Football / Third Division: Pepper spices York's assault: Derick Allsop sees York City open up a seven-point lead with a 2-1 win at Scunthorpe

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EXAMINATION time for Nigel Pepper arrived in the 87th minute. Only three minutes earlier he had lofted the ball high over the crossbar when a winning goal seemed a formality, and now he had the chance again, from the penalty spot.

The earlier blemish consigned to history, he calmly converted, just as he had on four previous occasions this season, York City had their victory and with it a seven-point lead at the top of the Third Division.

Confidence is a potent ingredient and the self-belief now evident in the performances of midfield player Pepper and full-back Andy McMillan provide a measure of York's restoration.

'We always knew the likes of Pepper and McMillan could play,' their manager, John Ward, said, 'and this season, with experienced players such as Paul Stancliffe, Gary Swann and John Borthwick forming the backbone of the side, the potential of these lads is being brought out. Now they think only in terms of going forward and winning the match, and we knew this one was going to be tough.

'Last year we couldn't get out of the bottom four, even when we went seven matches unbeaten. Now I tell the players that if they get the points at this stage it might be hard for anyone to shift them out of the top three.'

Barnet's inactivity at the weekend gave York the opportunity to extend their advantage, although Scunthorpe were admirably reluctant to accommodate their aspirations. Stancliffe, for all his battle-hardened resilience, was subjected to a torrid afternoon by centre-forward Jason White, who was rewarded with a 34th-minute equaliser.

York, however, were worthy of their win. Their willingness to employ wide players and press the opposition might have settled the issue long before Pepper's intervention. Jon McCarthy, who swept in York's opening goal after 28 minutes, constantly stretched Scunthorpe's defence and was twice close to scoring again in the second half. With more assured finishing, York's hunger would have been satisfied long before the end.

Graham Alexander struck the outside of York's post following a free-kick, but Scunthorpe can scarcely curse their luck. Nor can they complain about the penalty award. Borthwick's persistence put centre-half Matthew Elliott under pressure and he clumsily brought the striker to ground.

Others may find it difficult to bring down York this winter. True, Walsall and Scarborough maintained their promotion challenges with wins and, like Barnet, have played fewer games than the leaders. There is, however, a sense of purpose and prosperity about York. They have a settled team - only 12 players have been used in their starting line-up this season - and apparently sound guidance.

'We didn't panic last year and we're not shouting about our position now,' Ward said. 'But I know which situation I prefer.'

Goals: McCarthy (29) 0-1; White (34) 1-1; Pepper pen (87) 1-2.

Scunthorpe United: Whitehead; Stevenson, Longden, Broddle (Daws, 81), Elliott, McCullagh, Greaves, Alexander, White, Goodacre (Buckley, 81), Helliwell.

York City: Kiely; McMillan, Hall, Pepper (Tutill, 89), Stancliffe, Atkin, McCarthy (Canham, 80), Borthwick, Barnes, Swann, Blackstone.

Referee: J Watson (Whitley Bay).