Football / Play Off: York perfect the 12-yard route up

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Crewe Alexandra. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

York City. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

(aet; 90 min score 0-0; York win 5-3 on pens)

FINALISTS used to spend the dwindling hours before Wembley kick-offs talking to Des, testing the turf and re- knotting their match ties. Now they practise penalties.

Both Crewe and York were hard at it on Saturday morning, honing their spot-kick skills in the run-up to the Third Division play-off decider. Alan Little, the City manager, had been forewarned. 'Another manager, who I won't name, rang me up and told me to get the players practising penalties so I could sort out my penalty-takers. He had gone out in similar circumstances and wanted to make sure we didn't make the same mistake.'

The advice - believed to emanate from Bill Green, whose Scunthorpe United side fell to Blackpool at Wembley last season - proved inspired, Little's famous five (McCarthy, Barnes, Canham, Pepper and Hall) responding with expertly placed strikes. The training-ground sessions not only sharpened the Minstermen's marksmanship from 12 yards, they also served to drill York's keeper, Dean Kiely, in the art of anticipating the taker's intentions. His confident smothering of Crewe's third, from Gareth Whalley, one of Dario Gradi's teenage tyros, set up York's victory.

Such ersatz conclusions, which are gaining currency and credence in Japan and the United States, are considered highly unsatisfactory here, but there was a measure of justice in the outcome. York, who finished above Alex, just shaded the final against a Crewe team who never fully managed to add the requisite menace to their delightful possession play.

Gradi's Gresty Road production line is admired - Tony Naylor, a strong and skilful penalty-box hustler, will surely follow Platt and Jones, Thomas and Hignett - but York showed that in Kiely and Jon McCarthy, they too can field potential representatives of the elite (Wimbledon's Joe Kinnear and Sam Hammam were not there solely for the sunshine).

McCarthy, who joined York while at Nottingham Poly, is a 22-year-old of promise, his close control and dribbling from the deep a constant threat to Crewe's defenders. The Teessider's cool conversion of City's first spot- kick set the tone for the rest.

Two McCarthy runs, in the second half of normal time, almost prevented the extra events but after weaving his way into scoring positions he shot against the base of the post and then skied over. A Gary Swann drive engineered York's breakthrough in the first period of extra time but then a penalty ensured penalties. Steve Tutill inexplicably handled and the impressive Dave McKearney rammed home the punishment.

A tearful Tutill stood in the centre- circle with his back to the deadball denouement until Wayne Hall's triumphant final kick sent York into the Second Division.

Goals: Swann (104) 0-1; McKearney pen (119) 1-1.

Crewe Alexandra: M Smith; McKearney, S Smith, Evans, Carr, Whalley, Ward, Naylor, Lennon, Walters (Clarkson, 104), Edwards (Woodward, 70).

York City: Kiely; McMillan, Hall, Pepper, Stancliffe (Tutill, 107), Atkin, McCarthy, Canham, Barnes, Swann, Blackstone. Substitute not used: Borthwick.

Referee: A Gunn (South Chailey, Sussex).