well as it seemed, started to ring early in the summer. McGhee showed, outwardly anyway, little urgency in terms of recruiting players to build a squad capable of, at the very least, challenging for promotion.
An untried youngster from Preston North End, Seanan Clucas, and former loanee Oliver Norburn, from Leicester, were the first to arrive, but did little to provoke excitement among supporters. The signing of former Bristol City striker David Clarkson, a man who had been plying his trade in the Championship over the previous three seasons, looked like a transfer coup, though.
McGhee sought to fill the centre of his defence by capturing Scotland international Kenneth and Faroe Islands international Rogvi Baldvinsson on the same day.
Unfortunately, Kenneth was short of his fighting weight following a five-month absence from action and he limped out of his first game with a calf injury that ultimately kept him out of contention for the first six weeks of the season.
As for Baldvinsson, he lasted just two weeks before he was sent packing. Signed on the recommendation of former Republic of Ireland boss Brian Kerr, backed up by a YouTube video, McGhee realised he had made a mistake after seeing the Faroe Islander given the runaround by a couple of non-league strikers in a game against Gloucester City.
It was decided that Baldvinsson was 'homesick' and that his time at the Memorial Stadium was at an end.
A striker then became a top priority, but McGhee was not keen on former fans' favourite Jamie Cureton, who was open to a move back to the Memorial Stadium, and instead turned his attentions towards Oxford United's James Constable.
Three attempts were made to prise Constable away – even though the final offer was believed to be some £85,000 short of the £225,000 Oxford had rebuffed from Swindon six months earlier.
The money was spent on defender Tom Parkes, instead, but it left McGhee short of options up front ahead of the new campaign. The ball-winning midfielder the team were crying out for had also still not arrived when Rovers lost 2-0 at home to Oxford on the opening day.
Injuries to key players Cian Bolger, Matt Harrold and Matt Gill did not help McGhee, who almost pulled off a major coup by persuading Ipswich to lend him Nathan Ellington before the Plymouth game on September 18.
Ellington decided against the move, however, so McGhee instead drafted in promising Bolton youngster Tom Eaves, ex-Celtic striker Derek Riordan and Fulham goalkeeper Neil Etheridge.
For a time, it looked like this short-term fix might work as Rovers embarked on a run of seven games in which they lost just once. A 3-1 defeat at AFC Wimbledon on October 23 halted that run and signalled the beginning of the end for McGhee.
Panic appeared to set in and constant tinkering with the team, along with employing players out of position, left him open to criticism from supporters, who complained of bizarre decisions by the manager. The strangest episode saw Jim Paterson used in midfield as McGhee deployed a 4-2-3-1 formation, only to suffer a 3-2 home defeat at the hands of Southend United.
That was a watershed moment and confirmed the view that McGhee seemed preoccupied with sending his players out with instructions designed to counter the opposition rather than take the game to them.
The manager remained defiant and a battling 3-3 draw at home to Bradford City suggested that the players were still on-side.
He managed to survive a 4-0 mauling at Port Vale – but three successive defeats culminating in Saturday first-half capitulation at Bootham Crescent was the final straw for a chairman who had perhaps toyed with the idea of letting McGhee limp along until the transfer window opened.