BOSS Gary Thornton refused to blame controversial officiating and instead focussed on the positives after York City Knights' winning start to 2014 ended in a gripping Tetley's Challenge Cup tie away to Swinton Lions.

A penalty and drop goal in the last three minutes gave the Championship side a 31-28 victory, after the Knights, despite a below-par performance, had twice fought back from behind in the second half, equalising with eight minutes left through Ben Dent's fifth try in five games.

They had also twice taken the lead in the first half of the fourth-round tie, only to be hit by three home tries in six minutes.

They also suffered the blow of losing pack leaders Jason Golden (shoulder) and Iain Morrison (hamstring) to recurring injuries.

"It was a close game but we didn't play to our full potential," said Thornton. "It was a bit scrappy and the six minutes just before half-time, with those three soft tries, were our undoing in the end.

"But Swinton are not a bad side and we struggled to hold them at times - they had some big men out there.

"They were a bit more physical than us and some of our younger fellas struggled a bit to hold them.

"After those three quick tries we could have folded but we showed terrific character to get back in the game.

"Their last try was also dubious - the touch judge disallowed it for obstruction on George Elliott but the referee overruled him. That's part of the game sometimes and you just have to get on with it.

"It's the first time we've tasted defeat this year and I hope it doesn't hit the lads too hard.

"The league (Championship One) is our priority and, while we're disappointed to lose a game we could have won, it showed again we can compete with teams in the Championship."

The decisive late penalty was awarded against player/assistant-boss James Ford by referee Jamie Bloem, the former Super League player.

“I don’t think there was much in it," said Thornton when asked about that key call.

"I was more worried about some of the other penalties he gave against us which were harsh and some others that he didn’t give to us.

“But we didn’t lose because of him. We were good enough to win the game without his help and we should have done.

“I’m more disappointed about their last try that he gave them. I’ll have to have another look but it seemed to me Kash Watkins ran straight at George Elliott (who was fielding a kick) and obstructed him and I don’t think you can do that.

“Mr Bloem overruled the touch judge.

"He also penalised us for offside but Swinton were inside the ten metres all game."

As for a high tackle by Joe Worthington on Ford, which had fans calling for a red card but brought only a penalty, Thornton said: “It was a horrendous decision not to take further action. He had a good view of it and it was either a sin-binning or a sending-off.

“The referee hasn’t lost us the game, though. We lost because we weren’t able to hold Swinton in the last five or six minutes of the first half and they took their chances.

“There are positives. The way we stepped things up to get our noses back in front is credit to the boys. They showed great desire and enthusiasm."

Mick Ramsden's young reserves team won 44-28 at Oldham on Saturday to continue their good run.

The Knights were well on top in the first half and, while struggling a bit after the break, were not in any real danger of losing.

Among the try-scorers were returning second-row Ryan Backhouse, Ben Crane, Adam Dent, Scott Talbot and Ryan Parker.