NEWCASTLE Thunder held off a second-half fightback from a depleted York City Knights to prevail 28-26 winners at the LNER Community Stadium.

Newcastle looked to be in control of proceedings after two quick-fire tries after half time sent them into an apparently unassailable 22-2 lead.

But York showed plenty of character and fight to cut the deficit back to just two points and set up a thrilling finale.

Crucially, Newcastle added another try, through Alex Clegg, before the finish which ultimately proved to push the visitors into a lead that York could not overturn despite a last-minute Perry Whiteley score.

York’s second-half showing was made even more remarkable by the fact that the Knights were playing without a recognised half-back.

In spite of renewed positive performance, James Ford's side have fallen to a fifth consecutive league defeat which leaves him one spot above the relegation places and well adrift of the play-off places.

There was no Jamie Ellis, Jake Sweeting, Brendan O’Hagan, Matty Marsh or Riley Dean to be called upon this week through a mixture of loan recalls, injury and administration errors, so Ben Jones-Bishop and Chris Clarkson became the eighth different half-back partnership of the year.

Danny Washbrook was preferred as the interchange hooker, Kieran Dixon moved to full-back and Perry Whiteley returned on the wing, with Jason Bass featuring on the other flank.

Missing recognisable halves, York were expected to keep things tight early on and that seemed to bear out early on.

On seven minutes, Kieran Dixon's penalty goal put them in front but it did not take long for Newcastle to assert their dominance in a try laid on by the sheer power of veteran Ukuma Ta’ai.

His strong carry allowed Jake Shorrocks to find room in the middle and twist past Will Jubb - who was down hurt moments earlier and later went off - on the line.

Josh Woods added the simple conversion near the posts.

Even without a creative pairing in the middle, there could be few excuses for conceding back-to-back penalties and a six-again on the last which left York camped on their own line.

Shorrocks’ grubber kick forced a goal line drop out from which they came mightily close to scoring again when Sam Halsall’s dive was just out of the reach of the in-goal kick.

Midway through the half, just when York thought that their injury problems couldn’t get much worse, interchange Joe Porter went down in some agony clutching his knee and was eventually forced off.

Moments later, York were gifted a chance deep in Newcastle territory when Jack Johnson cheaply gave the ball away from a kick return.

But Jack Teanby lost the ball after a six-again call and, minutes afterwards, the prop forward failed to hold onto a short Clarkson pass after another set restart call.

As the progressed to its latter stages, York had more and more defence to produce in order to keep the Thunder at bay.

Alex Donaghy was held up by some brilliant scramble defence and York just about dealt with a teasing cross-field kick from Woods.

But, on 39 minutes, the visitors’ tryline pressure finally proved too much. The ball cheaply fell from Ryan Atkins’ grasp on halfway and Newcastle marched upfield with another strong carry from Ta’ai.

Close to the posts, Owen Harrison crashed over Evan Simons’ short ball and Woods scored another conversion to ensure a 12-2 half-time lead.

Already without two injured players, York needed a bright start to the second period but made the worst possible beginning.

Newcastle launched a high bomb which bounced between Jones-Bishop and Kieran Dixon and the Thunder flooded through, with Simons getting over under the posts.

Things then went from back to worse for York as the away side stretched 20 points clear. Newcastle switched play to the right flank and Alex Clegg broke clear before dummying past last-man Kieran Dixon and streaking to the corner.

Woods converted the first goal but not the second.

York’s attacks had been largely limited to running the ball on the last. That was until, on 52 minutes, Kieran Dixon kicked through for Atkins to dive on the ball and put the hosts back into the contest, however briefly.

Then, Clarkson showed some brilliant, if unexpected footwork close to the line off the back of a rather fortunate penalty call.

Two Dixon goals followed and, from nowhere, York had a spring in their step going forward and the momentum was now with them.

York’s veterans have come under some criticism in recent weeks but they inspired another try. Danny Kirmond was somehow denied a try by some stunning Newcastle rearguard work. Then, Washbrook produced a magnificent cross-field kick which Sam Scott grounded and Kieran Dixon converted to now trail by just two.

With ten minutes to go, York unfortunately made a telling error. Whiteley caught a high kick near his own but lost the ball on the ground.

Then, a signature bulldozing Ta’ai drive saw Knights bodies drawn in, allowing Newcastle to kick wide and Clegg dived on it out wide. Woods’ touchline conversion reaffirmed their eight-point advantage.

Just when the fans thought that it game over, York showed they had other ideas. Newcastle came up with a poor drop in their own half and the Knights spread it wide for Whiteley to come up with a acrobatic finish by the flag.

Dixon’s goal from the flank made it a two-point game with as many minutes to go.

York’s one last desperate attacking set ended in a Clarkson jab forward but Newcastle defended it well and held onto the ball until the final seconds.

York: K. Dixon, Whiteley, Salter, Atkins, Bass, Jones-Bishop, Clarkson, Green, Jubb, Teanby, Scott, Kirmond, Spears.

Subs (all used): R. Dixon, Stock, Porter, Washbrook.

Tries: Atkins (52), Clarkson (54), Scott (62), Whiteley (77)

Goals: K. Dixon (5/5)

Newcastle: Donaghy, Clegg, Wright, Halsall, Johnson, Shorrocks, Woods, T. Chapelhow, Simons, N. Wilde, Bailey, Ta’ai, Trout.

Subs (all used): J. Chapelhow, Harrison, Anderson, Oakley.

Tries: Shorrocks (14), Harrison (39), Simons (42), Clegg (44, 70)

Goals: Woods (4/5)

York’s man of the match: Perry Whiteley. The winger made an immediate impression upon his return with some strong carries coming out of yardage.