CENTRE-BACK John McCombe feels all the pressure is on York City’s more fancied Sky Bet League Two play-off rivals during the run-in to the end of the season.
The Minstermen have climbed into a top-seven position with seven games of the regular season left to play, starting with this afternoon’s home match against fifth-placed Burton.
Today’s opponents have been competing in the higher reaches of the table for the majority of the season, along with the other five sides currently occupying positions above Nigel Worthington’s men, whose run of 11 wins from 16 games in 2014 has seen them rise from third-bottom since the turn of the year.
From the top-six sides, Scunthorpe, Chesterfield, Fleetwood and Oxford were all expected to figure in the promotion pack when the bookmakers compiled their pre-season odds last summer.
Top-ten finishes were also predicted for Rochdale and Burton while City were forecast to end the campaign sixth-bottom.
As a consequence, McCombe reckons expectations will be higher at Glanford Park, the Proact Stadium, Highbury, the Kassam Stadium, Spotland and the Pirelli Stadium and that could work in the Minstermen’s favour.
The 28-year-old defender, who has enjoyed successful promotion campaigns at this level with Port Vale and Hereford, said: “There will be pressure on teams to get into the play-offs and it’s increasing on us but I don’t think it’s as great as it is for some of the other teams in and around us.
“Some of them are big teams who were expecting to be in the promotion shake-up and that could be to our advantage because we weren’t expected to be up there but we know, as a group, what we are capable of. From where we were at Christmas time, we have done really well and worked ourselves into a good position, so we have just got to keep doing what we’ve been doing and, hopefully, that will be good enough to get us over the line.
“Consistency is a big thing at this stage of the season and we have had that over the last ten games when we have been unbeaten.”
Along with Burton, City will also face fellow high-fliers Rochdale, Oxford and Scunthorpe before the end of the campaign but McCombe is untroubled by that schedule, arguing: “That’s tough but the run we have been on in 2014 has been brilliant and we shouldn’t fear anybody at this stage of the season.
“We are only concentrating on the next game at the moment and Burton are a good, consistent team who have been up there throughout the season. They have had a lot of 1-0 wins and are always pretty tight at the back, so their record is a bit similar to ours over the last couple of months and it should be an intriguing game.”
Along with goalkeeper Nick Pope, fellow centre-half Keith Lowe and full-backs Lanre Oyebanjo and Ben Davies, McCombe has been a member of a City back five that has only conceded two goals - neither from open play - in the ten matches they have been teamed together.
It is also now eight-and-a-half hours since the defence was last breached but McCombe insists the back line are not resting on their laurels, adding: “You try to enjoy each clean sheet but we realise that you start with a clean slate every time you go on to the pitch and you have to be solid in every game.”
With Pope only 21 and Davies still 18, City’s defensive efforts have been achieved with two youngsters enjoying their first taste as regulars in senior football playing prominent roles.
McCombe foresees successful careers for both, saying: “Ben is a quiet lad who works hard and, for somebody of his age, the consistency he has shown has been brilliant. The experience he has gained will stand him in good stead for the big future he has. “Nick is keeping clean sheets and the way he commands his box, along with his other qualities, suggests he has a bright future too. We are lucky to have them at the club.”
Having shared a dressing room with new striker Calvin Andrew at each of their previous two clubs Mansfield and Port Vale, McCombe is also well-qualified to comment on the threat of the 6ft 3in target man, joking: “I think he’s following me around - but he’s a big, strong lad with all the attributes and ability to be a good player. If he gets a good run in the team, he will show what he can do.”
• York City fans have until next Friday to bid for a VIP day for two at the match against Accrington on Saturday, April 12.
This treat involves arriving at Bootham Crescent at 2pm, enjoying a light buffet lunch in the vice-president’s suite and visiting the City dressing-room before the match to meet the players and manager Nigel Worthington.
The two supporters will then watch the match from seats in the directors’ box followed by half-time refreshments and the presentation of a signed York City ball at full-time.
The treat is one of the lots in an auction being organised by The Press to raise funds for the City of York Afghanistan Commemorative Appeal.
People can lodge blind bids - as low or as high as they want - to firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Afghan Appeal, c/o Mike Laycock, The Press, Walmgate, York. Any queries, phone 01904 567132.