YORK City Knights boss James Ford was not overly happy with his troops but still hailed their character as they just about withstood a Hunslet fightback to win 26-24 in a tense derby clash at the John Charles Stadium.

The Knights surged 24-0 up inside half an hour after a brilliant four-try salvo but it was largely Hunslet thereafter, the game ultimately being decided only by a 71st-minute penalty by Connor Robinson.

The result kept the Minster city side joint-top of Betfred League One, albeit now behind Bradford on points-difference after the Bulls’ romp against whipping boys West Wales.

Meanwhile, there were question marks surrounding Ash Robson’s absence - the former York Acorn junior having originally been named at full-back only to be replaced in the team by dual-reg Hull KR youngster Will Dagger.

Of the match itself, Ford said: “In the end it was right in the balance and we had to show a lot of character, resolve and work ethic to make sure we left with the league points.

“The performance for the second 50 minutes was not great, but we showed enough character and work-rate to see the game out.”

Asked if his team maybe thought it would be easy after going 24-0 ahead, Ford said: “It looked that way. We came up with a couple of really ordinary play fives, and Hunslet fired up and started to win the contact element of the game, which was not the case for the first 20-odd minutes when we won pretty much every play-the-ball.

“Credit to Hunslet for showing that mental toughness.

“I would probably question the attitude of my players at 24-0 up. A couple of defensive errors gifted Hunslet an opportunity.”

The Parksiders scored twice in the seven minutes up to half-time, and twice more after the break, only for those two tries to be punctured by Robinson’s penalty goal.

Said Ford: “If it was 24-0 at half-time it’s probably game done and dusted, but we allowed them an opportunity to get some momentum and, credit to them, they took it.

“Half-time came at the right time for us, but they had another crack at us.

“Gary Thornton (Hunslet boss) should be proud of their effort. That’s the grittiest Hunslet side we’ve faced for some time and they played some good stuff as well.”

Asked if he was worried at any point as Hunslet, with tails up, kept cutting the deficit, Ford said: “I thought the game was in the balance.

“But champion teams aren’t built on flair. They’re built on work-rate and solidarity and character. The flair side of it is on top of that.”

Robson had been named at full-back, reverting to his preferred position after the departure back to Hull KR of Kieren Moss, but was absent at the John Charles Stadium.

Ford refused to answer questions on the 23-year-old other than to confirm he was not injured.

On debutant Dagger, Ford said: “There were some pleasing parts of his performance. It’s tough coming into the side like that – he’s not played with us before and he’s not trained with us either. He had some positive involvements.

“There are things he needs to brush up on, but find me a 19- or 20-year-old full-back who doesn’t. You can see why he’s so highly thought of at Hull KR.”

Andy Ellis was named The Press’ man of the match. Of the veteran hooker’s display, Ford said: “The ruck speed was really slow all game but when we did get a faster one he was smart and he was probably unlucky not to get a try for his endeavours.

“The ruck speed isn’t always about referees. We needed to show more fight on the floor, grit our teeth, shape up better and run harder.”

The Knights lost centre Jake Butler-Fleming to a collision injury in the second half after his big hit caused Hunslet’s Tom Ashton to drop the ball. It is hoped the Aussie suffered only a minor dead leg and will be okay for next Saturday’s rearranged trip to Coventry Bears.