IF York City Knights are to win promotion against the odds this season, they may well have to win in the play-offs away to bogey team Barrow.

That is something they haven’t done since 2004, with today’s 26-19 reverse at Craven Park making it an unlucky 13 defeats on the trot against the Raiders home and away.

However, given the number of players head coach James Ford was unable to call on this weekend, plus their importance for the team, the closeness of this contest - barring a decisive period in the third quarter when the hosts got a roll-on - suggests this horrible Cumbrian jinx may yet end when it matters most.

Indeed, had York not fluffed three great chances and a couple of refereeing calls gone the other way, the losing sequence could have ended this time.

Three middle men – Adam Robinson (head), Ross Osborne (ankle) and Ronan Dixon (hand) also played through the pain of injury as the game went on, while one or two others made uncharacteristic errors.

Those ifs and buts are maybe what makes it a hoodoo.

Nonetheless, the other positive is that all League One’s other results this weekend went York’s way, meaning this defeat hasn’t changed the situation in the race for top five. If anything, it’s made it harder for Doncaster, Keighley and Newcastle – who all lost - to catch Ford’s fourth-placed men, now with three games left.

Barrow remain second – set for home advantage in the play-off semi-finals and final, assuming Toronto take the sole automatic promotion place.

Ford made six changes in personnel to the side that beat Workington – including one late change to the plan, with Ryan Mallinder coming in for the inspirational Tim Spears, who withdrew due to a hamstring niggle.

As expected, fit-again Dee Foggin-Johnston and Jake Butler-Fleming returned at wing and centre, assistant-coach Jonny Presley filled in again at half-back, prop Ronan Dixon was recalled and young centre Adam Swift got a rare call-up to the bench. He did okay in his half-hour on the field.

Out went Liam Harris (injured), James Haynes (injured), Harry Tyson-Wilson (injured), Andy Ellis (unavailable) and Chris Siddons.

Considering the likes of captain Ed Smith, former Super League winger Tommy Saxton, Harry Carter and ace Ash Robson were already missing, then it’s fair to say this was a depleted York side. It’s also fair to say the fact they got close underlined the club’s strength in depth.

Foggin-Johnston, the Player of the Month for July before injury, marked his return with a spectacular finish in the corner to give York a fifth-minute lead.

A penalty won by Jordan Cox set the platform and when the ball was smartly spread left, Brad Hey – clattered moments earlier by Declan Hulme – responded with a fine pass to the winger, who evaded the tackle by diving into the corner.

Barrow replied quickly, though, with a bit of fortune.

Eze Harper sent winger Brett Carter in by the flag, Lewis Charnock starting his 100 per cent record with the boot from the touchline, but the try also came with York down to 12 men - big prop Osborne being treated in back play. That hoodoo perhaps.

Osborne’s early exit – he did return before half-time but hobbled again afterwards - along with the fact Mallinder was only playing his second game since breaking a leg last year so did small minutes, put extra onus on the rest of the pack, especially against the likes of big Joe Bullock, Ollie Wilkes and Martin Aspinwall.

They rose to the challenge initially – prop Adam Robinson and second-row Joe Batchelor winning penalties, and the team winning momentum, with the attacking impetus ending with Butler-Fleming getting over the try-line, only to spill the ball. A crucial miss.

The first half remained to and fro, both defences impressing, before a penalty 42 metres out saw Connor Robinson – backing himself with the boot - equalise two minutes before the break.

Barrow weren’t happy – the penalty came as Carter, in possession, used an elbow on opposing winger Nev Morrison in the ruck, having seemingly been scragged around the ears.

York immediately attacked again and, as the hooter sounded, the quick-thinking Robinson knocked over a drop goal for a 7-6 interval lead.

Barrow, however, won the game in the third quarter, retaking the lead three minutes after the resumption.

Osborne was hobbling and Dixon too looked flatfooted in centrefield near the sticks, the hosts not passing up the opportunity as Karl Ashall crossed.

It became 18-7 on 50 minutes, on the back of a penalty harshly awarded against Joe Porter.

Half-back Jamie Dallimore created the opening with a long ball left and Harper gave Carter his second try.

Another penalty saw Charnock eke the lead up to 20-7 with the Knights seemingly tiring, contact wins and quick play-the-balls giving the Raiders their roll-on.

Adam Robinson also departed, having hitherto played on after a clash of heads.

However, the visitors dug in and came close to hitting back – Batchelor going close only to lose the ball at the line with a forced pass out of the tackle. Another near miss.

They did cut the gap with 11 minutes left.

Presley’s cross-field chip was patted back by Butler-Fleming and Brad Hey – having switched from left-centre to right-second-row – finished. Robinson goaled.

The Knights should have cut the gap further after an offload on the run by Swift – on at left-centre – sent Foggin-Johnston away.

The winger should have streaked down the touchline but for some reason arced inside and was tackled. The ball was still alive but Presley opted to chip again and this time it was too easy for the defence.

Instead of game on, it was game over, as Bullock – one of the best props in the division – charged through from near half-way.

York hit back immediately – the half-backs combining well to create the chance and Hey getting his second.

It was too little too late on this occasion, but it offered extra food for thought for any further visit here this year.