FOOTBALL fans are prone to over-exaggeration. Many, for example, will have complained at some stage, after a particularly disappointing day in front of goal, that their team would not have scored if they had played all week.
Well, if you put together the number of games midfielder Scott Kerr had gone without scoring prior to getting the goal that sent York City through to the FA Trophy semi-finals at Grimsby Town on Saturday, he would quite literally have been playing non-stop football for more than seven whole days.
Kerr had gone 121 games, or in excess of 180 hours, since he last hit the back of the net and then he managed the feat twice in one match, bagging a brace in former club Lincoln’s 2-0 win at Accrington Stanley back in April, 2009.
One, though, proved sufficient at Blundell Park. His 83rd-minute header secured a superb 1-0 victory for City, who now lie just one two-legged tie away from clinching a third Wembley final appearance in four seasons.
Perhaps just as surprising as Kerr’s goal hero billing, meanwhile, was the employment of left-back James Meredith alongside him in a three-man midfield.
But, following the 2-1 midweek home defeat at Gateshead, manager Gary Mills once more proved himself an astute tactician, as Meredith’s inclusion provided the Minstermen with greater energy in the middle of the park.
Meredith came in for Scott Brown while Mills’ other change to his starting line up saw Jon Challinor replaced at right-back by Lanre Oyebanjo, who went on to deliver the cross for Kerr’s goal.
Oyebanjo joined a visiting defence that became the first to keep a clean sheet against Grimsby – the Blue Square Bet Premier’s leading marks-men at home – in 14 matches.
Skipper Smith contested every ball for his team alongside the assured Doig, while Ingham made smart saves and displayed impeccable judgement off his line.
At the other end of the pitch, Ashley Chambers’ constant movement and willingness to attack the Mariners’ defence was the highlight with Jason Walker still struggling to recapture his early season form.
Walker is going through a lean spell of Kerr-like proportions by his own high standards. Either side of suffering a groin injury, he has now failed to net in nine games since claiming his last goal four months ago in mid-October at Hayes & Yeading and was substituted just past the hour mark for the third successive match.
Earlier, City had made a bright start with Doig heading wide from a Chambers cross.
Walker then failed to trouble home ’keeper James McKeown twice from distance while Ingham saved a curling free-kick from Conor Townsend before Anthony Church’s 15-yard effort bounced across the face of the former Northern Ireland international’s goal.
After Chambers drove narrowly wide, Ingham rushed out of his goal to deny Grimsby’s 26-goal top scorer Liam Hearn as he raced on to an Andi Thanoj through ball.
On 37 minutes, a familiar free-kick routine led to Paddy McLaughlin enjoying a clear sight of McKeown’s goal from the edge of the box but, unusually, his left-footed strike was skewed off target and Smith could not divert the wayward effort towards goal with a diving header.
Ingham was back in action when he pushed a Hearn shot on to his near post and then saved Shaun Pearson’s header from the resulting corner. City, though, ended the half strongest with Meredith and Matty Blair going close before Chambers burst past Charlie I’Anson to sprint on to a McLaughlin through ball, only for McKeown to smother his shot.
The hosts enjoyed their best spell of the game at the start of the ~ second period but Rob Duffy lifted a decent chance over after Hearn had ridden a Ben Gibson challenge before pulling the ball back from the byline.
But, just past the hour, City began to look the more likely winners.
Walker sliced over from ten yards in his final act of the game and his replacement Matthew Blinkhorn went close with his header from a corner by Chambers, who had earlier narrowly missed the target with an attempted lob from the edge of the box.
But it was Kerr who made the breakthrough when he planted an eight-yard header into McKeown’s bottom right-hand corner following Oyebanjo’s inviting cross.
City held on to their lead with few problems and might have even doubled their margin of victory but Chambers drove inches over after charging on to an Adriano Moké pass.
It mattered little as City became the only side in 23 matches to beat Grimsby without the benefit of extra time, which Salisbury required in the FA Cup.
Prior to that defeat, the Mariners’ last reverse came at the hands of Luton back on October 21.
As Mills suggested afterwards, his team need now fear no challenge as the season enters an exciting final two months.
Grimsby Town 0, York City 1 (Kerr 83)
York City: Michael Ingham 9, Lanre Oyebanjo 8, Chris Smith 9, Chris Doig 8, Ben Gibson 8, Scott Kerr 8, Paddy McLaughlin 8, James Meredith 8, Matty Blair 7, Jason Walker 7, Ashley Chambers 9.
Subs: Matthew Blinkhorn 7 (for Walker, 63), Adriano Moké 7 (for Blair, 72), Jon Challinor (for McLaughlin, 83). Subs not used: Parslow, Reed.
Key: 10 – Faultless; 9 – Outstanding; 8 – Excellent; 7 – Good; 6 – Average; 5 – Below par; 4 – Poor; 3 – Dud; 2 – Hopeless; 1 – Retire.
Star man: Smith – led by example, never giving a quarter during a combative display.
Grimsby: James McKeown, Gary Silk, Charlie I’Anson, Shaun Pearson, Conor Townsend, Michael Coulson (Serge Makofo, 80), Craig Disley, Andi Thanoj, Anthony Church (Bradley Wood, 63), Rob Duffy, Liam Hearn. Subs not used: Dayle Southwell, Josh Freeman, Steve Croudson.
Booked: Smith 70, Silk 77, Duffy 90, Kerr 90.
Shots on target: Grimsby 5, City 3.
Shots off target: Grimsby 5, City 10.
Corners: Grimsby 6, City 5.
Fouls conceded: Grimsby 14, City 16.
Offsides: Grimsby 2, City 2.
Referee: Steve Bratt (Walsall). Rating: gave a strong performance in the face of a partisan home crowd.
Attendance: 3,662 (347 from City).
Cross of the match: Oyebanjo’s centre on to Kerr’s head for the goal.
Header of the match: Only one candidate here – the one that ended a 121-game goal drought.