GARY THORNTON hailed seventh heaven for his York City Knights side – but fears this latest victory may have come at a big cost due to an all-in brawl and another Prince of Wales Stadium red card.
The Knights upped their winning run to seven games to stay clear at the summit of Championship One with three regular season matches to go thanks to a 42-18 victory at Gloucestershire All Golds – the site of their last defeat on June 8 when they had Austin Bell sent off.
However, it was far from straightforward, with the Knights only stretching away in the last quarter – despite being a man down following the sending-off this time of second-row Ed Smith.
The match commissioner said it was believed Smith was dismissed for using a knee in a brawl sparked by a set-to between Joe Pickets and All Golds loose-forward Brendan Smith which saw that pair sin-binned.
Head coach Thornton now fears possible suspensions for Smith at least, with any ban likely to kick in ahead of the big penultimate match of the regular campaign at arch-rivals Hunslet Hawks.
Player/assistant-coach James Ford also left the fray late on due to a shoulder injury, and after the final hooter he went to the changing rooms with an arm in a sling.
Said Thornton: “I thought the decision to give us the penalty was right as they swung first. It kicked off and our lads saw fit to go in and defend each other. Ed said he thought somebody was hitting Pat (Smith) – so maybe it was a bit of brotherly love.
“Hopefully the Rugby League will see sense – there was a bit from both camps. Will there be a suspensions? We’ll have to see.
“I hope not. We’ve got three games left and we don’t want to slip up - we want to keep the momentum going (into the play-offs) – and we will need everybody involved.
“Any potential ban would come in for the Hunslet game and we don’t want to be short on numbers. We will need everyone from now on in.”
The Knights threw away a 16-0 lead – like in their last visit here – to trail 18-16, but this time they immediately struck back and four tries in the last 16 minutes, despite their man disadvantage, took them clear.
Of the match, Thornton said: “It was not easy. Fair play to Gloucestershire. They didn’t go away – I didn’t think they would. They’re not a bad team.
“We started really well but for a period we went away from what was working well. It was a sloppy period, but when we went down to 11 we showed how good we can be. Our fitness came through.
“We were guilty of overplaying a bit (during the sloppy period) and we didn’t respect Gloucestershire enough and let them back into the game.
“We made a few poor choices and there was poor execution at times, though that was maybe down to rustiness after the week off.
“It looked like a mirror image at one point of our last game here but Jack Lee’s a smart footballer and I told him to get back out there and start playing direct again and as soon as we did that they couldn’t handle us.”
Lee had gone back on for Kriss Brining at hooker, not long after the sub had pulled off one of the tackles of the season to deny Matt Bradley a length-of-the-field interception try. Thornton added: “Hats off to Kriss, too, for that chase back. What a fantastic effort that was, and it took a lot out of him.
“Ben Dent (chasing back to catch) Danny Thomas was similar. That just epitomises the team spirit. They didn’t give up but did fantastically well to chase back and make the tackle.”
Thornton also praised props Colton Roche, Brad Brennan and Jack Aldous.
“Jack was immense. He did 75 minutes again,” he said. “Brad and Colton Roche were very good again. That middle unit is looking really strong.”