York City Knights 25 Bradford Bulls 24

YORK City Knights pulled out all the stops to get a bumper crowd down to Bootham Crescent – and the team pulled out all the stops on the pitch too, to come out tops in yet another remarkable game, this one being decided by the width of a post.

The attendance of 4,007 was one of the biggest since the York club re-formed in 2002. Moreover, the atmosphere was befitting of the entertainment served up – with a 79th-minute drop goal by Liam Harris giving the Knights a 25-24 victory over new-found arch-foes Bradford Bulls and sparking wild celebrations in the stands.

Remarkably, his drop-goal went in off a post, just moments after Jordan Lilley’s long-range effort at the other end had hit an upright and bounced out. Fine margins indeed.

The attendance was just short of the Knights’ best of 4,281 set for this corresponding fixture last season, when the Bulls won 22-20 with the last kick of the game in a similar thriller.

James Ford’s men had the last laugh, of course, as they won at Odsal later in the year and pipped John Kear’s team to the League One title – the home fans took great glee in reminding the visitors as much throughout the afternoon. Furthermore, they have now completed a 2019 league double over the former world club champions, further strengthening their stunning bid for a play-off place in the Championship.

For the Bulls – with four missed goals and a disallowed Ryan try proving very damaging - this was a big blow to their own top-five aspirations as the play-off race took another twist.

It’s fair to say Kear was not happy post-match.

Bradford took a swift lead but, despite having Ronan Dixon sin-binned for the last 10 minutes of the first half, York led 14-8 at the break thanks to a Will Oakes double, including a length-of-the-field effort while his team were down to 12 men.

Fellow winger Perry Whiteley also scored a brilliant brace in the second period but Ethan Ryan completed a hat-trick and tries by Ross Oakes and Jy Hitchcox tied the scores late on. Before the even later drama.

Boy, was it noisy.

Captain Tim Spears was back at loose-forward for York after his one-match ban but the Knights had been dealt two big blows before the game as both Graeme Horne and Matty Marsh failed late fitness tests. Prop Horne’s knee injury from last week’s draw at Batley did not clear up in time, while classy full-back Marsh’s absence was blamed on an allergic reaction.

Jason Bass duly switched to full-back, with Hull KR loanee Oakes recalled to the wing . Liam Salter also moved back to centre and Sam Scott was back in the second-row, with Brad Hey the one to make way.

Kear freshened up his in-form Bradford side and they went ahead inside two and a half minutes after getting out of defence thanks to a penalty for offside. Pacy full-back Joe Brown opened the gap when joining the line and good hands sent winger Ryan diving into the left corner.

York took over for the next 20 minutes and, after Marcus Stock had a try rightly ruled out for a double movement, they finally got on the scoreboard with a Connor Robinson penalty. Referee Greg Dolan had been lenient with Bradford’s lying-on but two penalties finally followed and, with the second, York opted to go for the two-pointer.

The pressure relented, however, when Dolan deemed an offload from Sam Scott – which clearly went backwards – was a knock-on. He then penalised the hosts for interference at a ruck but Joe Keyes somehow swiped his 30-yard shot at goal wide.

A spill by Oakes coming out of yardage gave the Bulls further respite and an attacking set. There followed a big two minutes, in particular for winger Ryan.

He initially looked sure to score as Bradford changed the angle of attack to the short side but, remarkably, he was deemed to have put a foot on the sideline in the act of touching down.

Then in goal at the other end, he spilled the ball while fighting to get into play – and Oakes pounced, with Robinson converting.

Bradford were given a leg-up on 31 minutes as sub York prop Dixon was sin-binned for a foul in the tackle.

Again they looked sure to score down the left with an overlap but Oakes came up with a stunning interception on his own line and raced all the way to the other end, Robinson again goaling.

The extra man did pay off soon after, though, as Keyes, such a good running half-back, made the space and Ryan cut from outside to in to find a gap and run home.

They went close once more down the same flank, the try rightly ruled out for a forward pass out of the tackle, but York went into the sheds 14-8 ahead.

Robinson missed a drop goal from bang in front of the posts at the start of the second half. It seemed strange to go for a one-pointer so early on - but it proved almost prophetic.

Back at the other end, both George Flanagan and big Ross Peltier were held up at or over the try-line in the same set. The same fate befell Rhys Evans, Crossley and Flanagan again.

But home spills were inviting pressure and it paid dividend when, from the chip to the left corner, the tall Ryan, a specialist in these scenarios, out-jumped Oakes and completed his terrific treble. Keyes finally nailed a conversion to equalise.

The scores weren’t level for long, though, as York got another set in the visitors’ half, and Whiteley, with a quarter-chance, came up with a brilliant finish beyond three defenders.

Four minutes later, he was at it again. This time, Robinson appeared to consider another drop-goal attempt but instead chipped to the left corner where his winger out-jumped Hitchcox and scored. Robinson’s extras made it 24-14.

A great chase by Liam Salter won a dropout and a little grubber forced another as York seemed to be in control.

However, Bradford sprung out of defence after the next kick went their way and won a repeat set of their own. This time they breached the defence, Ross Oakes the scorer, with Keyes’ goal making it 24-20.

York lost Salter to a head injury, too, with the delay as the substitution was taking place being met by cross words on the sidelines between Bradford interchange hooker George Flanagan and Ford.

On the resumption, Bradford were given a penalty for obstruction and, from it, Hitchcox levelled the scores with a diving finish in the right corner.

Both these sides had drawn matches last weekend and, with six minutes left, another share-all was on the cards.

Lilley had other ideas and a superb drop-goal attempt from 45 yards bounced out off an upright. So did York – after Ryan knocked-on in a challenge under a Harris kick.

York set up the field position for their own drop goal. The ball went to Robinson then to Harris. His kick also hit an upright - but this one went in off.

The crowd went wild. “That’s why we’re champions,” came the chant, with the celebrations lasting long after the final hooter.

Knights: Bass 9, W Oakes 9, Salter 9, C Scott 8, Whiteley 9; Harris 7, Robinson 7; Teanby 9, Jubb 9, Stock 9, S Scott 9, Jordan-Roberts 8, Spears 8. Subs (all used): Brining 9, Dixon 8, Blagbrough 8, Baldwinson 9.

Tries: Oakes 29, 33; Whiteley 58, 62

Conversions: Robinson 29, 33, 62 (3/4)

Penalty: Robinson 17 (1/1).

Drop goal: Harris 79.

Sent off: none

Sin-binned: Dixon 31.

Sent off: none.

Bradford: Brown, Hitchcox, Webster, R Oakes, Ryan, Keyes, Lilley, Crossley, Wildie, Hallas, Storton, Farrell, Minchella. Subs (all used): Evans, Flanagan, Wood, Peltier.

Tries: Ryan 3, 37, 55; Hitchcox 73.

Conversions: Keyes 55 (1/4).

Penalties: none (Keyes 0/1).

Sent off: none

Sin-binned: none.

Man of the match: Will Jubb – it’s hard to pick a top performer after a team show like that, but the hooker was certainly up there.

Referee: Greg Dolan (Dewsbury) – a bit hit and miss.

Penalty count: 7-7