A FIERCELY-FOUGHT contest that was a great advert for Betfred League 1 saw York City Knights edge home 24-22 against Oldham in a thriller at the Vestacare Stadium.
Eight tries were shared equally, but the difference was provided by Connor Robinson’s four conversions for the Knights against Paul Crook’s three for Oldham.
The one he missed — from left of the posts in the second half — rattled the nearside upright and bounced out. It was as close as that.
Oldham never led, but they kept on cancelling out York tries with scores of their own and in the dying minutes, trailing by two, they twice went desperately close to snatching it when first Kenny Hughes and then the in-form David Hewitt were brought down inches short.
Credit the City Knights with excellent goal-line defence at a time when they were gasping for breath and holding on to their slender lead by their finger tips.
They started with two dual-reg men from Hull KR in half-back Matty Marsh and substitute back-rower James Donaldson and two loan captures in full-back Kieren Moss, also from Rovers, and another sub, Colton Roche, from Huddersfield Giants.
By comparison Roughyeds fielded 16 of their own and one only dual-reg reinforcement in loose-forward Ryan Lannon from Salford Red Devils.
Both defences repelled early raids in a helter-skelter start, but then York went ahead after 11 minutes when prop Chris Siddons found a bit of space up the middle and Marsh went with him to score a try by the posts which Chris Robinson converted.
There were suspicions of an obstruction and a forward pass, but referee Marcus Griffiths, who handled the game firmly and decisively from start to finish, saw nothing untoward.
A crunching Langtree tackler forced an error which gave Oldham the ball and then five penalties in a row gave Scott Naylor’s men a platform to seriously test the visitors’ defensive zeal.
Marsh came to their rescue with a flying tackle on Ben West as the Oldham winger headed for the corner on the end of a rapid right-to-left shift.
Oldham were getting on top, no doubt about that, and Luke Nelmes added to their middle unit thrust when he replaced Adam Neal with half an hour gone.
Sure enough, the equaliser came when Hewitt dropped off centre Reid , who broke for the line and just got there with an outstretched arm. Crook’s goal put Oldham on terms.
They looked to have the momentum to score again before half-time but it was York, in fact, who stunned them three minutes before the break when Horne did the initial damage down Oldham’s left edge and Cockayne backed up to put the supporting Moss under the sticks.
Robinson’s goal gave York a 12-6 interval lead.
Oldham were to score 16 second-half points to York’s 12 and they made a perfect start when Cockayne fumbled the restart kick to give them unexpected possession in the York 20.
Crook was held up just short, then Hewitt forced a York drop out before producing an absolute peach of an angled grubber into the in-goal.
Reading it beautifully — “It was a move we practice in training“, revealed Hewitt later —- Langtree chased under the posts to touch down and Crook’s goal squared things up at 12-12.
For long periods after that it was nip and tuck, but a penalty to York on half-way gave them a position from which to strike and they did just that when Will Jubb popped up a crash ball from dummy half and Donaldson hit it at full speed to squeeze over. Robinson goaled.
Cockayne must have kicked himself when fumbling a restart kick for the second time — an error that led to Roughyeds scoring again in the 54th minute.
Hewitt cleverly used support runner Danny Bridge as a foil before unleashing a beautiful wide ball to Reid, who had a simple job of crossing the line. Crook’s conversion attempt smacked the upright and bounced out.
No doubt feeling reprieved, York responded quickly with their fourth and final try midway through the second half.
With the visitors attacking strongly in Oldham’s 20 and moving in for the kill there seemed to be an accidental trip on a York player. Both sides froze for a split second in anticipation of the referee’s whistle, but when it became clear he was playing on, the visitors reacted the quicker and Connor Robinson’s grubber was taken at full speed off his bootlaces by Joe Batchelor, whose momentum took him over the line.
Robinson’s goal gave the visitors a two-score lead for the first time (16-24, but it wasn’t to last long in this edge-of-your-seat thriller.
All the game Oldham had looked dangerous down their left flank and they capitalised again when quick hands got Ben West over in the corner. This time Crook made no mistake off the touchline and with 17 minutes still to go it was back to a two-point ball game.
In their anxiety to push for the lead for the first time, however, Roughyeds made three costly errors in quick succession — a crucial ten minutes with this excellent contest in the balance.
They recovered to be pounding away at the York line in the dying minutes, but their best efforts were not quite good enough to snatch the lead for the first and decisive time.
A draw would have been a fair result.
Oldham: goals, Crook 3/4; tries, Reid (2), Langtree, West; York: goals, C Robinson 4/4; tries, Marsh, Moss, Donaldson, Batchelor.
Oldham: Johnson; Eccleston, Holmes, Reid, West; Crook, Hewitt; Joy, Hughes, Neal, Bridge, Langtree, Lannon; Subs: Bent, Nelmes, Spencer, Wilkinson.
York City Knights: Moss; Cockayne, Batchelor, Hey, Robson; C Robinson, Marsh; A Robinson, Ellis, Siddons, Horne, Scott, Spears; Subs: Jubb, Donaldson, Roche, Porter.
Referee: Mr M Griffiths; Att: 703.