YORK City Knights spurned the chance to secure a Betfred Championship play-off place after falling to a 20-16 defeat to rivals Bradford Bulls.
The sides were locked at three tries each by half time but Bradford held the advantage thanks to Elliot Kear’s success from the kicking tee.
York dominated the score-less second half but lacked any composure in attack despite having prolonged spells in good ball. With four quality and, most probably, well-paid half-backs in the squad, that is a huge concern.
The fiery encounter was marked by a lack of discipline from both sides, with York’s faring worse in seeing Pauli Pauli and Matty Marsh sin-binned, the former controversially so amid for a high tackle.
Bradford also saw Matty Dawson-Jones yellow-carded for a melee involving Marsh, with a total of 24 penalties and six-agains given during the 80 minutes.
The key stat was the Knights’ 16 errors, compared to Bradford’s nine, a handful of which came in the Bulls 20 where they consistently struggled to make a real dent in the second half.
York’s eighth defeat of the league season was their first against opposition below them in the table and was arguably their most worrying.
With just four games to go until the play-offs, of which they are all but mathmatically confirmed for, the Knights are running out of time to build some form for the season-deciding finale and look markedly below the levels of fellow likely quarter-finalists Halifax Panthers, Batley Bulldogs and Barrow Raiders.
While a defeat to a Bradford side who have lost more league matches than they have won this year was a shock, it cannot be said to be a total surprise.
You have to rewind to early June’s win at Sheffield Eagles to find the convincing victory over fellow play-off chasing opposition or back to the May Bank Holiday’s 30-18 win against Barrow Raiders to see a triumph against fellow top-six opposition.
A handful of injuries have no doubt played a factor in the current run of five defeats from their last seven matches, but York could not even fall back on that reasoning here at the LNER Community Stadium.
Forwards Danny Kirmond and Jack Teanby came back into the fold after compassionate leave and concussion respectively, with Marcus Stock and Joe Porter dropping out.
This was a depleted Bradford side that York faced too. 18-year-old Myles Lawford and loose forward Sam Hallas were picked in the halves.
Second-row Aaron Murphy took some kicking responsibility for the Bulls and to good effect, grubbering through for fellow back-rower AJ Wallace to ground on four minutes.
Kear added the first of his three successful conversions.
York quickly hit back after Lawford kicked out on the full and Ata Hingano, replacing Liam Harris in the starting 13, forced a goal-line drop-out.
The pressure told when Will Jubb burrowed over the line from dummy half. With no Harris or Jamie Ellis on the field, James Glover took the kicking duties, scoring the first of two conversions from three attempts.
Straight from the restart, neither Hingano nor Ronan Michael were able to catch the wet ball and Kear chose to kick from a close-range penalty, conceded by Kirmond for offside.
Things went from bad to worse for York when Pauli Pauli was yet again on the wrong side of the referee’s whistle as he was sin-binned for a high shot, much to the dismay of the crowd, who judged the tackle as hard but fair.
The penalty count stretched to 4-0 in Bradford’s favour shortly before Kieran Gill’s clever inside step and pass put George Flanagan through a gap next to the sticks.
As York had done, Bradford dropped the restart and after a couple of penalties and a set restart, the hosts worked an overlap on the left for Marsh to ground.
The Knights finished the half strong, with Marsh going closest to scoring from Brendan O’Hagan’s grubber, which the referee adjudged to have been knocked-on.
Bradford hit back with a sucker punch as some sleepy York defence saw impressive teenager Lawford get over from dummy-half.
On the stroke of half time, York eventually got the try their efforts deserved as Joe Brown finished out wide a couple of plays on from Marsh’s 40-metre break on a kick return.
After the restart, the game was littered with errors as O’Hagan, Hallas and Jacob Ogden cheaply gave up the ball in the first 10 minutes.
A dozen minutes into the second half, Bradford squandered the opportunity to move into a six-point lead when Kear shanked a penalty goal attempt wide.
The fiery contest caught fire when Marsh and Dawson-Jones saw cards for their part in a fracas on 55 minutes.
In Marsh’s absence, York lacked any rhythm or rhyme in attack as they piled on the pressure without any joy.
Brown was celebrating a second on the hour but was held up according to the man in the middle while Thomas Doyle was stopped just short for the Bulls.
Mistakes from both sides were consistent until the finish and York’s offensive struggles were summed up when Hingano’s rushed kick wide lacked depth and Harris was flung to the ground as he attempted a second-phase play.
The Bulls celebrated hard at the final whistle, perhaps themselves in disbelief at just how York had not won the game.
York: Marsh, Brown, Glover, Ogden, Towse, Hingano, O’Hagan, Pauli, Jubb, Michael, Clarkson, Kirmond, Thompson.
Subs (all used): Teanby, Dixon, Antrobus, Porter.
Tries: Jubb (9’), Marsh (24’), Brown (40’)
Goals: Glover (2/3)
Sin-bins: Pauli (15’), Marsh (55’)
York’s star man: James Glover. Assisted Brown’s try and worked hard in defence and on his kick chase.
Bradford: Kear, Dawson-Jones, Evans, Gill, Millar, Hallas, Lawford, Scurr, Flanagan, Crossley, Butler, Wallace, Murphy.
Subs (all used): Walker, Doyle, England, Gannon.
Tries: Wallace (4’), Flanagan (19’), Lawford (37’)
Goals: Kear (4/5)
Sin-bin: Dawson-Jones (55’)
Referee: Liam Rush
Attendance: Not given
Goal-line drop-outs forced: 3-1