12-MAN York Knights held off a monumental fightback from much-fancied Sheffield Eagles to seal their place in the Fifth Round of the Betfred Challenge Cup at the LNER Community Stadium this afternoon.

It was a much-improved performance from Andrew Henderson’s charges, who showed their grit and determination to claim a thrilling 24-22 victory over their Betfred Championship rivals, playing 50 minutes with 12 men after veteran second-rower Danny Kirmond was controversially sent off 10 minutes before the interval.

York delivered one of their best opening halves of the season to shock Sheffield, with 37-year-old Kirmond rolling back the years to cross the whitewash twice inside the game’s opening 10 minutes, before Conor Fitzsimmons added his name to the scoresheet as they took in a shock 20-point lead at the break.

Kirmond was unlucky not to have received just a caution after a late hit on the impressive Cory Aston on the half-hour mark, with his dismissal paving the way for the Eagles to cross four times after the interval to set up a grandstand finish, as the boot of Aston proved to be much more golden than that of his counterpart James Glover.

But the Knights dug deep to hold on for their first win in three matches, with their reward a Fifth Round tie at home to Championship strugglers Newcastle Thunder on the weekend of April 22-23.

Henderson made two changes to the York side that started last weekend’s disappointing defeat at Championship leaders Featherstone Rovers, with Myles Harrison coming into the side for Brad Ward, and Leeds Rhinos loanee Oli Field making his debut in place of injured second-rower Jesse Dee.

This afternoon also marked a milestone for former York scrum-half Anthony Thackeray, who made his 400th senior career appearance, 20 of which had been made for the Knights in two spells between 2007 and 2011.

From the outset, York appeared to be a shell of the side that has seen them lose to both Whitehaven and Featherstone, opening the scoring just three minutes into the match.

A fumble gave the Knights an opportunity when they were gifted possession 30 metres out, with Harrison marking his return to the side with a try after crossing into the right corner.

Glover’s kick was too short to add the extras, marking the first of four missed kicks from the tee.

And York were two scores ahead after seven minutes, Liam Harris’ kick forcing Sheffield into an error 10 metres out, with Kirmond collecting Matty Marsh’s short pass to dive over the line.

Kirmond soon had his brace to send the York fans into raptures, as Harris broke through the Sheffield defence, running 20 metres before playing in the supporting second-rower to cross unchallenged beneath the sticks. Glover notched the first of only two successful kicks to increase his side’s lead to 14.

Sheffield began to find their feet but could not halt York’s momentum, with the hosts taking advantage of a turnover of possession on halfway, working the ball through Field and hooker Will Jubb to Fitzsimmons, who crashed over underneath the sticks for his side’s third of the afternoon.

But things soon threatened to come crashing down for the Knights, as Kirmond was controversially dismissed for a late tackle on Aston, in what had been the visitors’ first real attack of the game, 10 minutes before the break.

However, Sheffield began to find it difficult to break through the York line and make their man advantage count, and could not get themselves off the mark until the 50th minute.

The Knights were penalised as an offload hit a hand close to the line, with the visitors taking advantage of the repeat set to feed former Hull KR and Salford Red Devils centre Kris Welham to take the ball over the line, before grounding under the sticks. Aston made no mistake to add the extras.

And it seemed as though history was repeating itself three minutes later as winger Jason Bass broke through the York line before feeding Aston to race underneath the sticks, his conversion bringing the scores to within eight.

But York stood strong, extending their lead with the pick of the tries as young winger AJ Towse out-jumped two Sheffield defenders to claim Harris’ high kick before grounding the ball into the far left corner.

The hosts had a glorious opportunity to get more points on the board minutes later after opting to kick a penalty from 20 metres out, but Glover’s kick typified his afternoon as it flew narrowly wide.

That only served to galvanise Sheffield, as Bass was given the freedom of the left wing to dive over unchallenged, before Aston continued his perfect afternoon from the tee to close the gap to eight with 15 minutes remaining.

York did just enough to put off the winger five minutes later as he couldn’t collect an offload under pressure close to the line but Sheffield soon had another try.

Taking advantage of the Knights’ young wingers, the ball was worked right to Chrimes, who found just enough space to burrow over into the right corner. However, it proved a kick too many for Aston, who could not convert under pressure to bring the scores level.

Momentum was firmly with the visitors as the tie reached a breathless conclusion, though a game-deciding high-kick fell fortunately for York, who were able to stand firm to seal what had seemed an unlikely victory, ahead of Friday night’s Championship fixture against Keighley Cougars (7:30pm).

YORK KNIGHTS: Brown, Towse, Glover, Barley, Harrison, Marsh, Harris, Antrobus, Jubb, Fitzsimmons, Field, Kirmond, Thompson.

INTERCHANGES: Michael, Daley, Teanby, Ta’ai.

TRIES: Harrison (3), Kirmond (7,10), Fitzsimmons (22), Towse (57)

GOALS: Glover 2/6

RED CARDS: Kirmond (30)

SHEFFIELD EAGLES: Jones-Bishop, Chrimes, Welham, Oakes, Bass, Aston, Thackeray, Douglas, Halafihi, Dickinson, Roberts, Sene-Lefao, Gwaze.

INTERCHANGES: Farrell, Hodgson, Wood, Liu.

TRIES: Welham (50), Aston (53), Bass (64), Chrimes (75)

GOALS: Aston 3/4

POINTS SEQUENCE: 4-0, 8-0, 12-0, 14-0, 18-0, 20-0, 20-4, 20-6, 20-10, 20-12, 24-12, 24-16, 24-18, 24-22


REFEREE: James Vella