HEAD coach James Ford has lauded the huge rise in average attendances at Bootham Crescent this year as promotion-chasing York City Knights prepare to sign off their home campaign.

The Knights, whose future was in grave doubt this time last year as the 2016 campaign ended in crisis, have already defied the odds this term to bag a play-off place in Kingstone Press League One, regardless of this Sunday's result against Newcastle Thunder.

And Ford reckons much of the on-field success has been down to the backing off the field from not only the new board following the December takeover but also the fans - who have made the Knights the best-supported team in the division barring moneybags champions Toronto Wolfpack.

He also believes such support will aid in future recruitment, to help persuade players to come to the Minster city.

Ford told The Press: "I'm really pleased with the distance the club has travelled off the field.

"The reputation of the club in and around York and rugby league in general is growing.

"We've always believed York has an immense amount of potential, and people around the game are starting to realise that and support that as well.

"The club has put efforts in off the field - I've seen how hard these people are working to promote the game and the club, and I'm pleased they're being rewarded by seeing such an increase in attendance."

Last year, under the much-criticised old regime, the Knights averaged 592 in their 11 league and Super 8s fixtures - the lowest since the club re-formed in 2003 - despite Ford again leading the team to the play-offs.

This year, in the 11 league and Super 8s fixtures so far, they have averaged 1,080 - which amounts to a massive 82 per cent increase.

The 2,601 that turned out for the memorable win over the Wolfpack, meanwhile, was the biggest home league attendance since June 2009.

Said Ford: "I’m really proud we’ve got the best average attendance in the division aside Toronto.

"But it's not just the numbers - it's also the way the supporters have got behind the players, which has been fantastic.

"Everyone expected us to have a difficult season after how last year finished and there have been times when we've not hit the standards we want to set. But the supporters have got behind the boys all the way.

"It enables the players to find that extra energy, to find the right pass and to make that tackle - they've pulled performances out of the bag on the back of it.

"The players do speak about how much of a lift they get and what the atmosphere is like compared to other teams."

Sunday's game might not yet be the last at Bootham Crescent this year.

Barring freak results, the Knights, looking almost certain to finish fourth, face a semi-final away to third-placed Whitehaven on September 24.

The other semi-final will be between second-placed Barrow and whoever finishes fifth, be it Doncaster, Keighley or Newcastle.

The final will then be played at the ground of the highest-placed finalist - either away to Barrow or at home should the Raiders lose their semi-final.

Either way, Ford, having noted an increase in support on the road too, added: "The supporters have played a massive role in us making the top five - and hopefully they can play an even bigger role in the play-offs."

Asked if having the best support in the division helps with recruitment, Ford said: "It's certainly something I'd speak to players about.

"Do they want to play on a nice field, in a good stadium - and soon to be in a new stadium - and train in excellent facilities, and play in front of 1,500 people or more who get right behind you?

"As a player it will make a difference."