“IF we win our last seven matches we will finish top of the pile.”

That was the message from head coach Gary Thornton after York City Knights’ victory at Hemel Stags today was coupled with defeat for arch-foes Hunslet.

The Hawks, beaten at home by Gloucestershire All Golds now sit four points behind York in the Championship One table, with one game in hand.

Oldham remained level at the summit after beating Oxford, but, with Thornton’s men still to play both of those title rivals before the end of the regular season, and with those two also still to play each other, top spot is in the Knights’ hands heading towards the promotion play-offs.

And Thornton was given more confidence for the run-in by the manner of their eight-try 46-22 victory at Pennine Way Stadium against a side who had defeated Oldham there a few weeks ago.

“It’s a tough period and we knew it would be,” said Thornton, whose side are in the middle of four consecutive long-distance away matches.

“We’ve showed we can handle it now. If we can stay in the arm wrestle for the first 30 minutes we can come through.

“We have another tough trip to London Skolars next week then another to Oxford, but if we keep winning nobody can catch us.”

Thornton played down the importance of Hunslet’s result, saying the focus had to be on his own team.

“We knew if we came down and got three points we would stay at the top – that was the important thing for us,” he said.

“We’re not looking for anybody to give us a lift up. If we win our last seven games we will finish top of the pile.”

Thornton reckoned the Knights’ middle unit played a big part in victory.

Iain Morrison failed a late fitness test, meaning York travelled south with only three fit props – Jack Aldous, Brad Brennan and Nathan Harper. But those three more than held their own, while Ryan Mallinder gave a sterling show when moved up from second-row, and Joe Pickets had a big impact on proceedings at loose-forward.

Said Thornton: “I knew they were very physical. They’re a big team and we knew they would come down the middle. We had to be tough in there. They threw plenty at us.

“We were backs to the wall in the middle unit but fair play to Ryan Mallinder, who did a good job in there, Joe Pickets, who was terrific, Brad Brennan, who was good again, Nathan Harper, who did well, and Jack Aldous of course.

“It was a good effort from the middle unit – and it had to be.”

He added: “When we contained them in their half I thought they were pretty ordinary. The only time they looked dangerous was when we came up with errors and penalties that marched them up the field. Jy-Mel Coleman (Hemel half-back) can be a clever player in that end of the field.

“But we knew if we could absorb what they threw at us and stay in the arm wrestle, we’ve got the skill and fitness to play some good rugby league.”