YORK City Knights are getting used to painful finales in thrilling big games.

Last year they got to within six seconds of the League One play-off final only for Swinton to equalise with a drop goal and win it with another in extra time en route to promotion.

At Bloomfield Road, Blackpool, the Knights got to within two minutes of stealing silverware, the iPro Sport Cup, a first knockout trophy since the 1936 Yorkshire Cup, after Ed Smith scored a remarkable late try, Brett Turner’s conversion from wide left putting them 18-16 in front.

But opponents Keighley Cougars struck back, winning possession from a short restart before the “Little General”, Paul Handforth, the veteran playmaker who had been a controlling force throughout, created a winning try for Charlie Martin thanks to a change of direction and the most pinpoint of little kicks – plus a controversial refereeing call that deemed the grounding good.

Handforth’s conversion made it 22-18 and he was there again on the hooter, intercepting a loose ball in the Knights’ last, desperate attack.

It would be churlish to suggest the Cougars had not deserved their success having looked in control for much of the game, leading from the 26th minute to the 75th.

But, still, it was oh so cruel on James Ford’s battlers whose urgency at times turned to anxiety during the high noon showdown but who at no point threw in the towel.

They had been given a blow in the warm-up as full-back Richard Wilkinson pulled up with the same ankle problem that forced him off at the end of the win at Newcastle.

Ben Dent was the natural replacement and, indeed, Ford said they had practised with the former New Earswick youngster at number one, wary Wilkinson might not pass fit.

In a more expected change, the injuries to Ryan Mallinder and Tyler Craig brought about a reshuffle that saw second-row star Smith switch to centre – his first start there since his teenage years – and player/assistant-coach Mark Applegarth turn the clock back further and begin in the back row rather than the front.

Prop Ross Osbourne and Brad Hey came onto the bench, the latter providing a centre/back-row option, but only getting on the field in the last ten minutes.

Keighley had all their big hitters out there, Paul March having rotated a few recently in readiness for this final. Ultimately that planning paid off for former Knights player-boss March, whose stranglehold in fixtures against York since he was controversially sacked in 2009 therefore returned, that grip having slipped in the Challenge Cup tie between the sides two months ago.

York’s 20-12 win in March had been all Knights in the first half and all Cougars in the second. This fixture was different, with momentum switching throughout, but with Keighley always seeming to have the edge aided by York mistakes.

Dent had a nice confidence boost to start with, taking a high kick on his own line but, from the next kick to the corner, he skidded out of play to hand Keighley an attacking set.

They looked sure to score through Brendon Rawlins but a big tackle by Dent and Brett Waller prevented forced a knock-on.

York should also have scored in their first real attack as Jonny Presley’s chip evaded the defence under the posts, but half-back partner Danny Nicklas was unable to control the bounce.

In an end-to-end opening, York did take the lead.

The Cougars were expecting the pass on the last tackle to go to one of the half-backs but instead Pat Smith sent it flat to Mike Emmett and he had captain Jack Aldous diving through.

Turner, who ended the Newcastle match with goalkicking duties, began them here and added the extras.

York hearts were soon aflutter as Dent looked sure to gather a Handforth kick only to lose his footing. The ball was bouncing the Cougars’ way but Dent, grounded, sent out his go-go-gadget arms to gather it in.

Turner, with one of his scything runs, created an opening at the other end - but his pass was loose and Nicklas failed to take it with the defence retreating.

It wasn’t long before the Cougars hit back.

After repeat sets, defenders were dragged in and half-back Liam Darville sent left-winger Paul White in, Handforth goaling.

Then Dent spilled the ball 20 metres out, and, although the excellent Ash Lindsay fumbled at the whitewash after picking up and racing home, Keighley still had the scrum and, from it, Rikki Sheriffe scored, another overlap having developed down the same left flank.

As York mistakes crept in, it could have got worse as Josh Tonks’ slip created a gap for Handforth but the veteran schemer also lost his footing with the line begging.

The Knights began the second half with more intensity but Dent was again adjudged to have knocked-on at his own line when losing his footing, setting the field position for ex-Knight John Oakes to barrel over, Handforth converting.

York really needed to score from Keighley’s error at the restart but mistakes continued.

There looked no way back, Keighley playing simple rugby to keep York at arm’s length, Handforth the controlling influence.

However, a piece of brilliance from Aldous – amid one of his monstrous 80-minute stints up top - gave them a lifeline, his pass out of the back door putting Jonny Presley in against his former club, Turner goaling.

It followed ground-getting runs out of defence by Turner and Ed Smith and a penalty.

Mistakes crept into the Cougars’ play, too, but York were getting anxious.

James Feather thought he’d sealed it for Keighley after a breakaway but referee Scott Mikalauskas harshly deemed he had knocked on when digging over.

Then came another moment of Knights magic – Pat Smith finding the angle to chip to the corner where his brother, back-tracking and falling backward, caught the ball over his head, spun and touched it down.

Turner held his nerve with the conversion and York’s fans were in ecstasy.

But it was all cut painfully short.

There are strong claims Martin did not ground the ball but, with this game being the only one of the Summer Bash weekend not to be televised, there was no video referee, the try was given and that was that.


Knights 18 Keighley 22

Knights: B Dent 5, Turner 7, Morland 6, E Smith 8, Buchanan 6, Presley 7, Nicklas 6, Waller 7, P Smith 7, Aldous 8, Tonks 7, Applegarth 7, Emmett 7. Subs (all used): Brining 6, Spiers 6, Osbourne 6, Hey 6.

Tries: Aldous 10; Presley 57; E Smith 75.

Conversions: Turner 10, 57, 75.

Penalties: none.

Sent off: none.

Sin-binned: none.

Keighley: R Hawkyard, Finigan, R Sheriffe, Martin, White, Darville, Handforth, Law, Feather, Rawlins, Lynam, Oakes, Lindsay. Subs (all used): D Hawkyard, Bailey, Peltier, Ollett.

Tries: White 20; Sheriffe 26; Oakes 44; Martin 78.

Conversions: Handforth 20, 44, 78.

Penalties: none.

Sent off: none.

Sin-binned: none.

Man of the match: Ed Smith – the second-row star might have played out of position at centre but he excelled throughout, capping his display with that brilliant late try which so nearly brought the iPro Sport Cup back to his home city.

Referee: Scott Mikalauskas (Leigh) – good, though Keighley maybe had their winning try wrongly given and an earlier one wrongly disallowed.

Penalty count: 8-5

Weather: seaside sun, with a bit of cloud.

Half-time: 6-10

Attendance: TBC

Moment of the match: Ed Smith’s try was a moment of brilliance and brought ecstasy to the travelling Knights fans – albeit very briefly.

Gaffe of the match: It wasn’t the only time in the game that a York player lost his footing on the lush Bloomfield Road surface but when Ben Dent slipped and knocked on in his own left corner, Keighley were to take advantage with the opening try of the second half to give them breathing space. Another gaffe in general was the decision not to show this game on Sky Sports, like all the others of the Summer Bash, as two big decisions – one a Keighley try disallowed and their winner awarded – could have done with video confirmation.

Gamebreaker: If only it had been Ed Smith’s wonderful finish from his brother’s chip – but it was Charlie Martin’s try three minutes later, two from time, at the other end.

Match rating: it was not the tidiest game, with too many errors from the Knights’ perspective in particular, but James Ford’s men did well to not only stay in the game but also play their part in a most thrilling of finishes that wouldn’t have looked at all bad on the telly had the game been broadcast.