LOSING the tie is one thing, but losing star players to injury is another.

It is no secret that York City Knights have prioritised the Championship over a Challenge Cup run this term and to that end boss James Ford again made wholesale changes to his line-up for their fifth round tie at Widnes Vikings.

Rest and recuperation for some bruised players was one aim ahead of the big Easter double-header in the league, and minimising the chance of further injuries another.

However, as luck would have it, FOUR of the key men who were kept in - Kriss Brining (calf), Nick Rawsthorne (concussion), Joe Porter (hip) and new signing Jordan Baldwinson (dead leg) – all exited the action prematurely, the first two in the first half and the other two in the second.

Mike Kelly (shoulder) and Kevin Brown (concussion) also departed early - leaving the Knights with only 11 players on the field at the end.

All are doubtful for the Good Friday trip to Featherstone and the rematch against Widnes on Bank Holiday Monday.

Ford may well be more bothered by that than the 44-12 defeat at Halton Stadium - a scoreline made unflattering by four home tries in the last 14 minutes with York down to 12 then 11 men.

Indeed, he had some reason for encouragement – not least that a fringe team made a game of it for large parts against a full-time club fresh out of Super League.

There was also a debut try for prop Baldwinson and some promising signs from fellow debutant Lewis Heckford at half-back - especially considering he was the only playmaker out there for much of it.

Brown again had lively moments at full-back, too, on only his second start, having impressed in the previous round at Barrow, when Ford also fielded a much-changed side.

Baldwinson, Heckford and Brown were among no fewer than nine changes to the York side that beat Swinton last week, though several were enforced.

Playmakers Connor Robinson (hamstring) and Ben Cockayne (knee), full-back Matty Marsh (ankle), centre Liam Salter (hamstring) props Graeme Horne and Jack Teanby (dead leg) were all sidelined, while St Helens loanee Joe Batchelor was unavailable.

Captain Tim Spears and Sam Scott were in the 19-man travelling party but rested niggling injuries.

Into a much-changed pack came Jack Blagbrough, Brad Hey, Josh Jordan-Roberts, Dave Petersen, Kelly and Baldwinson, the forward signed on loan from Wakefield Trinity.

On-loan Dewsbury half-back Heckford was initially partnered in the halves by hooker Brining. Loose-forward-cum-hooker Petersen kind of filled in at times after Brining’s departure.

Will Jubb stood out over the full 80 minutes at hooker – and may have to do even bigger minutes at Easter with Brining joining Harry Carter in the treatment room.

Into the back line alongside fleetfooted youngster Brown - who also impressed on his debut in the last round - came Perry Whiteley.

Widnes fielded a relatively strong side, the omission of veteran former Wigan and Samoa star Harrison Hansen the only one of note, although Sam Freeman was also handed a debut on the left wing – making it a memorable one with four tries.

York got off to a super start. Widnes’ kick-off was an inch too long, smartly left by Blagbrough to bounce on the dead ball line and give the Knights a free hit back on half-way.

The set ended with Heckford kicking in-goal, an attempted clearance being miscued into an upright, and Hey touching it down. Rawsthorne, on goalkicking duty in Robinson’s absence, converted.

However, Widnes hit straight back with Freeman's first try, after half-back Danny Craven had broken through down the left. Full-back Jack Owens curled in his first of six conversions from wide out.

Another break followed, this time on the right, with star man Anthony Gelling sending winger Ryan Ince away, but Brining just put him into touch with a try-saving effort.

Former Wigan and New Zealand Warriors star Gelling was a class act as the Vikings made the bulk of the metres in the first quarter.

York did craft an opening, though, when Jubb was given chance to run into space from dummy-half, only Heckford’s grubber this time went dead.

Widnes built pressure as a couple of knockdowns from York handed the hosts consecutive attacking sets. But the defence excelled, Jason Bass smartly sweeping up a loose ball after the Vikings’ gamble down the short side failed.

York’s next attack was curtailed when Cook Islands international Gelling picked off a Brining pass. But the hosts insurgence ended when – surprisingly – Gelling dropped a Craven pass.

York lost both Rawsthorne and Brining before falling behind.

Given the openness of the contest on an artificial surface ideal for running rugby, it was surprising it took half an hour for this third try of the game to come – Owens’ cut-out pass giving Freeman another run-in.

The hosts were allowed another simple finish on half-time as Bass was caught flat-footed under a kick, allowing Keanan Brand to catch and cross.

The 18-6 interval deficit became 22-6 10 minutes into the second half as defenders were dragged in and Freeman completed his hat-trick with a dive into the corner.

Battling York replied quickly as, on the back of a penalty, Baldwinson crashed and spun over the whitewash, Heckford successfully taking over the goalkicking.

However, it was game over on 66 minutes as Freeman, after a sweeping move, finished quite brilliantly, when he seemed to – and possibly should - have been halted.

York were already down to 12 by then, and Widnes had the class and pace to exploit the spaces. Freeman flew down the left again before firing a pass inside for Joe Lyons to score, then, with the visitors down to 11, right-winger Ryan Ince and full-back Owens both sped in to give the scoreline its flattering look.