Doncaster 38, York City Knights 20


WELL, that is it. York City Knights are down, their three-year stay in the Kingstone Press Championship finally at an end.

A 38-20 defeat at Doncaster tonight consigned them to the drop, even before Sunday’s final game of the season at home to Batley.

It was their 25th consecutive league defeat on the road – a sequence stretching back 26 months – and it was another game they threw away having got into a winning position, their fragile confidence affecting mind, body and soul.

It is perhaps ironic the club, having been saved by default in the past two years, will be relegated after their most competitive season in this tier. Few will be chuckling at the irony, though, as they plan long journeys to rugby league outposts like Gloucestershire and Hemel Hempstead.

Tonight's game had begun so well, but it became horribly, horribly nervous and turned truly awful, all capped by a red card for Jack Aldous after fisticuffs with eight minutes left – followed by two late tries to rub salt into the visitors’ wounds.

York had led throughout the first half, having scored a fine team try in their first set of the game.

Simon Brown, Ben Johnston, Tom Carr and Greg Minikin were involved before Ben Dent sped to the corner from 25 metres out.

Then excellent play from Nathan Freer, Jack Lee, Carr and Sam Latus – showing good hands on a balmy evening – took them to Donny’s line again, where the defence bought Lee’s dummy from acting-half allowing the hooker to flop over.

Carr converted and it was 10-0 after seven minutes – the Knights in dreamland, totally unaware it would turn into a nightmare.

It should have been 12 as Carr skewed an easy penalty but on 15 minutes his work with the boot in open play paid bigger dividends.

Matt Nicholson and Minikin again took York close, where home winger Dave Scott made a hash of Carr’s little kick into goal, handing Dent an easy touchdown.

Dent and teenager Minikin had kept their places after rising out of the under-20s for last week’s game at Workington and doing well despite the narrow defeat. Dent’s brace offered early justification for their inclusion again.

Thornton had been forced into one change, with Joe Pickets banned after pleading guilty to a late high challenge in last week’s defeat to Hunslet.

This saw Matt Nicholson – York’s main go-to prop – switch to loose-forward, with Aldous back in at prop after illness.

Ryan Mallinder was also back in the second row in place of Ed Smith, despite the latter’s try-scoring exploits last Thursday, while Kriss Brining returned as replacement hooker with Jonny Presley again left out.

A winning position was garnered – but the wheels then began to fall off as has happened so often in this now ten-game losing sequence.

Their first errors – a fumble then a penalty – should have been costly but Matt Dawson, the Dons’ on-loan Huddersfield centre, somehow dropped the ball in the act of touching down. Was that the kind of luck York have been lacking for so long?

Not yet. A high tackle by Mallinder gave Doncaster easy ground and Mick Butterfield broke through a powderpuff Jack Latus tackle, Scott goaling.

It was now the hosts’ turn to make use of the lush conditions. Sam Latus could not deal with Paul Cooke’s steepling kick, and play went to the other wing, where Scott got past Minikin and Dent, and added the touchline conversion.

It was 14-12 and the edginess was back.

Smart kicks by Cooke – a dangerman throughout – earned the Dons repeat sets but the defence held out, and York at last got back up the other end. Lee did not pass up the opportunity, scoring again from dummy-half, and this time Carr converted for a 20-12 half-time lead.

This proferred relief and renewed hope, but it always seemed like the second half could be anybody’s, amid nagging doubts about York's ability to successfully see a game through.

The last thing they needed was an almighty blooper early in the half – but that’s what they got.

Carr and Sam Latus stood and watched Craig Fawcett’s high kick, it bounced into home hands and Dennis Tuffour scored, Scott goaling.

Sam Latus also fluffed a Cooke kick, a lucky ricochet gave the hosts a third set – it looked like Doncaster had thrown the ball forward but not according to referee Dave Merrick – and Matt Carbutt crossed, Scott goaling.

There were 20 minutes left and York, only four points down, were already forcing it, panicking, worrying.

Tuffour caused Jack Latus to knock on 20 metres from his own line. Cooke, York’s destroyer-in-chief, went by himself and reached out to the whitewash.

A great chance went begging due to Lee’s bad pass. Then Sam Latus’ nightmare continued as he knocked on in his own half.

Frustrations duly boiled over as a high tackle led to a brawl which saw Aldous sent off and Cooke yellow-carded, both sides down to 12 for the last eight minutes.

Only the Dons made use of the extra space, though, capping their win with tries by Scott and ex-Knight Chris Spurr.