JAMES FORD has held the hoodoo sign over Rochdale since taking charge of York City Knights but the odds were always stacked against his side in this Ladbrokes Challenge Cup tie.
The Hornets, after all, have beaten Bradford and Featherstone in the Championship this year after winning promotion last term while the Knights have been forced to rebuild after their very future was in doubt.
However, omens at Bootham Crescent these days are overpowering odds and, just like York City toppled Lincoln in the FA Trophy semi-final, the Knights stung the Hornets in stunning style.
For periods of the second half, it looked like a cracking fourth-round tie was heading Rochdale’s way. But the roof of the Main Stand nearly came off as the hooter sounded to end a 26-20 York triumph.
After some stuttering performances by a team in transition, this was surely a landmark victory for the new-look club.
And how the old heads in his much-changed line-up played their part.
Andy Ellis’ nous, Tim Spears’ drive, Adam Robinson’s bulldozing runs, the fit-again Tommy Saxton doing what he does when coming in off his wing.
Then when it mattered, up stepped Jonny Presley.
The veteran half-back and now assistant-coach, having decided to hold off retirement, made his 2017 bow and, as if to show what this team had been missing in his absence, he not only set up the first try inside four minutes but also created the match-winner eight minutes from time, delaying his pass perfectly for Bobby Tyson-Wilson to spin over.
In truth, though, this was a team performance from one to 17.
Joe Batchelor got the sponsors’ man-of-the-match award, and nobody could complain about that. Fellow second-row Ed Smith gave a real captain’s show.
Liam Harris, a surprise pick at full-back, was so composed for a youngster on his debut in the wind and second-half rain. Winger Ben Dent was superbly solid on his long-awaited recall too.
But would they have had the confidence to win this game without those leaders in the middle?
As predicted by The Press, Ford had rung the changes, due to a mixture of injury, form and tactics. Victory was obvious justification for his selections.
Into the back line came dual-reg playmaker Harris, wingers Saxton and Dent for their first games of the season, and James Haynes at centre. Batchelor switched from centre to the back row, with on-loan Kieran Moran also returning to the pack. Both of those two scored as well.
Presley’s return quickly bore fruit. Rochdale’s Danny Yates had dropped the kick-off and the Knights kept the pressure on, before Presley’s little dab through on the last tackle saw Smith touch down.
Presley and Smith had always had a good understanding.
York stayed on top and eked their lead up with a penalty, Harry Tyson-Wilson adding this to four conversions for a 100 per cent record with the boot.
Young Tyson-Wilson, with old heads Ellis and Presley alongside him in the pivots, looked much more assured, too.
And, after big prop Robinson drove close, Tyson-Wilson’s clever dab saw Batchelor touch down.
Batchelor also had a try disallowed for offside from another Presley grubber.
Rochdale, who had had to wait ten minutes to have their first full set, were not out of it.
Wonderful defence halted their first real chance but, as the interchanges brought some inexperience into York’s 13, the visitors found a way back into the game.
Aided by a forward pass in backplay, Lewis Palfrey’s pinpoint grubber saw full-back Myles Greenwood touch down behind the sticks. Palfrey converted.
Three minutes later it was 14-12 after a slice of fortune. Palfrey’s bomb swirled in the wind, and as Harris and Tyson-Wilson looked at each other, perhaps obstructed by seemingly offside attackers, the ball rebounded goalwards off Tyson-Wilson’s back, Chris Riley with the simple touchdown.
But the Knights fought back with Robinson back on to lead the charge again.
After a penalty for dissent as Rochdale complained a knock-on was not spotted, York upped their lead just before half-time, Tyson-Wilson’s sharp pass seeing Moran crash through.
The second half began like the first – this time York fluffing the kick-off and inviting pressure.
They had three let-offs, though.
Jovilisi Taira, after being tackled inches short, was penalised for a double movement.
Then, after Joe Porter fumbled the ball when being forced in goal, Rochdale were also adjudged to have knocked on when touching down the loose ball.
The Knights had another escape after Harry Carter’s forward pass.
However, Rochdale did score, albeit helped by poor refereeing.
Centre Lewis Galbraith’s arced run was good but he was aided by some American football style obstruction, Rob Massam taking the scoring pass.
Ford threw Ellis and Tim Spears back on to stem the tide but, Rochdale had the momentum and an overlap, too, not spotted by the defence, Riley making it 20-20 with his second try.
York wasted a penalty chance but made amends at the other end, Ellis with a try-saver on prop Gavin Bennion.
Then as the heavens opened, the hosts dug deep.
A perfect Tyson-Wilson kick pinned Rochdale back, a big tackle on Galbraith forced the error, and, with Nev Morrison doing well in back play, Presley provided the assist again as big Tyson-Wilson spun over.
The Knights had to defend a set with only 12 men as Ellis went off with a blood injury.
They had to defend another, Robinson with a try-saver on Jono Smith. And another, Smith denied on the last.
Robinson went down injured, Saxton went down injured, Ellis took his time. The clock ran down.
Was this to be a fifth win in five outings against the Hornets during Ford's tenure? The hooter sounded. The Main Stand roof nearly came off.