HEAD coach James Ford brought his big guns back for York City Knights’ return to Betfred Championship action – and, starting full of freshness and physicality, they duly beat Swinton Lions to equal a club record.

Ford had fielded largely a second string in last week’s Challenge Cup tie at Barrow, which garnered a number of encouraging performances and a very pleasing victory.

But he was always likely to ring the changes again for the Lions' visit to Bootham Crescent and his tip-top troops won 30-20 to make it six victories for the league campaign - equalling the Knights’ best-ever tally at this level of rugby league since the club re-formed in 2002.

It would have been a bigger victory, too, but for a late Lions comeback. The other downsides were injuries to half-backs Ben Cockayne and Connor Robinson which will be assessed during the week.

That previous best of six wins came in 2013 - when the club were still relegated. Conversely, these six have come in only eight matches - this class of 2019 currently sitting proud in the heady heights of the table, now third a third of the way through the season.

Back in came Liam Salter, Cockayne, Robinson, Graeme Horne, Joe Batchelor and Ronan Dixon, along with fit-again Jason Bass and Toronto Wolfpack loanee Nick Rawsthorne, who had been due his debut last week before pulling up in the warm-up.

Those making way were Kevin Brown, Brad Hey, Conor McGrath, Mike Kelly, Dave Petersen, perhaps most unfortunately Perry Whiteley and Josh Jordan-Roberts and, perhaps most surprisingly, former Leigh prop Jack Blagbrough, with former Hemel packman Marcus Stock retaining his place instead. Stock justified his selection when superbly setting up the third try.

Giving his leading lights those rests was a gamble where the cup was concerned but the decision has paid off, especially with the busy Easter period looming.

Swinton made four changes to the side beaten in the cup by Featherstone, with Lewis Hatton, Rob Fairclough and Jamie Acton injured and Daley Williams also out. In came backs Rhodri Lloyd and Matthew Ashton and second-rowers Kyle Shelford and Jack Wells, the latter making his debut on dual-reg from Wigan after a long time in the treatment room.

Hooker Josh Gansen and playmaker Harry Smith were other Wigan players involved, but Liam Paisley was recalled last-minute by the Super League champions.

York looked clearly the stronger early on and could have broken through when Batchelor fed Salter but the ball went to ground with referee Billy Pearson ignoring strong claims the centre was tackled before receiving it.

There were a few other handling errors, too, with York's physical dominance not bringing due dividend.

Indeed, a knock-on in his own half by left-winger Rawsthorne led to a spell of Swinton pressure. They crafted an opening in the left corner but Harry Smith’s kick was too long.

Rawsthorne next act of note was to win a penalty in his own half, and this led to the first try, captain Tim Spears smartly crashing through near the posts. Robinson added his first of four-out-of-four conversions.

Swinton struck back immediately, also on the back of a penalty - full-back Jack Hansen running diagonally into the left corner.

The Knights never really looked like losing, but this was not as easy as the Lions’ lowly league position suggested it might be.

York certainly weren’t able to break through at will. Robinson repeatedly chipped to the left corner on last tackles but never to great success, other than keeping the visitors pinned back.

A brilliant gang tackle then shoved Matthew Ashton back 15 metres and forced the error. This time Robinson grubber-kicked to the right corner and, although York were denied the try, they did get a repeat set from which they did score – Matty Marsh dummying, dancing and driving over the line.

Swinton could again have hit back quickly as Joe Porter erred under the restart but a forward short pass – not for the first time – ended their attack.

A penalty gave them more field position but Sam Scott deftly gathered a horrible kick near his own posts.

Instead, York extended their lead. Strong running by the likes of Porter and Kriss Brining took them forward, and sub prop Stock, showing super footwork, skipped past a tackler before sending Marsh home for an 18-4 interval lead.

Swinton came close to an intercept but York came closer to scoring again when, from Cockayne’s bobbling kick, Brining claimed the try but ref Pearson awarded a dropout, deeming a Swinton hand to have touched the ball down first.

Nevertheless, in the repeat set, Cockayne this time slipped second-row Scott through down the right.

The Knights again ceded possession from the restart, the difficult kick bouncing out, but the Lions, despite a characterful attacking strategy of overloading flanks with plenty of runners, did not look like breaking through ¬ forced passes twice being picked off – at least until Smith came up with a piece of solo magic just before the hour-mark.

The talented teenage stand-off chipped the defensive line, regathered and rounded full-back Marsh, adding the extras too to make it 24-10.

York had had another try ruled out by that point – Dixon’s touchdown disallowed for a forward pass - but the visitors did look more dangerous in centre-field after boss Stuart Littler replaced scrum-half Oscar Thomas and shifted his playmakers around.

The Knights nevertheless struck back quickly.

Cockayne was again the creator, dummying through before putting Horne home. With Robinson struggling with a hamstring niggle, albeit staying on the field, Rawsthorne took over the goalkicking and added the conversion, effectively sealing the victory before Swinton scored twice late on.

Another flash of enterprise firstly created a huge overlap for Liam Forsyth to score.

Then hooker Luke Waterworth scored a bizarre close-range effort after a stoppage due to York injuries which saw Cockayne depart and Jason Bass bandaged up after colliding in a last-ditch tackle.

With no interchanges left, the Knights were down to 11 players when ref Pearson allowed the Lions to take the quick penalty.

Bass returned to the field, though, and the 12 men saw out the last five minutes.

Smith, meanwhile, was sent off after the final whistle for apparent foul and abusive language.