YORK Knights ensured that the Betfred Championship play-off race will go down to the final weekend of the season as a drop goal from Liam Harris inside the dying seconds secured a dramatic 15-14 victory over top-six rivals Batley Bulldogs at the LNER Community Stadium.

Trailing 10-0 by the 20th minute, it looked like being a long night for Andrew Henderson’s men against a Batley side that had already beaten them twice so far this season, but tries from Oli Pratt, AJ Towse and the returning Joe Brown completed an unlikely turnaround shortly before the interval.

Though Batley hit back during a thrilling second half, carries from props Ukuma Ta’ai and Conor Fitzsimmons set Harris up perfectly to score a crucial drop goal, the narrowest of victories moving the Knights up to seventh place, and just one point behind Halifax Panthers, ahead of Sunday’s regular season closer at Barrow Raiders.

However, with the Panthers closing out their campaign against a Swinton Lions side battling to stay in the division, despite a truly remarkable final third of the season, the Knights may yet still miss out on the top six, even with a win in Cumbria.

Henderson made two changes from the Knights side that triumphed at Bradford Bulls last Sunday, with Brown returning from injury at full-back in place of the injured Josh Daley and Conor Fitzsimmons replacing Brenden Santi at prop.

That saw Myles Harrison replace Wakefield Trinity loanee Oli Pratt – who moved to partner Chris Clarkson in the centres – on the right wing, whilst Jesse Dee started at half-back alongside Harris.

After departing York captain Clarkson had received a guard of honour from both teams ahead of his final home appearance before retirement, both sides played out a cagey opening, with Harrison, Brown, Dale Morton and Aidan McGowan comfortably collecting everything that came their way.

However, it was the visitors who drew first blood nine minutes into the contest, as after big hit on Harrison saw the youngster cough up possession, Batley spread the play right to former Dewsbury Rams second-rower Lucas Walshaw, who crashed over into the corner to open the scoring.

The Knights threatened to hit back from the restart, but Fitzsimmons was tackled inches short of the whitewash before his side conceded a penalty, only a knock-on sparing them from going further behind after Adam Gledhill had touched down.

Unforced errors had been the story of the Knights’ opening 20 minutes, and it was no surprise when, from a goal-line drop-out, they fell further behind as ex-London Broncos half-back Jimmy Meadows ghosted through their defence to dive over beneath the posts.

Morton converted the latter but not the former, with a 10-point lead inside the opening quarter no less than they had deserved.

In the aftermath, Henderson opted to change both his props, with the introduction of Ronan Michael and Santi bringing an added impetus to a Knights side that had been forced to defend for the majority.

And that paid dividends almost immediately, as after Towse had trapped Josh Hodson in-goal, Will Jubb offloaded to Harris, who played in Pratt superbly to cross for his sixth Knights try into the right corner.

That began a period of pressure from the hosts, with two tries in three minutes seeing them complete a thrilling turnaround to give themselves a four-point lead at the interval.

Having squandered both a scrum 10 metres from the line and field position gained from a Batley forward pass, the Knights made no mistake from their next opportunity, Harris finding former Heworth youngster Towse, who left Morton in his wake with some clever footwork before diving across into the left corner.

And the Knights were across again from the restart as Harrison was given the freedom of the right wing to run onto Harris’ kick, before somehow offloading to the supporting Brown as he was tackled, the full-back applying the finishing touch to a simply stunning try as he raced away to the corner.

Despite dragging his second conversion attempt well wide of the posts, Harris was outstanding from his third, arrowing his kick through from a tight angle on the touchline to give the Knights a 14-10 lead at the break.

Batley came out fighting in the second half and almost fired themselves back onto level terms, but referee Marcus Griffiths ruled that the visitors had been offside as Elliot Kear grounded Josh Woods’ kick.

The Knights though soon began to again find their groove, a strong chase forcing McGowan to let a Harris kick slip through his grasp before Pratt tested the Batley defence following Kear’s ball spill.

Dee was held up as York continued to trouble their visitors’ back line, but successive errors that saw the centre turned half-back’s grubber go out on the full and then the Knights penalised for a high shot on Meadows, allowed Batley a route back into the game.

Their failure to properly wrap up tackles proved costly, with Batley repeatedly allowed to offload along the line, Morton finishing a fine team score into the right corner to draw his side back level, but crucially for York, he could not convert from the touchline.

St Helens loanee Taylor Pemberton was outstanding as the Knights looked to prevent the visitors from gaining field position, before some sloppy play from both sides saw both Clarkson and Luke Blake exchange errors close to the York line.

With neither side able to find a breakthrough in the crucial tie, drop goals seemed the likely solution, with Woods firing an effort from the 40-metre line narrowly wide, before his side wasted another opportunity due to an error at the play of the ball.

And the Knights needed no invitation to do what their opponents could not, outstanding drives from Ta’ai and Fitzsimmons through the middle dragging them to the 30-metre line, Harris making no mistake to arrow an effort between the posts with just over a minute left to play to seal a dramatic victory for the hosts at the death.

A crucial triumph for the Knights to leave themselves still in with a shot at the play-offs ahead of the final round of fixtures, in the same manner that Louis Jouffret had secured a vital two points for rivals Halifax, leaving it all to play for at Barrow Raiders on Sunday afternoon (3pm).

YORK KNIGHTS: Brown, Towse, Clarkson, Pratt, Harrison, Dee, Harris, Ta’ai, Jubb, Fitzsimmons, Field, Kirmond, Thompson.

INTERCHANGES: Michael, Pauli, Santi, Pemberton.

TRIES: Pratt (24), Towse (36), Brown (39)

GOALS: Harris 1/3

DROP GOALS: Harris 1/1

BATLEY BULLDOGS: McGowan, Morton, Hodson, Buchanan, Kear, Meadows, Woods, Gledhill, Blake, Reilly, Manning, Walshaw, White.

INTERCHANGES: Ward, Senior, Flynn, Burton.

TRIES: Walshaw (9), Meadows (20), Morton (60)

GOALS: Morton 1/3

POINTS SEQUENCE: 0-4, 0-8, 0-10, 4-10, 8-10, 12-10, 14-10, 14-14, 15-14

HALF TIME: 14-10

YORK’S STAR MAN: Liam Harris. An outstanding performance from the half-back, who had a hand in all three of the Knights’ tries before converting the crucial drop goal.

REFEREE: Marcus Griffiths