York City Knights 16 Whitehaven 18

YORK City Knights paid the penalty – three times – as their six-match winning run in League One came to an end amid a bizarre, heart-stopping finale on a blisteringly hot day at Bootham Crescent.

Whitehaven, second in the table and beaten only by promotion certainties Toronto this term, were always likely to give the Knights their toughest test since the controversial Challenge Cup defeat to Barrow in April, and they duly went home with the spoils after an 18-16 win.

It was probably deserved, too, as they were just about the better side overall of a compelling fixture played out in a cracking atmosphere in front of the Knights’ biggest home crowd for six years.

However, they were so nearly mugged by Ford’s fighting Knights after another of their eye-catching comebacks, including one of the most remarkable tries ever seen at Bootham Crescent, brought them back from 18-4 – only for the hosts to then miss three penalties in the last seven minutes to fluff the chance to not only draw but snatch victory.

Fouls in centrefield on Kieran Moran, twice, and Tim Spears provided the chances 40, 35 and 32 metres out respectively, but Connor Robinson missed the first two, once to the right and then to left of the sticks, and Liam Harris skewed the other wide too.

The Knights’ attack as a whole was a little off-target compared to recent weeks and, therefore, the fact they so nearly pulled a result out of the fire should be taken as a fillip for the Super 8s to come – they will surely get there – and possibly even the play-offs.

They had also played much of the game with only three on the interchange bench after Chris Siddons departed with sunstroke, and they also had a try ruled out in each half – further underlining how different the final scoreline could have been.

However, all that said, like against Barrow, they will need to find a way to win these games, rather than end as gallant losers, if they really are to beat the odds and get in a promotion showdown.

Ford had been forced into one change from the side that beat Hunslet so handsomely, with dual-reg hooker Will Jubb unavailable having been called up to Hull KR’s team.

Andy Ellis again failed a late fitness test so Pat Smith returned for his first outing since the Good Friday victory over Doncaster that kicked off the winning run.

James Haynes was passed fit so remained at centre.

York’s first disallowed try came as early as the third minute – Robinson’s scoring pass to Joe Batchelor being called forward to quash noisy celebrations.

York did take the lead, though, with another cracker on nine minutes.

Harris’ cut-out pass gave James Haynes space and his flipped pass sent Tommy Saxton away.

The veteran winger weighed things up before turning back the clock and sprinting to the corner.

Haven nearly hit back immediately as a crazy bounce took the restart out of play. After the attacking scrum, half-back Paul Crook spilled the ball when fighting for the line.

Nevertheless, referee Steve Race upset the home fans again when deeming Ash Robson had knocked on at a play-the-ball rather than penalise Haven for interference.

With territory set, left-centre Jesse Joe Parker – pinpointed as a dangerman by Ford – shrugged off Harris and gave his winger, Craig Calvert, an easy finish, Crook converting from the sideline.

Haven should have increased their lead after a break from player-boss Carl Forster but smart full-back defence from Robson saw the loose-forward hold on rather than give a scoring pass.

Then wonderful defence from Haynes, twice, denied Haven’s left-side attack when they seemed sure to score.

Excellent rearguard action was needed again after errors by Robson, with a ball spill in his own half, and Harris, with a horribly ill-executed offload in front of his own sticks, had gifted the visitors more great field position.

York made other errors too and, although they fought back to gain a foothold before half-time, Whitehaven increased their 6-4 lead soon after the interval.

A bomb in centrefield split Robson and Saxton and bounced perfectly for Scott McAvoy but his pass back was wild.

Nevertheless, a high tackle by Robinson on Forster afforded Haven another attacking set and it ended with hooker James Newton digging in from dummy-half, Crook converting.

York had to scramble desperately again after a break by Crook – these defensive efforts in the searing heat keeping them in the game.

The Knights came back again, forcing a dropout through Robinson’s little dab, but again they could not keep the pressure on, Spears’ handling error increasing the frustration for the former Featherstone captain who was working like a Trojan but not enjoying his best day.

It proved costly as Haven went up the other end, Forster crashing over.

The Knights forged themselves an opportunity out of nothing.

Quick line speed forced them to run the last tackle rather than kick but Brad Hey, on at left-centre, took them on and flipped the ball to Dee Foggin-Johnston, who sharply cut inside to be met by a high tackle from the otherwise excellent Haven back-rower Dion Aiye.

Haven’s defence, however, showed why it has conceded the fewest points in League One this term barring Toronto.

It needed something special to break them down – and York had it with one of the most remarkable tries ever seen at Bootham Crescent.

They kept the ball alive for an eternity, Harris and Robson weaving this way and that, in and out of cul-de-sacs.

Somehow, the basketball passes forged space down the left which the impressive Hey penetrated before handing on to Foggin-Johnston.

The winger looked sure to be crashed into touch but, mid-air, he fired a magical pass back infield for Hey to spin over the whitewash. Robinson goaled.

Hey forged another opportunity but his inside ball went to ground as Haven scrambled back.

Then came a chance on the right – Saxton diving in by the flag, only for the try to be wiped off by a touch judge.

But then they did score again – Harris the creator with a trademark dummy and dart through the line, before giving an inside pass for Spears.

Robinson goaled and suddenly, with 10 minutes left, there were two points in it.

That gap should then have been wiped off in the madcap finale but it wasn’t and, when Moran was denied another penalty for a tip-tackle and was penalised for making that point to referee Race, Haven themselves had a chance at goal.

Crook also missed but the game was up.