YORK City Knights’ last outing brought a 40-0 victory over Hunslet Hawks, top spot in Championship One, and joy and optimism aplenty.
How things can quickly change.
Hunslet had already returned to the Championship One summit and, although both York and Oldham had the chance to overtake them again today, both fell to surprise defeats to expansion clubs in the south.
The Hawks were not in action but the weekend thus belonged to them. How they must be chuckling.
York had looked on course for three points and top spot, having gone 16-0 up in the first quarter away to Gloucestershire All Golds.
Indeed it was plain sailing - but for some reason they then began to throw balls overboard rather than to team-mates, and they hit rocky waters.
They lost a man to the rough seas, too, as Austin Bell was sent off for the last half-hour, and, although the wind was behind them in that time, by then the sails had too many holes and not enough people were rowing in the same direction.
They did manage to throw themselves a lifebelt as a Jack Lee try got them to within two points, and a penalty in the last minute gave them an easy chance to equalise - with a draw enough to send them back to the top.
However, referee Peter Brook effectively popped their inflatable lifeline with a dagger, changing his mind on the bad advice of a touch judge to instead give Gloucestershire a pressure-relieving scrum.
A bonus point for a 24-22 defeat thus left York one point behind the Hawks in the table.
The Knights had arrived at the Prince of Wales Stadium in Cheltenham later than planned as the SatNav had taken the bus towards Gloucester before Pat Smith, who had a loan spell with the All Golds last year, pointed out they were going the wrong way.
Nevertheless, it was the hosts who didn’t turn up for the first 25 minutes of the match.
Knights boss Gary Thornton had planned to field the same 17 for the first time this season, but James Ford (quad) rejoined the injury list so Tyler Craig as expected came in at centre for a long-awaited start.
He had an decent enough day, with a few good runs, though it was fellow centre James Morland who opened the scoring, like he had against Hunslet, easily arcing home following a scrum in home territory.
Jonny Presley got the next try, breaking All Golds’ resistance after five tackles on their line, all set up by a quick 20-metre restart from James Saltonstall which was taken on by Ben Reynolds.
Full-back Reynolds goaled those two tries and was involved in the third, too, running a superb line onto Pat Smith’s smart ball and giving winger Ben Dent the chance in the corner.
Ex-Knights stand-off Mark Barlow was among the All Golds ruled out by injury, along with skipper Mike Stewart and overseas stars Brendan Smith, James Tutuila, who impressed in the reverse fixture, and Sam Te’o.
It seemed they were being missed, yet, as it turned out, the hosts still had the best player on the day in former Dewsbury Celtic amateur ace Danny Thomas, and he led a fightback from full-back – a fightback aided by the All Golds’ unwavering enthusiasm and the Knights’ wavering aptitude.
The hosts had not threatened at all until scoring on 25 minutes as Thomas found a gap in centre-field, with decent passes sending Phil Cowburn to the corner.
The game was still York’s to lose but, perhaps thinking it was already won, they were made to pay for continued sloppiness in possession as Richard Jones stretched over, Bradley’s second conversion cutting the half-time deficit to 16-12.
Bell’s red card came after 51 minutes. Jack Francis, rather than play the ball, aimed a swipe at Colton Roche, who threw back and missed. Bell, also at marker, threw one on Roche’s behalf and connected.
Bizarrely, neither Roche nor, more questionably, the aggressor, Francis, were sent off or to the sin-bin.
Gloucestershire took swift advantage of the extra man with two tries in the next five minutes, through the impressive Jason Muranka and Thomas, both down the right.
Bradley goaled one and, with little now going the visitors’ way, he added a penalty to leave York two scores behind at 24-16.
Morland had a chance to hit back but, like earlier in the half, he tried to get the ball to his winger Saltonstall rather than put his head down and go himself. That centre-wing combination was having an off-day.
Lee, though, bagged a trademark try from dummy-half with ten minutes left, Reynolds converting.
Brave attempts by the 12 men to snatch back the spoils then looked to be rewarded as Ryan Backhouse had the ball reefed from his grasp under the posts.
But as the travelling faithful debated whether to go for a try to win it or a penalty goal to draw, referee Brook proffered up an alternative – a change of heart and a home scrum for a knock-on - to leave them perplexed and peeved in equal measure.
All Golds: Thomas, Ward, Fairbank, Cowburn, Jenkins, White, Bradley, Duffy, Cook, Walter, Jones, Muranka, Francis. Subs (all used): Canterbury, Foster, Spencer-Tonks, Chapman-Walker.
Tries: Cowburn 25; Jones 40; Muranka 53; Thomas 56.
Conversions: Bradley 25, 40, 53.
Penalty: Bradley 65.
Knights: Reynolds 7, Saltonstall 5, Craig 6, Morland 5, B Dent 6, P Smith 6, Presley 5, Brennan 6, Lee 6, Aldous 7, Mallinder 6, E Smith 6, Pickets 6. Subs (all used): Carter 5, Bell 6, Backhouse 6, Roche 5.
Tries: Morland 9; Presley 15; Dent 22; Lee 70.
Conversions: Reynolds 9, 15, 70.
Sent off: Bell 51.
Man of the match: Ben Reynolds – again impressed at the back and did not deserve to be on the losing side.
Referee: Peter Brook (Manchester) – another controversial performance. If he sends Austin Bell off, then why not the actual aggressor, Jack Francis? And right at the death he gave York a penalty for reefing in front of the sticks – rightly - but changed his mind to hand All Golds the scrum on the advice of a touch judge.
Weather: warm to start but the wind brought a heavy second-half shower.
Moment of the match: Ben Dent’s try, at the end of a well-executed set move, was the best of York’s four touchdowns.
Gaffe of the match: York needed to see out the first half at 16-6 up but James Saltonstall’s potentially incisive pass to Pat Smith was badly executed, giving All Golds a scrum 25 metres out, following which Richard Jones stretched over the whitewash to cut the gap to 16-12 – giving the All Golds’ comeback timely impetus.
Gamebreaker: Austin Bell’s red card turned the tide even more in All Golds’ favour, giving them the extra man for the last half-hour.
Match rating: It seemed to be plain sailing in the first quarter but the waters got rocky and the tide turned, with York unable to steady the ship or, later, despite upping their efforts, row themselves back into the lead.