BOSS James Ford spared his goal-kickers any blame after York City Knights fluffed three late penalties in an agonising 18-16 defeat to high-flying Whitehaven.

Two stunning tries in front of a bumper Bootham Crescent crowd – the Knights’ highest at home since 2011 – had seen Ford’s troops fight back from 18-4 down against a bruising Cumbrian side who were looking to retain second place in the League One table.

The hosts should have drawn level, too, after fouls on Kieran Moran, twice, and Tim Spears had presented them with kickable penalties in centrefield, all in the last seven minutes. But new boy Connor Robinson missed the first two, from 40 and 35 metres out, and fellow half-back Liam Harris skewed the last one wide, from 30 metres.

Ford said their play selection during the match was off-key in a below-par attacking team performance as a whole, but he refused to criticise them for the missed shots at goal and backed them to bounce back.

“I would have preferred them to kick them,” he said, wryly stating the obvious.

“Goal-kickers sometimes have an off day. Connor and Liam would normally have kicked them. It doesn’t change my opinion of them – I still think they’re both very good players.”

However, Ford was more critical of his team’s display overall, as their six-match winning run ended, albeit against a high-flying side who are looking to bounce back to the Championship at the first attempt. York also had two tries crucially ruled out.

“I thought we were miles away from the standards we’ve set ourselves. Some of the stuff we did with the ball was unrecognisable,” he said.

“We have shown when we have an off day we still have enough fight and character to be in the game against a good team and we should have taken something from the game – we certainly had enough chances.

“It wasn’t just the penalties. We had chances to score. There were some touches of class from Brad Hey, for example, and we should have done better.”

He added: “The plays the halves selected weren’t the sharpest, while (full-back) Ash Robson wasn’t at his best.

“We got somewhere near in the second half when the standards were more like the team we’ve seen in the last few weeks and in practice.

“I think the effort from the middle was fantastic, especially after we lost Chris Siddons (to sunstroke) after 10 minutes leaving us a player down for 70 minutes.

“I don’t want to take anything away from Whitehaven. They came down here and deserved the win, so well done to them.

“But we’re a bit disgusted with ourselves – we know we’re better than we performed today.”

Second-row Joe Batchelor had a third-minute opener wiped out as Robinson’s pass was called forward, while a touch judge deemed winger Tommy Saxton to be in touch when he dived into the corner in the second half.

Asked about the two disallowed tries, Ford was magnanimous.

“Tommy certainly grounded it but he may have been in touch,” he said. “Joe Batchelor’s in the first half – the pass probably was forward.”

But he added: “A couple of their scores came from very soft calls from the referee.

“Ash Robson got done for a knock-on but it was a dead-set penalty to us (leading to Haven’s first try).”

On referee Steve Race, Ford added: “I think he struggled a bit. The ruck speed was far too slow and he missed forward passes. There were a couple of big calls which, in my opinion, he got wrong.

“But I’m not blaming him for the result. We did not play to our standards. Whitehaven were good for the win so fair play to them.

“We’ve set up to beat teams like that home and away. We will probably take some positives from it later on but, at the minute, we’re all very disappointed.”

The attendance of 1,084 beat the 1,013 against Doncaster on Good Friday and was the highest since 1,193 watched York’s Championship defeat to Featherstone at Huntington Stadium in 2011.

Ford added: “The club has been fantastic and the supporters were fantastic – both sets of fans made for a great atmosphere.”