Crusaders had travelled with only 16 fit players after the RFL refused any dispensation for them to recruit players following a horrendous run of serious injuries.
Regardless, the visitors took the game to York from the kick-off with Jamie Dallimore’s huge punt forcing a drop-out under the posts.
Pressure was applied incessantly as North Wales centre Andy Oakden crossed the line twice before York had even played their first set.
Worse was to follow for the home side as it was 11 minutes before they played their first set and Rob Massam pounced on another loose ball to score quickly, followed by Ben Jullien down the same right hand wing with the centre adding a further try just before the break to give the Crusaders a 28-point lead.
York fought back admirably with Josh Tonks touching down and Ryan Mallinder pouncing on Jonny Presley’s kick through.
With the Knights’ momentum regained, Adam Dent latched onto Presley’s stabbed kick to score before Ed Smith forced his way through a number of defenders to touch down.
The comeback was complete as Kris Brining burrowed over from acting half and Ben Dent levelled the scores only for Crusaders hero Johnson to return from a serious injury and kick that all-important penalty.
York City Knights: B. Dent, A Dent, Cunningham, Minikin, Morrison, Presley, Howden, Applegarth, P Smith, Aldous, E Smith, Tonks, Mallinder. Substitutes: Brining, Nicholson, Roche, Learmonth.
North Wales Crusaders: Johnson, Massam, Jullien, Roets, Oakden, Dallimore, Moulsdale, Duffy, Hudson, Davies, Wild, Reid, Thompson Substitutes: Burke, Joy, Walker.
Referee: C Leatherbarrow (RFL).