JAMES FORD hailed the “fight and togetherness” in his York City Knights side after they shocked Championship side Rochdale 26-20 in a Challenge Cup thriller at Bootham Crescent.
Veteran half-back Jonny Presley, back in the line-up after deciding against retirement, created the match-winning try for Bobby Tyson-Wilson eight minutes from time, while his fellow old heads in the line-up were also key men in the win.
But Ford hailed his much-changed team “from one to 17” as the rebuilding club pulled off one of the surprises of the fourth round to go into Tuesday’s fifth-round draw.
It was also the new-look Knights’ best display of the year, a far cry from the narrow League One win over minnows South Wales last week.
“Rochdale are having a great season,” said Ford of the visitors, who strengthened their team after winning promotion and have since beaten Featherstone and Bradford. “Alan Kilshaw (head coach) is doing a really good job and they gave us a really good game.
“In the end it was close but we showed enough mental strength, grit, fight and togetherness to come through it and go through to the next round.”
Ford had rung the changes, with Presley and Tommy Saxton joining fellow veterans Andy Ellis, Adam Robinson and Tim Spears in the line-up, while Ben Dent, former skipper James Haynes and Kieran Moran were also recalled.
Young Liam Harris also enjoyed a fine debut at full-back on dual-reg from Hull KR.
Asked if the extra experience was a key factor as they built a 14-0 lead and later won the game after Rochdale had got it back to 20-20 midway through the second half, Ford said: “One to 17 were good.
“Last week we started well. When we were in control we were fine, but as soon as things unravelled a bit we just got worse. That’s where older blokes can influence things with good management and chat as well as leading by example.
“It was not a day for free-flowing rugby; it was a day for managing the performance and putting the team first and we did that really well.”
Asked if it was a landmark win for this new-look team, Ford said: “I don’t know about that. It’s always been one of my goals to beat a Championship team in the cup.
“We got plaudits when we went to St Helens (in 2015) but I didn’t think we did ourselves justice and against Dewsbury last year we let ourselves down a bit.
“But this is a shot in the arm for the team as the blokes have worked their backsides off, and it’s a shot in the arm for the supporters and the club for backing us as they do.”
He added: “It was not the perfect performance. I was a bit miffed after half-time (when mistakes allowed Rochdale to put pressure on). You always have reason for improvement, but we’ve set a standard for the coming weeks.”
Rochdale missed some chances, but Ford reckoned two of their tries “were outrageous decisions” and should have been wiped off.
“One was an American football move – they ran behind him and down the sideline. Those decisions have got Rochdale a foothold back in the game,” he said.
“We showed a lot of composure, toughness and togetherness to come through and win when things like that were going against us.
“The first half I thought was about right (from the referee). Killer (Kilshaw) has given him a bit of a spray at half-time and he’s come out in the second half and was awful. What does that say about his temperament.”