YORK City Knights have won their fair share of tight, close, to-and-fro 13-a-side games this year – and they showed they can do it at 12-a-side too.

Prop Josh Johnson and Doncaster’s former Knights front-rower, Russ Spiers, were sent off just four minutes into the Betfred League One clash at Bootham Crescent, leaving the rest of the players to cover more ground than usual on another hot day.

But once again James Ford’s troops came out on top – just, with another enthralling game in doubt until two touchdowns in the last two and a half minutes sealed a 31-16 home win.

The same thing happened last week against Newcastle, when late tries garnered a flattering scoreline.

It’s a habit which will hopefully stand the Knights in good stead in the play-offs – although on current form, pipping Bradford Bulls to the sole promotion spot cannot be ruled out either.

The top two, separated by only two points, meet in a fortnight.

The gap to rest grew, meanwhile, with Hunslet dropping back after losing at Workington.

A quintet of big guns had returned for the Knights - skipper Tim Spears, Andy Ellis, Graeme Horne, Huddersfield loanee Colton Roche and playmaker Connor Robinson, the division’s top points-scorer.

Rotated out were packmen Adam Robinson, Dan Hawksworth, Ronan Dixon and on loan hooker Dan Maskill with dual-reg winger Will Oakes the other replaced.

Dual-reg forwards Johnson and Jordan Walne both made fifth appearances for York, making them eligible for the rest of the season. Johnson’s didn’t last long.

Fellow Hull KR starlet Matty Marsh was also available but rather than re-forming a half-back partnership with Connor Robinson, he started at full-back, with Ben Cockayne staying at stand-off and Ash Robson reverting to the wing.

Those selections paid off handsomely, with Marsh and Cockayne both scoring, the latter being man of the match, and Robson superb too.

One of Marsh’s second-half catches under a challenge from two attackers was top-drawer.

For Doncaster, new signing Matty Beharrell made his debut – two weeks after playing against the Knights for Keighley – and it was he who set up the first try.

York’s wingers often come inside in defence, but Robson was caught out doing so and Beharrell’s brilliant cut-out pass gave Richard Owen an easy finish.

The Dons were without Jordi Hedges and dual-reg stars Liam Harris, the dangerous ex-Knights half-back, and centre Cameron Scott, but pivot Jez Litten and loose-forward Jansin Turgut were in from partner club Hull

Beharrell slipped straight in at scrum-half alongside ex-Knight Jordan Howden.

Former Featherstone and Wakefield back-row Frankie Mariano, centre Liam Welham and ex-Knights prop Ross Osborne also returned.

The Knights drew level after nine minutes with a fine team try, Judah Mazive diving into the corner.

Robinson booted a super conversion.

After that busy opening - which had kicked off with the Johnson v Spiers punch-up - the game settled, although Griffiths was often the centrepiece.

Four penalties went the Dons’s way, Jack Sanderson going for goal with the fourth and equalising.

York hit back in kind through Robinson to eke back ahead, after Cockayne, running the play, was caught by an Osborne high tackle in the red zone.

Robinson made up for some untidy play and a fumble by immediately forcing an error from Howden. And, following the scrum on half-way, York crossed again.

Cockayne was the creator, running again, bouncing off a tackle and creating a two-on-one for Joe Batchelor to send Robson in.

York had the upper hand but another Dons penalty – this for supposed holding down – gave the visitors easy voyage upfield.

They looked sure to score when, from a chip to the right wing, tall winger Aaron Jones-Bishop rose to collect but Mazive somehow denied him the touchdown.

York went down the other end, won a dropout, then crossed through Marsh – only the try was ruled out for obstruction.

Jason Tali likewise had a try disallowed at the other end for a knock-on under a kick, and it remained 12-6 at the break.

Doncaster began the second half on top after handling errors from Horne and Robson, but it was York who upped their lead in their first attack.

Joe Batchelor was denied by a super tackle after more good play from Cockayne, and Horne was also held short.

But Robinson knocked over a drop goal to make sure the attack didn’t go unrewarded. Donny also now had to score twice.

Mazive claimed he had increased the lead in the next raid when shooting onto a low Robinson kick. The referee thought he had knocked the ball dead. The touch judge overruled them all and awarded a dropout.

York had a second try of the half disallowed when Harry Carter was called offside from a little Robinson dab.

Instead, Doncaster hit back, Owen the finisher in the corner. This try should have been ruled out for a forward pass.

The lead cut to three points, the next score would be vital.

Marsh got it. Shaping to pass along the line to the right, he cut inside and forged a route to the whitewash. Robinson goaled.

However, that was quickly cancelled out.

A Beharrell kick over the top in centre-field was taken by Howden and his try under the posts was goaled by Sanderson.

Joe Porter, who only made his entrance in the second period, lit Bootham Crescent up with a wonderful run out of defence. His second-half cameo was superb all round.

Batchelor took it on and Sam Scott won a penalty. But rather than eke the lead up to 21-16, the Knights ran the ball, lost it and had to contend with a Doncaster counter.

Contend they did, Robson this time catching the kick on his own line and making great ground.

At the other end, though, York weren’t finishing their sets well and Doncaster still had strong victory hopes.

It was finally game over in the 78th minute. Porter had smartly won the ball back in centre-field as Beharell went for broke with a chip and chase.

York worked the way to the red zone where Cockayne injected pace and knowhow, and Horne read it to blast over.

They looked set to score again after winning the short restart but ref Griffiths harshly pulled them for a forward pass.

Nevertheless, Doncaster turned the ball over again and this time the Knights – specifically Cockayne - nailed it.

Given a quarter-chance on the free play, he arced around Owen and outsprinted his fellow former Super League winger to the corner to cap another top-notch display.