FROM the moment York City Knights tore into Oxford in their opening set of six, it was pretty clear Gary Thornton's troops weren’t going to suffer another upset.
That defensive effort set the field position for them to cross the whitewash in their first attack, and with the scoreboard continuing to tick over thereafter, they gained comprehensive payback for their only home defeat so far this term.
The 58-16 win duly completed their “four out of four” aim – the maximum 12 points from the team’s four consecutive long-distance, arduous away games - and kept them top of Championship One.
Oldham’s victory over Gloucestershire All Golds means head coach Thornton also gets his other wish – the Knights return to Huntington Stadium next Sunday with a first-versus-second humdinger against the Roughyeds.
Oxford, missing a host of first-teamers and with little strength in depth, were pretty obliging hosts.
They did quickly equalise the Knights’ opening try but that was a mere blip on proceedings.
There was no real fire from the expansion club, no atmosphere at another of these minnow grounds – this one was played on Henley RFC’s pitch in Henley-on-Thames in front of an attendance figure which must embarrass the Rugby Football League – and no menace whatsoever.
Indeed, if Thornton could have picked where he wanted to go for the fourth mentally challenging long away trip, this could well have been it.
It wasn’t a total cakewalk but nor was it taxing, while it also allowed Thornton to use captain Jack Lee and assistant-boss James Ford sparingly as they manage niggling injuries, and it allowed Jay Leary time to comfortably blood in after joining on loan from Batley.
Oldham, though, will surely be tougher opponents so, while Thornton is right to praise his charges for their recent efforts on the road, he must also warn them these encounters act only as warm-ups to the biggies – games against title rivals followed by the all-important play-offs in a couple of months’ time.
The Knights’ opening try was finished well by Ben Dent – although the winger’s best was yet to come.
Oxford’s equaliser, meanwhile, came from Sam Edgerton, with his first touch in his first-ever game of rugby league.
The rugby union Blue - he has starred for Oxford University in Varsity matches at Twickenham – was in for the crocked Sean Morris, the full-back who terrorised York in the reverse game. However, aside the try and a decent run at the start of the second half, Edgerton, unlike Morris, was barely involved, understandably looking a little lost after only four training sessions in the 13-a-side code.
It wasn’t long before York regained the lead. They forced a couple of knock-ons, and, after James Haynes had ploughed a route to the red zone, Ben Reynolds spotted the chance and kicked early to give Brad Day a simple score.
These in-goals, on a rugby union pitch, were massive, offering plenty of room for error, but the play was pretty precise nonetheless.
Reynolds was also accurate with his goalkicking, ending with nine from ten.
Some basketball-style handling provided Lee with the chance to bag his 15th try in 12 matches, Edgerton being bypassed.
York should have scored again, following a Colton Roche break, with men over on the right and James Saltonstall stood in enough acres of space to open a farm.
But they didn’t miss the next chance, Haynes giving Day his second try.
The next came on the back of a rare Oxford opportunity – Dent jumping highest to catch a kick on his own line before racing up the other end for a superb solo score to make it 28-4 at the break.
Kriss Brining, Lee’s replacement at hooker, scored a Lee-like try on the restart, before Saltonstall got his touchdown, relying on no-one else as he played a one-two in centrefield with Dent to break through himself and round Edgerton with such aplomb the full-back actually needed treatment on a twisted neck.
Only a great tackle by Callum Mulkeen denied Reynolds a try after more good work by Saltonstall, before Oxford got back on the board through their standout player, skipper Alex Thompson.
In their defence, the hosts were missing, in addition to Morris, much of their first-choice pack, meaning former York reserve back-rower Sam Blaney started at prop, and stand-off Jimmy Rowland – hence Jordan Rice, the former York reserve loose-forward, going in at half-back. They also lost second-row JJ Baird to injury in the first half.
But their poor one-on-one defence was summed up by Ford’s try, before Ryan Backhouse superbly set up Ed Smith for a touchdown the in-form second-row – back in the team after his week off - deserved.
Thompson got a second try – after York, in possession, had been penalised for some daft backchat to the referee – but the last word was had by centre Day, completing a hat-trick and making it five tries in his two appearances.
Dent also looked set for a treble but he had the ball knocked from his grasp.
Oxford: Edgerton, Parker, Mulkeen, Brooker, Briggs, Rice, Connick, Blaney, Sharratt, Davies, Baird, Hoggins, Thompson. Subs (all used): Hayles, Newton, Vickers, Evans.
Tries: Edgerton 5; Thompson 55, 65.
Conversions: Connick 55, 65.
Sent off: none.
Knights: Haynes 7, Saltonstall 8, Ford 6, Day 8, Dent 8, Reynolds 7, P Smith 7, Roche 7, Lee 6, Aldous 7, Mallinder 7, E Smith 8, Pickets 8. Subs (all used): Brining 8, Paterson 6, Leary 6, Backhouse 6.
Tries: B Dent 2, 35; Day 11, 26, 73; Lee 15; Brining 45; Saltonstall 50; Ford 57; E Smith 60.
Conversions: Reynolds 11, 15, 26, 35, 45, 50, 57, 60, 73.
Sent off: none.
Man of the match: Ed Smith - prominant in a dominant pack effort which set the platform for a comprehensive victory. Got on the scoresheet too.
Referee: Dave Merrick (Castleford) – good (and the crowd was so small and sparse that fans could also hear how he talks players through games too).
Moment of the match: Tommy Connick kicked high and wide to York’s left corner to give his side a rare glimpse of a first-half score, but Ben Dent rose highest, plucked the ball out of the air under pressure, and set off upfield. He handed off Sam Edgerton around half-way and the last chaser, Andrew Hoggins, gave up 20 metres from the line, Dent scoring a superb solo length-of-the-field winger’s try.
Gaffe of the match: It wasn’t clear who the culprit was but York were in possession in their own half when, for some reason, someone said something out of turn to referee Dave Merrick, handing a penalty and possession to the hosts, setting the position for their third try. Good job it was immaterial.
Gamebreaker: As soon as Ben Dent opened the scoring after two minutes, it was obvious, regardless of Oxford’s quick riposte, that this would be a far easier contest than the reverse encounter.
Match rating: All very pleasant as York maintained their good run with little undue stress.