YORK City manager Gary Mills has challenged his players to win promotion for crocked midfielder Scott Kerr.

The talismanic vice-captain’s season has been ended prematurely by a torn cruciate ligament, sustained following Luton midfielder Keith Keane’s robust challenge during the FA Trophy semi-final, second leg clash at Kenilworth Road.

City went down 2-1 at home to play-off rivals Southport on Saturday but Mills feels Kerr’s injury should give his team an added incentive to be successful during the remainder of the season.

Mills said: “Scott Kerr has got a tear on his cruciate ligament, which is bad news. He won’t play again this season and I’m gutted for him and the team because he’s been absolutely magnificent for us.

“He’s been an inspiration and a big, big player and he wanted it badly this season so we have got to do it for him now. We’ve got to make sure we can get success because he deserves that.

“Injuries like this are the downside of football and it looks like he will be out of action for a few months now.”

Mills was left ruing missed chances on Saturday with Trophy hero Matty Blair guilty of squandering an early opportunity and then another on 88 minutes after Jamie Reed had reduced the deficit following second-half goals from Southport pair Andy Owens and Tony Gray.

The City chief added: “I’m disappointed to lose a big game but, having said that, I thought we were the better side. I couldn’t see them scoring but they did and then the second goal looked a bit sloppy to be honest.

“Southport are Southport. They do what they do well and deserve credit for that.

“It’s not down to luck that they are where they are in the table. You have to break them down and, when we did, we didn’t take our chances.

“If you don’t hit the target, you don’t score and that’s cost us in the end. After getting the winner at Luton, Matty was the culprit on Saturday with two gilt-edged chances that he didn’t take.”

Reed had earlier seen a first-half effort surprisingly ruled out for offside, while many expected that play might have been stopped during the build up to the visitors’ second goal when City’s Ben Gibson and Southport’s Russell Benjamin collided and lay on the floor.

But Mills directed no blame for the defeat at the officials, saying: “I couldn’t tell if Reedy’s goal was offside from where I was but, if it wasn’t, there’s nothing we can do about it now and it wasn’t the reason why we didn’t win. Maybe the referee might have stopped play for their second goal as well, but I’m not going to clutch at straws.”

Despite losing to Southport, Luton’s 1-1 home draw against Grimsby at the weekend means the Minstermen will leap above the Bedfordshire side with a win at bottom-of-the-table Bath tomorrow.

A victory would see City ahead of Luton on goal difference, having played the same number of games ahead of the two teams meeting at Kenilworth Road on Friday night.

Mills added: “My lads never give up. We’ve won so many points late on and, at two goals down on Saturday, we nearly did it again and should have done it again.

“It’s disappointing that we didn’t but it’s not the end of the world and it won’t stop us getting in the play-offs. The situation is still in our hands if we win our games in hand.

“We are gutted and the result will have given Southport a lift but we’ve got to take it on the chin and, if we win tomorrow night, we go back into the top five so we’ve got to get on with our jobs.”

Reed’s 12th goal of the season means the striker has now netted in five of his last seven appearances and, on his contribution, Mills said: “It was hard for him up there but it was a good finish. He kept going and you always feel that Reedy has a chance of getting you a goal. We just couldn’t get another.”

Mills’ decision to play three defenders Lanre Oyebanjo, James Meredith and Ben Gibson together in midfield from the start sprung a surprise but he stood by his selection, saying: “I played James Meredith and Lanre Oyebanjo there again because they are attack-minded players, even when they play at full-back.

“The only player that people might not have expected in midfield was Gibbo but I know what’s he’s capable of and he did well for me in there. We then had to switch about a bit but I would do the same again if I had to, because I thought the three of them did well in there.”

City will assess left-back Jamal Fyfield’s fitness ahead of the trip to Bath after he limped out of the action after 56 minutes and Mills is also waiting to receive the paperwork to determine whether new signing Eugen Bopp will be available.

He said: “Eugen’s international clearance never came through for Saturday so playing him wasn’t an option.”