YORK City Knights were beaten in the cruelest of manners after a late runaway try from Craig Hall secured Featherstone Rovers a 16-12 victory.

With a couple of minutes remaining, Riley Dean lined up a second drop goal attempt which Featherstone managed to charge down and the bounce of the ball went their way, with Hall streaking clear to seal the points.

That was the only point in which the Rovers led the contest, having gone behind early on to York, who battled hard in the face of yet more injury concerns to come within one play of beating the unbeaten leaders of the Betfred Championship.

Knights head coach James Ford can take huge positives from the effort and the knowledge that this was not a side playing at its best, as he later admitted.

As has become custom this year, York made several changes to their 17 from the side which defeated Dewsbury Rams last time out.

One of those switches was enforced, with Kieran Dixon moving to full-back after Connor Wynne’s return to Hull FC and Jason Bass back on the wing.

Meanwhile in the forwards, Sam Scott, Tim Spears and Joe Porter replaced Yusuf Aydin, Danny Washbrook and Adam Cuthbertson, the latter owing to injury.

In a slight surprising move, Chris Clarkson started at hooker, with Will Jubb beginning on the bench.

Featherstone also made a left-field selection decision by deploying usual half-back Dane Chisholm at full-back to add another kicking threat to the Rovers attack.

While Clarkson took the hooker’s role, Riley Dean took plenty of dummy-half plays and it was from one of these that the Knights opened the scoring.

His sharp dart having spotted an error at the ruck saw him break through the line and tee up Matty Marsh for his seventh try in three games.

It did not take longer before Featherstone responded though, a score coming off the back of a strong defensive set.

Rovers went wide to the short side and from 30m out winger Gareth Gale managed to easily shrug off some Knights defenders and ground in the corner.

Featherstone continued to look the more likely of the two sides to score next. They were the side creating the pressure, making constant metres and frequently finding themselves with the York 20m.

They were unable to find a way through though as York just about fielded the Chisholm kicks.

Against the run of the grain, York were given the gift of a numerical advantage after a needless dangerous third-man tackle from John Davies saw him sin-binned.

And from the resultant set, Marsh’s pass saw Liam Salter drive to the line for a try which referee Chris Kendall took his time over ruling.

Kieran Dixon again converted the try.

Despite being down to 12 men, Featherstone remained a major threat and they came up with an absolute howler of a missed chance.

Craig Hall showed quick thinking to break through the line before rounding the full-back Kieran Dixon.

With the line just inches away, he offloaded to Brad Day who somehow dropped the pass from under the posts.

There was again last-ditch defending for York to produce minutes later when Junior Moors’ wide offload, with players on his outside, was claimed by covering Ryan Atkins.

In the final first-half minute, Featherstone did eventually manage to put points on the board, though it was in the form of a penalty.

With York caught offside, Nu Brown had the easy task of scoring under the posts.

That left York ahead 12-6 by the break - a lead that they will have been very pleased with upon reflection having clinically taken their limited chances and stoically defended their own line or large periods.

That defensive work did seem to have come at some price as Danny Kirmond did not return after the interval having looked hurt at several points in the first 40 minutes. Tim Spears would also not feature in the latter stages during injury.

Featherstone raced out of the blocks after the restart by forcing a goal-line drop out and then winning a penalty.

York’s defence remained stern in the face of the early pressure as Atkins’ big hit on Junior Moors saw the forwards’s attempted offload knocked on.

Still though Featherstone pressed for an equalising score, aided in their efforts when York were caught offside from an attacking kick.

Incredibly numerous Knights bodies managed to hold up forward charges from Moors and then Davies in the next set.

York managed to weather that storm and fought back primarily through some strong carries from Atkins and Marcus Stock.

The Knights twice went close through prop forwards. First, Joe Porter was adjudged to have knocked on before grounding a Marsh kick wide before James Green was somehow held up in the process of twisting over the line from a dangerous-looking position.

Like Salter’s score, Featherstone scored against the run of play. It was practically a carbon copy of their first, with Gale again the scorer as he far too easily evaded the defence on the right edge and went over in the corner.

It was by no means pretty but it certainly effective enough to cut York’s lead to two after another Brown missed conversion.

The half-back made no mistake moments later when, after back-to-back penalties, Fev went for goal from the latter and levelled it up at 12-12 with 15 minutes to go.

As the game neared its finish line, both sides were showing some nerves as they searched for the winner.

Dean Parata knocked on with daylight ahead of him from Brown’s risky offload.

Then, when first appearing to be lining up a field goal, York couldn’t capitalise on a surprise power-play move instigated by Dean.

With five minutes to go, Dean did manage to get an effort away at a one-pointer, but hit went wide of the posts.

When Hall dropped the ball, the Warrington Wolves loanee was given another shot at it. This time though, Rovers read the play and blocked the effort.

Hall soon went from villain to hero by being the quickest to it and racing away to the try-line.

Again, Brown couldn’t convert from out wide and that gave York some hope with a short kick-off.

But Kieran Dixon’s kick was short and wide and with precious few seconds to go, that ultimately proved a cruel end to a tremendous Knights effort.

York: K Dixon, Bass, Atkins, Salter, Jones-Bishop, Marsh, Dean, R Dixon, Clarkson, Baldwinson, Kirmond, Scott, Spears.

Subs (all used): Jubb, Stock, Green, Porter.

Tries: Marsh (6), Salter (30)

Goals: K Dixon (2/2)

Featherstone: Chisholm, Hall, Hardcastle, Minns, Gale, Holmes, Brown, Lockwood, Jones, Kopczak, Moors, Day, Bussey.

Subs (all used): Davies, Cooper, Halton, Parata.

Tries: Gale (13, 58), Hall (77)

Goals: Brown (2/5)

York’s Star Man: Ryan Atkins. Relentless in his early-set carries and made plenty of metres from them against a strong Featherstone forward pack.