SO much for York City Knights going through the league season unbeaten.

A routine win over Gloucestershire, a jinx-ending defeat of arch-rivals Hunslet, a record league victory over South Wales and two competitive Challenge Cup ties against Championship opposition had left a few optimists contemplating a straightforward march to the Championship One grand final.

However, unheralded expansion club Oxford put paid to all that today as they left Huntington Stadium with a deserved 24-16 win.

If any supporter reckoned only Hunslet and perhaps Oldham would pose a threat this term, they now know differently.

More importantly, the Knights players now know they cannot take anything for granted. Like head coach Gary Thornton said, they cannot just turn up against teams like this and expect to win.

Thornton himself might have been given food for thought, too.

He made eight changes to the team edged out by Swinton in the cup and, while props Jake Joynt, Iain Morrison and Austin Bell were out injured, several others were omitted for rotation purposes, keeping them fresh for the Good Friday trip to Gateshead which Thornton said would be the tougher of this week's two assignments.

Making so many changes has certainly been questioned by fans.

Their team were slow into their stride and, whenever they looked like going up a gear, a handling error, a lack of understanding or some disjointed play in possession quickly curtailed any momentum.

Perhaps worse, the enthusiasm and desire that can sometimes get a team through was curiously lacking, at least until they realised they were in a proper match - by which time they were unable to lift their play sufficiently to turn things around.

York could argue Oxford won thanks to two dubious tries but the hosts should really have had enough in their locker to beat the professional newcomers even without Lady Luck on their side.

A routine win seemed afoot when Benn Hardcastle dummied through early on only to stumble and see what should have been a scoring pass to Ryan Mallinder go to ground.

Hardcastle soon departed for a spell to have a dislocated finger put back in place, but that should not have affected their structures given Pat Smith was a natural replacement at half-back. The loss of player/assistant-coach James Ford to a recurring groin problem caused the bigger disruption, forcing second-row Ed Smith to switch to an unfamiliar centre role.

Nevertheless, Ford's replacement, Jack Iley, put his side ahead soon after coming on.

Ben Reynolds - back in the side on dual-reg from Castleford, alongside prop Dan Fleming, who was making is bow in a Knights jersey - did well and Jonny Presley delayed his pass perfectly to give back-rower Iley, on his 2014 bow, his chance.

York had another opportunity as Ben Dent charged onto a Pat Smith kick and got an offload out when halted, but Ed Smith could not take the ball on the bounce.

They thought they had scored again as a Reynolds chip rebounded off the crossbar for Lee Paterson to touch down - only for touch judge Gareth Evans, a York lad, to rule it out for offside.

Huntington Stadium was silenced just before the half-hour.

Oxford full-back Sean Morris, earmarked as a dangerman given his rave reviews, showed why he is being strongly linked with London Broncos, as he injected pace into the line and scythed between Presley and Luke Hardcastle as if they weren't there.

Eight minutes later, JJ Baird charged down a Reynolds kick at one end, gathered the loose ball, and sprinted 80 metres to the other end, with Presley just unable to make up the ground. Jimmy Rowland converted.

Reynolds finished well to equalise for York on half-time, Benn Hardcastle back on the pitch and goaling the try, but the Knights did not heed the warnings of the first half.

Morris, who will surely be playing at a higher level soon, was at it again four minutes after the restart, with a superb finish from range. Jordan Rice, once a regular in the Knights reserves, had been involved in the build-up.

Oxford then had the luck they deserved when Rory Sharratt seemingly knocked-on in the red zone only for referee Adam Gill to wave play on, indicating a York hand had dislodged the ball. Callum Mulkeen benefited with the try, despite claims he bounced the ball down.

Oxford's confidence grew until Press Player of the Month Jack Lee, back on at hooker, as usual made a difference, scoring on the hour-mark, with Reynolds converting, to get York back into it.

Four points adrift, York sensed victory, and they did have some second-half half-chances, but Oxford played for time and territory thereafter and the vital next try ultimately went their way, two minutes from time.

An attacking kick was collected by York only for the ball to be stolen by Rowland who, with home players awaiting the referee's whistle, crossed the whitewash to signal a rush for the exit on the terraces.

Match facts

York: Reynolds 7, L Hardcastle 6, Ford 6, Nathaniel 6, B Dent 6, B Hardcastle 5, Presley 5, Freer 5, Lee 7, Aldous 7, Mallinder 6, E Smith 6, Paterson 6. Subs (all used): P Smith 6, Fleming 6, Crane 5, Iley 5.

Tries: Iley 19; Reynolds 40; Lee 59.

Conversions: B Hardcastle 40; Reynolds 59.

Penalties: none.

Sent off: none.

Sin-binned: none.

Oxford: S Morris, Parker, Mulkeen, Brooker, Crabtree, Rowland, Connick, Clarke, Thompson, Hadden, Baird, Blaney, Rice. Subs (all used): Ellison, Davies, Sharratt, Hayles.

Tries: Morris 29, 44; Baird 37; Mulkeen 53; Rowland 78.

Conversions: Rowland 37, 44.

Penalties: none.

Sent off: none.

Sin-binned: none.

Man of the match: Jack Aldous – the prop managed another big stint, with only ten minutes on the interchange bench, and, if everyone else played with the same verve and desire, York’s winning run would not have ended.

Referee: Adam Gill (Widnes) – a few curious decisions assisted Oxford, as did the fact he allowed the visitors to continually slow play down.

Penalties: 6-4.

Half-time: 10-10.

Attendance: 574.

Weather: very breezy.

Moment of the match: Jack Iley’s try to equalise on half-time, after smart work by Ben Reynolds and Jonny Presley, was a rare piece of purposeful and inventive play.

Gaffe of the match: the general lack of gusto or purpose from the off.

Gamebreaker: York still had a sniff when Jimmy Rowland stripped the ball from Pat Smith following a kick – was it a one-on-one tackle or should it have been a penalty? – to put Oxford two scores ahead with only two minutes left.

Match rating: delight for Oxford but it was poor stuff from a lacklustre York.