JAMES FORD has expressed his anticipation for the return of crowds as York City Knights prepare for what is set to be their final match behind-closed-doors this weekend.

Fans have not been able to attend Knights matches since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic over a year ago, which forced the cancellation of the 2020 season and has seen all matches played this year take place without supporters.

York visit Widnes Vikings on Sunday (3pm) ahead of next week’s reopening to its fans as Oldham head to the LNER Community Stadium, which will have a maximum crowd of 1,000 (Ticket information see Page 38).

“They’ve been missing from our performances,” said head coach Ford of the Knights fans.

“If you look at the games we’ve lost, we lost to Featherstone by four points, Sheffield by six points and to Toulouse by 14.

“I know how well the home support get behind us and it probably would make a difference there.

“I’ve always said that the York supporters are part of our performances and part of our team. We love playing in front of them and they travel home and away and they make a big difference.

“The amount of close games we’ve won, I do put that down to how well they get behind the team at key moments.

“We can’t wait to welcome them into the new stadium. However many are coming in, your challenge is to make some noise.”

While the return of fans begins from Monday, as things stand, York's players and staff are still under strict Covid-19 protocols.

“I would assume that testing would remain and we’ll still be training in groups to reduce close contact, certainly on the back of the Sheffield minor outbreak,” Ford added, after two Eagles players returning positive tests which postponed their game at Halifax this week.

“I reckon that will be the case until the vast majority of people are vaccinated. It’s the same for everybody, but it does create issues with the amount of time that we need to be at training.

“Training in groups has an impact on the specificity of what we can do, because they’re in groups based on what time they can get there.

“We’re also training on Saturday morning rather than Friday nights, so we probably lose a bit of intensity in our last session, because we don’t want to do too much before a game.

“But we knew these challenges were going to be there at the start of the season.”

Before York can look ahead to the Oldham, they first travel to Widnes, a side tipped for a play-off finish this year but struggling at present, with just one win from their last six matches.

Ford said: “Widnes are a side that are really good in good ball. They look like they spend a lot of time practising their shifts and attacking the opponents’ goal line.

“They’ve got some outstanding individuals like Jack Owens, Danny Craven, Matty Smith, Paul Clough, Matt Cook, (Shane) Grady, (Steve) Tyrer.

“We need to make sure we don’t give Widnes opportunities in our half and we need to put them under pressure.

“If you look at Swinton, who make errors and don’t kick the ball well from yardage consistently, they gave Widnes an awful lot of opportunities in good ball and Widnes butchered them.

“If you look at the Toulouse performance, they didn’t make many mistakes and they put Widnes under an awful lot of performance and it was lopsided.

“We need to go there with the mentality to play our style at the intensity that we want to play at, improve in one or two areas that we didn’t get to against Featherstone and put them under pressure and challenge them.”

York have made two changes to their squad as loanees Mikey Lewis and James McDonnell replace the injured Tim Spears and Myles Harrison.

York City Knights squad: Marsh, Bass, Salter, Atkins, K Dixon, R Dixon, Jubb, Clarkson, Scott, Cuthbertson, Baldwinson, Stock, Kirmond, Green, Porter, Jones-Bishop, Barcoe, Washbrook, Dean, Lewis, McDonnell.