United were beaten 1-0 by league-leaders Scunthorpe United at Glanford Park this afternoon. A single goal early in the first half from Matt Sparrow pushed the home side closer to a return to League One while the U's hopes of a play-off place were left hanging by a thread.
In front of a Scunthorpe crowd hoping to celebrate promotion (Fleetwood's result elsewhere means that the champagne remains on ice) there were two changes to the United starting line-up as Alfie Potter and David Connolly returned in place of Ryan Williams and James Constable. As expected after 26 games without defeat, the home side started well and forced the U’s back and on 14 minutes were in front with the game's defining moment.
A neat ball inside David Hunt freed Michael Collins on the left edge of the area. He crossed instantaneously, Sam Winnall couldn’t convert but Sparrow had time and space to thrash his shot past the exposed Clarke and open the scoring.
The Yellows had an immediate chance to get on level terms when Potter sprinted clear but rolled his shot across goal and wide of the far post and the winger also saw a shot deflected into home keeper Sam Slocombe’s arms on 22, but whenever the U’s went forward there was the risk of a counter from the impressive Iron.
There was a let off on the half hour as the energetic Paddy Madden blocked an attempted clearance by Tom Newey and bore down on Clarke’s goal, forcing the ever-reliable keeper into yet another outstanding save at his feet which left United still in the game just 1-0 down at the break.
Connolly had taken a blow to the head just before the break and was replaced by James Constable at half time as United tried to break down a well-organised home defence. They came into the game and had a good spell at the start of the half but couldn’t quite find their way to a clear chance and were again grateful to Clarke for keeping them in the game with three superb saves.
First on the hour he denied the Iron as David Syers blasted at goal from 12 yards out. Clarke then made another good save from a Niall Canavan header, tipping the centre-half’s header over the bar at full stretch, before flying to his left on 75 to parry a terrific Terry Hawkridge free kick round the post.
There were a few nerves as the game went into the final ten minutes. United, knowing that results elsewhere were going against them, saw Constable thump a header into the turf and over on 82 with their best chance of the second half but the home side had been imperious and on the day the better side won the game. There was drama in time added on as Clarke went up for a corner and caused a bit of mayhem that ended with Constable heading wide amid deafening calls for the final whistle from the home fans before a final whistle that saw relief and smiles all around the home support.
United now go in to their final two games five points off the play-offs. It is not over - York still have to play at Glanford Park - but their destiny is no longer in their own hands this season.
Report by Chris Williams, Pictures by Darrell Fisher, Stats by Opta
See Highlights and Reaction in Yellow Player