FOUR years ago, York City’s Matty Blair was a self-confessed “nobody”. “I was playing for Racing Club Warwick in front of one man and a dog,” reflected the Midlands-born winger.
Four years on, Blair is very much a self-made somebody.
His 90th-minute goal at Kenilworth Road took York through to the FA Trophy final with a 2-1 aggregate win, and ensured his name will forever be writ large in Minstermen folklore.
Extra-time was just moments away when City substitute Ashley Chambers marauded down York’s left flank.
He coolly played the ball back to Jamal Fyfield, who swung over an inch-perfect cross, left-footed, and with just enough out-swinging curl to carry it beyond a flat-footed Luton defence.
Blair anticipated the situation beautifully, ghosting in behind his marker to direct a firm header past goalkeeper Mark Tyler’s left hand from eight yards out.
Cue jubilant scenes behind the goal as Blair celebrated with the travelling fans, who numbered 400 in a crowd of 5,797 on a grey, gloomy afternoon more redolent of mid-winter than approaching spring.
It was a sucker punch for Luton, who had worked hard to cancel out York’s 1-0 aggregate lead from the first leg with a goal two minutes before half-time.
Winger Robbie Willmott had popped up just outside the six-yard box to slot home, right-footed, after Danny Crow had found space to cross from the right.
But after a poor display in the first period, when they seemed unsure whether to stick with the goal they had or to twist by pushing for further breakthroughs, York were a side revitalised after the break, with Chambers to the fore after replacing Jason Walker at the interval – the former Luton striker having tweaked a hamstring.
That said, Luton roused themselves to produce a fulminating final 10 minutes in which they, in truth, looked more likely to pinch it before Blair did just that.
“It was never going to be easy coming to Luton,” said Blair, who was born in Sutton Coldfield and raised in Coventry.
“They’re a very good side and we didn’t have things our own way – particularly in the first half.
“But there were some terrific individual performances from our boys and to get the winning goal was easily the proudest moment of my football career.
“To get the goal that took York to Wembley – it doesn’t get much better than that.”
Blair, son of former Aston Villa midfielder, Andy, said he had to pinch himself as he pondered, post-match, on how his career has developed.
At 22, he has already had more clubs than Peter Stringfellow, having represented Racing Club Warwick, Stratford, Bedworth, Redditch, Telford and Kidderminster before moving to Bootham Crescent last summer.
“If you’d said to me four years ago that I would go from playing for Racing Club Warwick to hopefully playing at Wembley if selected, I wouldn’t have believed it,” he added.
“It’s amazing what can happen in a short space of time and I started off as a nobody really and worked my way up.
“The only time I’ve been to Wembley before was with a friend to watch England versus Mexico.
“Now I’ve got a chance of playing in the final, and I know for a fact I’ll have half of Coventry going as well.”
As Blair was keen to stress, York’s success was secured by a number of fine individual displays.
Chris Smith was outstanding at the back, marshalling proceedings with a captain’s authority, while Fyfield excelled at left-back.
Patrick McLaughlin was a lively presence in midfield, while the aforementioned Chambers gave York a width they lacked in the first half.
City’s progress to the final and a meeting with Newport County on May 12 was even more impressive when one considers they lost influential midfielder Scott Kerr to injury in the 24th minute.
Kerr damaged his right leg in a challenge with Keith Keane and, despite a typically courageous attempt to carry on, he had to succumb to the inevitable as manager Gary Mills was forced to summon Scott Brown from the bench.
Brown it was who had York’s only real effort of the first half – a speculative 25-yard drive which sailed harmlessly over the bar.
Otherwise it was a tale of Luton domination – if not one of composure and cutting edge in the final third.
But the impetus created by the one goal they did manage was lost after half-time as York came more and more into the contest.
Chambers was the catalyst and he should have equalised in the 56th minute only to drag wide from eight yards after doing all the hard work by dancing into the area with the deftness of a ballerina.
Fyfield had a long-range effort smothered, while Jamie Reed – whose penalty separated the sides at Bootham Crescent – shot straight at Tyler when well placed.
Crow almost won it for Luton on 87 only for his goal bound effort to be deflected over the top before Blair supplied the coup de grace.