YORK City Knights have only been to Whitehaven’s Recreation ground three times now since being re-formed in 2003, and this 26-16 defeat means they are still yet to win.

That is a record they will have to overturn if they are to go up from League One this season, given this match was effectively a dress rehearsal for the play-off semi-final in a fortnight – Haven looking almost certain to finish third and York fourth.

However, little should be read into this result, given that Knights boss James Ford fielded a weakened team for what in many ways was a dead rubber, and given that the heavy, windy conditions – thanks to deluges before and during the game - made it hard going all round.

And little can also be made of that record, too, given the omens may even be on the Knights’ side – the two times the teams have met in knockout games (2009 Northern Rail Cup and 2014 Challenge Cup), York have won through.

All indicators, however, suggest the upcoming semi-final will be close. Haven won the regular season match at Bootham Crescent by two points after York missed three late penalties, and they only sealed this one late on, on the back of some controversial refereeing.

The teams, despite contrasting styles, otherwise looked well-matched, be it in the Bootham Crescent sun or the Cumbrian rain.

Ford was always going to make changes to the side that booked their play-off berth with last week’s comeback draw against Doncaster – and he ended up making more than first planned too, leaving the team patched up.

Back-row Joe Batchelor and centre Brad Hey were rested, while Adam Robinson joined the injury/unavailable list.

Additionally, though, in-form playmaker Liam Harris was a late withdrawal due to sickness and forward Jordan Cox likewise pulled out because of a family illness.

Harris’ ability to do something out of nothing was missed, even if his twinkling feet aren’t fully suited to the soft ground. Ash Robson will surely make a difference too, when his suspension is up ahead of the rematch to come.

The various changes and reshuffles saw Ben Dent return at full-back, James Haynes and the inexperienced Adam Swift form a new centre pairing, and Jake Butler-Fleming - moving from centre - and the little-used Liam Thompson form a new back row. They all did well enough.

Joe Porter was used not in the second row as planned but as a replacement prop – standing out with several storming runs through bigger men - and fit-again half-back Harry Tyson-Wilson was also on the bench. HTW’s second-half introduction saw Robinson switch to full-back, albeit ultimately unsuccessfully.

Haven were without second-rows Karl Olstrom and Connor Holliday but otherwise fielded arguably their strongest side.

It was they who went ahead early on.

A penalty at a scrum was followed by an excellent move which carved open York’s new-look left-side defence for full-back Elliot Miller to run home, Paul Crook goaling well.

The Knights fought back, though, Connor Robinson sorting his hit-and-miss kicking game out to force a dropout and then create the equalising score, Dent on his outside getting on the end of a well-angled grubber.

As the Cumbrian rain poured, Haven went back ahead through a Crook penalty for holding down.

As the showers relented, York equalised. They initially rejected a possible equaliser from 35 metres but they accepted the two-pointer shortly afterward from 15 metres, Robinson obliging after the hosts were offside.

Whitehaven retook the lead in controversial circumstances, from a Steve Roper grubber. Amid a mess of bodies, with York having looked favourite to clean up, referee Tom Crashley awarded the touchdown after chatting with a touch judge, Miller accredited with the score. Crook goaled.

The hosts went close again following another penalty, skipper Scott McAvoy halted on the last tackle.

But they still had a 14-8 lead having just edged the first period.

York hit back two-and-a-bit minutes after the resumption.

Porter’s storming run in centre-field created it, leaving the home defence stretched.

Robinson took the pass from acting-half then fired it back inside for half-back partner Jonny Presley to scamper home by the sticks.

They did not equalise with the easy extras, though, Robinson’s standing foot slipping on the mud.

The left-footer’s steepling kick created the next chance, Haven winger Craig Calvert fumbling underneath.

York kept the pressure on – benefitting from a fortunate scrum – but found no way through stoic defence.

They got another chance, though, after a Haven handling error up the other end, a penalty for a high tackle on Butler-Fleming, and - more so - another great run from Porter.

The former York Acorn amateur was halted short but the ball went left and Presley grubber kicked in goal. These heavy conditions did not suit Dee Foggin-Johnston’s fast feet but the winger raced up to get the touch down for a 16-14 lead.

That lead did not last long – as Robinson was found out at full-back.

Roper grubber kicked in goal, Robinson tried to swipe the ball dead but missed, and Dion Aiye slid in to score. Crook converted.

Haven, having changed momentum, then got a fortunate attacking scrum, a field kick clipping a York hand on the way out.

Jesse Joe Parker seemed sure to score as the ball was spread right but young Swift came out of nowhere to fell him.

The hosts were held up over the whitewash in the next tackle and then did get over – player-coach Carl Forster crossing – but the try was wiped off for a forward tackle.

Nevertheless, a fortunate penalty – this one the hosts’ way after Butler-Fleming was harshly adjudged to have interfered at a play-the-ball – piled more pressure on, and this time Forster did benefit, the prop touching down the loose ball from a kick.

It seemed from the stands that he had knocked on in doing so, but, with four minutes left, the game was up, with Crook’s conversion capping the victory.