YORK City Knights boss James Ford has lauded the “journey” his team and club have been on for the past three years – and is already preparing for another stellar season in 2020.

The Knights’ remarkable 2019 Championship campaign came to a close in front of the Sky Sports cameras on Saturday with a 30-4 play-off quarter-final defeat to Featherstone Rovers.

While the success of the season overall – finishing third, having been tipped for a relegation scrap - has been reflected in Ford’s nomination as the league’s Coach of the Year, Ford is not resting on his laurels.

“I’m really pleased with the distance we’ve travelled,” said Ford, reflecting on last year’s League One title success as well as this season’s startling against-the-odds efforts against clubs with much bigger budgets.

“We’ve improved immensely as a club. We’ve improved as a team and I feel like I’ve improved as a coach. The players have certainly improved. But we weren’t quite good enough.

“We know where we need to improve and we’ll endeavour to get there.”

Asked if next season might be harder again, with Championship teams being more aware of York as a whole, Ford said: “It’s always going to be hard.

“We will just focus on ourselves and we’ll try to be a better team than this year.”

Asked if the standards have been set by this campaign, he said: “This year has gone now. We’ve finished third and we move past it.

“We’re not going to be that metaphorical bloke sat in a bar telling everyone how good he was in 1980. We’ll let the boys enjoy it (the success) but it’s now about next season. It’s about trying to be better individually, as a unit, as a team and as a club.”

The long-serving Ford initially took over the Knights ahead of the 2015 season, after the 2014 failure to get promoted from what was then a much weaker League One competition. In his first two years in charge, he admirably led the team through off-field strive which culminated in the threat of closure at the end of 2016.

Featherstone, by contrast, have been a leading Championship club for a decade.

Referring to the December 2016 takeover by Jon Flatman, after which the Minster city club have been on an upward trajectory on and off the field, Ford said: “I’m really proud of the journey this team has been on.

“We’re three years into our journey. There was almost no club three years ago, we were almost out of the league.

“We’re at a very different stage of our development to Featherstone.

“For us to be where we are now, I’m immensely proud, and I think the boys deserve a massive pat on the back.”

He added: “We’ve got some winners in there – they are winners. They won’t want too many pats on the back, because they’ve lost. We set out to win the game and we weren’t quite good enough on the day.

“But we’re not going to make excuses about injuries or players missing. That’s not what we do at this club. That won’t make you better. We’ll look at the issues in the background and focus on what we can control and we’ll strive to be better next year.”

One of the most notable changes at the club over the past three years is the marked rise in attendances and supporter interaction.

That has not gone unnoticed by Ford, who has regularly lauded the backing his players have received from the terraces.

He said: “It wasn’t too long ago that we were playing at Huntington Stadium and the vibe between the performance unit and the supporters was not as strong as it is now.

“A few individuals have done an amazing job over a number of years. Let’s hope it keeps growing. Let’s hope that connection keeps growing. The boys love and it looks like the supporters love it as well.

“Let’s hope the club can go from strength to strength.”