JAMES FORD said he was “proud as punch” after leading out York City Knights in their first game at the LNER Community Stadium.

The Knights were beaten 28-22 by Betfred Super League contenders Hull FC in their sole pre-season friendly ahead of next week’s Betfred Challenge Cup season opener at Sheffield Eagles.

Ford took over as head coach back in 2015 with the club nomadic in his maiden season, playing matches at amateur and opposition grounds in order to complete the League One campaign.

As he took his seat at the new 8,500-seater stadium for the first time, it must have felt like a world away from hosting matches at Heworth and York RUFC.

Ford said: “I’m incredibly proud to be the head coach of a club that plays in a £40million stadium. I’m proud as punch.

“I’m really pleased for people like Jon Flatman (chairman) and everybody associated with the club who has overseen the last couple of hurdles to get us here.

“They’ve also helped massively in putting this squad together. I’m really thankful to be here and working for this club. We just need to do our bit on the field.

“I was looking in the dressing room at the players and it was a stark contrast from a few years ago.”

Of course, amid the coronavirus pandemic, the game took place behind closed doors, with fans not able to enter the Monks Cross ground until mid-May, at the earliest.

“My strongest memory from today was when the players came off from the warm-up,” Ford added.

“Normally the main stand get up and get behind the players and it’s a really nice feeling that - to see how much the players mean to the supporters. And we missed that today.”

Ford also had every reason to have pride in matters on the field too. His side were 12-0 behind after just 10 minutes and were trailing by 22 points after an hour.

Facing last year’s Super League semi-finalists, York could easily have caved in but they rallied to finish just one score behind and almost nicked a draw, only for Jack Teanby to be deemed offside late on.

“Mixed overall,” was Ford’s reaction to the performance. “But, I suppose the biggest part of me is positive. I thought we looked rusty occasionally but you’re going to do when you’ve had a year off.

“But as the game went on, I thought we got more cohesive and got into a rhythm and we looked like a good side that could kick on and do something this year.

“If you take the first 15 minutes out of it, we win the game. But, we didn’t and we’ve got to learn a lesson from that. We can’t start a game with as many errors as that and we can’t start a game coming second in the tempo.

“What I mean by that is that Hull were winning the rucks, playing quick, putting us on the back foot and dominating us when we were coming out of yardage.”

Ford paid tribute to the heart of his side, which almost staged an improbable comeback.

He added: “Credit to the players. (It was a) typical York and they showed massive character to hang in there at 12-0.

“In the 25-minute period that followed we won 6-0 - a side could have capitulated there and been 30-0 down.

“We didn’t. We found a way to work for each other and wrestle some control back in the game. Unfortunately, we’ve come up with a couple of loose bits before half-time and a good side like Hull will get you for that.

“We’ll learn from that and we’ll be better for that. We spoke about it at half-time and I thought we took another step forward after half-time.

“In the large I’m pleased, but there’s bits and bobs to work on.”

Given the current coronavirus restrictions, most clubs are playing just one pre-season friendly, despite the year-long absence from the field, while some are not playing any at all.

Having faced Challenge Cup holders Leeds Rhinos in an opposed training session last week and gone toe-to-toe with top-flight giants Hull FC in a run-out match, York looked well-placed for competitive action.

“We want to be playing these teams every week,” said Ford. “We wanted to play some of the best sides that we could get our hands on, who would then highlight areas that we need to work on and areas that we’re really good at.

“There would have been no point playing a bottom-end League One side and running 80, 90 points in because I don’t learn anything from that.”