Whitehaven got out of jail at Bootham Crescent as they just about held on to beat York City Knights in a heart-stopping end to a compelling sun-drenched League One encounter.
Player-boss Carl Forster – a driving force at loose-forward – had predicted this would be Haven’s toughest remaining test prior to the Super 8s, against an in-form York side on a six-match winning run.
And he could well be proved correct as the home team, showing plenty of fight, so nearly clawed back Haven’s deserved 18-4 lead, striking with two stunning tries only to then fluff three penalties in the last seven minutes as Forster’s men escaped with a 18-16 win.
The result – a 10th victory in 11 – put Whitehaven back above Barrow in the race for second spot behind red-hot title favourites Toronto.
They were probably the better side over the 80 minutes, though the size of the task they faced was apparent early on as York had one try ruled out before taking the lead.
Connor Robinson’s scoring pass to Joe Batchelor was called forward to silence home cheers, but York did go ahead as Liam Harris’ cut-out pass gave James Haynes space and his flipped pass sent veteran winger Tommy Saxton sprinting to the corner.
Haven nearly hit back as a crazy bounce took the restart out of play, but half-back Paul Crook spilled the ball when struggling to reach the line.
Nevertheless, after dangerous home full-back Ash Robson knocked on, Haven again had territory, and centre Jesse Joe Parker shrugged off half-back Harris and gave winger Craig Calvert an easy finish, Crook converting from the sideline.
Haven, aided by further home errors, thereafter got on top, Forster at the forefront and second-row Dion Aiye constantly troubling his opponents.
They should have increased their lead after Forster’s break but he could not see the scoring pass.
Then wonderful defence from James Haynes twice denied the visitors as they again looked sure to score.
Forster was also held up over the whitewash after they were gifted more cheap possession.
Those defensive efforts could have taken their toll on York in the second half – both teams are deserving of praise for putting on a cracker in such searing 30-plus degree heat – but, while that wasn’t ultimately apparent, Haven did extend their lead twice after the break.
A bomb in centrefield split York’s back three and bounced perfectly for Scott McAvoy but his pass back was wild.
Nevertheless, a high tackle by Robinson on Forster afforded Haven another attacking set and it ended with hooker James Newton digging in from dummy-half, Crook converting.
York had to scramble desperately again after a break by Crook, before they looked to turn momentum, Robinson’s little dab forcing a dropout at the other end.
But again Haven forced the error, and they made the hosts pay, too, going up the other end where that man Forster crashed over.
The Knights again tried to fight back, but, with Haven’s defence showing why it has conceded the fewest points in League One this term barring Toronto, they needed something special to get through.
They got it, though, keeping the ball alive for an age, going in and out of blind alleys, before somehow making space down the left, where winger Dee Foggin-Johnston’s stunning inside pass in mid-air while crashing into touch allowed Brad Hey to cross. Robinson converted.
All of a sudden they looked dangerous again, with Saxton having a try ruled out presumably for a foot in touch as he dived in by the flag.
And then they did score again – Harris dummying and darting through the line and giving former Featherstone captain Tim Spears the scoring pass.
Robinson goaled and, with 10 minutes left, there were two points in it.
That gap should have been wiped off too.
Fouls in centrefield – described as “stupid” by Forster - on Kieran Moran, twice, and Spears provided the chances 40, 35 and 32 metres out respectively, but Robinson missed the first two and Harris the third.
Moran was denied another penalty and instead penalised for dissent. Crook likewise missed the shot at goal but the game now was up.
Both sets of fans were praised by Knights coach James Ford after the game, the four-figure crowd creating a cracking atmosphere, but it was the visiting faithful that had most to cheer.
York: Robson, Saxton, Haynes, Morrison, Foggin-Johnston, Harris, C Robinson, A Robinson, P Smith, Siddons, Batchelor, E Smith, Spears. Subs (all used): Carter, Hey, Dixon, Moran.
Tries: Saxton 9; Hey 65; Spears 70.
Goals: C Robinson 2/5; Harris 0/1.
Whitehaven: Miller 8, Calvert 6, Parker 6, Taylor 7, Burns 6, Roper 6, Crook 7, Worthington 7, Tilley 8, Riley 7, Aiye 9, McAvoy 7, Forster 9. Subs (all used): Newton 8, Holliday 8, Holland 6, Brown 6.