JOHN McCombe will return to Mansfield Town a happier player tonight and with his confidence restored.
The 28-year-old defender left Field Mill in January to sign a two-and-a-half year deal at York City.
McCombe had only managed five League appearances for the Stags following a much-heralded summer arrival from promoted Port Vale.
But he has since become a key figure during the Minstermen’s march from the lower reaches of the Sky Bet League Two table to the fringes of the play-off zone.
On the transformation in his 2013/14 fortunes and return to Nottinghamshire, McCombe said: “I am looking forward to it but trying to treat it like any other game. I’m just enjoying my football at the moment, which I didn’t during my six months there.
“All I will be looking to do is focus on my performance and the team’s performance and, hopefully, I can keep playing as I have been doing and the team will perform like we have been doing to get another three points. I’ve not really got a point to prove.
“I didn’t play as much as I would have liked there and, when I did, I didn’t play as capably as I can, so, when I came here, I just wanted to prove to myself that I can still play at this level and I’ve been happy with my performances so far. Hopefully, I can stay consistent between now and the end of the season.”
McCombe has also told his team-mates to expect a similar challenge to that posed by AFC Wimbledon during Saturday’s 1-0 away win – in terms of formation and style.
He added: “They play a lot of direct football and are a big team who play the same system as Wimbledon with three at the back. It will be a similar game to Saturday.
“They get the ball forward to their big strikers and try to play from there. They have got some good individuals as well though and have a big budget for this league.
“That’s why I went there in the summer because I thought they would be up near the top of the table. It’s not really worked out for them and they haven’t performed as well as they can do but the table’s so tight at the moment and it will be another tough game.
“But we are full of confidence with the run we are on during 2014 and Saturday’s result was a great three points from a tough match.
“They knocked a lot of balls forward and we had to dig in for long spells but we limited them to one or two chances over 90 minutes, which we were happy about and the resilience we showed was brilliant.
“We had three or four chances we didn’t take but the goal we got was a great one by Coulo (Michael Coulson) and I thought he was magnificent.”
Saturday’s clean sheet, with Nick Pope not called on to make a single save, represented another successful 90 minutes for a back five who have only conceded twice during the six matches they have been teamed together and not once from open play.
But McCombe believes the plaudits for that record should be extended beyond himself, fellow centre-half Keith Lowe, goalkeeper Nick Pope and full-backs Lanre Oyebanjo and Ben Davies, explaining: “It’s not just down to the back five stopping the goals going in.
“It’s all about how we play as a team. We have got Russell Penn and Adam Reed working ridiculously hard in midfield and the wingers are doing the same.
“I also thought Ryan Bowman’s work-rate was magnificent on Saturday, along with Coulo.
“I am pleased with the clean sheets we have been getting and we have got good individuals at the back.
“We play to our strengths as a team and we need to keep that going.”
With the Minstermen having closed the gap on a place in the top seven to four points, the normally cautious McCombe is now allowing himself to switch attention to the possibility of snatching a play-off spot.
“As a defender, you tend to look at the bottom of the table more but, with recent performances and results, we are pulling away from there,” McCombe said.
“That means we can focus a bit more on the play-offs because four points is not a big gap at this stage of the season.
“Since I have come here, the performances have been good and we have a very good set-up in terms of the individuals we have in the squad, the gaffer and other staff so, we know if we can keep building on what we are doing, we can achieve something this season.”
Discomfort snares hosts
MANSFIELD Town will host York City tonight having shipped more home goals than any other Sky Bet League Two side this season.
The Stags have conceded 26 times at Field Mill and will also need to contend with a hamstring injury to defender Ritchie Sutton this evening.
Martin Riley and James Jennings are both in contention, though, to replace Sutton after returning from spells on the sidelines themselves.
Striker Jake Speight, meanwhile, is out for the rest of the season with a knee problem, meaning Matt Rhead and Sam Clucas will continue in attack.
Leading marksman Clucas has netted 13 times this season but the 23-year-old former Hereford forward has only hit the target twice in his last 11 League outings.
Mansfield (probable): Marriott, Riley, Dempster, Tafazolli, Westlake, Murray, Howell, Daniel, Clucas, Hutchinson, Rhead.
YORK City are making their first Football League trip to Field Mill since October 11, 2003, when they lost a Third Division (League Two) encounter 2-0.
The team lined up that day as follows: Ovendale, Cooper, Wood, Brass (Wise), Hope, Merris, Dunning, Ward, Dove (Parkin), Nogan, Crowe (George).
In total, they have made 34 League visits, winning nine times and drawing six and their last victory was 3-1 in 2000/1.
They have suffered two heavy defeats at this venue – 7-2 in 1953/54 and 5-0 in 1935/36.
In Conference football, City won once and drew once in four trips, plus a 1-0 victory in the promotion play-off semi-final on their last visit to Mansfield in May 2012.
A 5-0 defeat in September 2010 marked the end of Martin Foyle’s tenure as manager.
Players who have represented both clubs include goalkeepers Harold Searson, Graham Brown and Bobby Mimms along with Tom Lockie, Jimmy Weir, Ian McDonald, Kevin Randall, Gary Ford, Gary Nicholson, Brian Pollard, Adam Smith, Chris Smith and John McCombe, while Billy McEwan has managed City and Town in recent years.
It happened on March 11
1933: A 4-2 Division Three North win over Walsall at Bootham Crescent with Reg Baines (2), Tom Fenoughty and Matt Jenkinson the marksmen watched by 4,992.
1961: A Peter Wragg penalty and an own goal guided City to a 2-0 home victory over Rochdale. The attendance for this Fourth Division fixture was 5,477.
1978: Gordon Staniforth converted two penalties in a 2-1 win against Swansea City at Bootham Crescent in Division Four in front of 2,008.
1995: Glenn Naylor scored both goals in a 2-1 Second Division (League One) win at Cardiff City. The crowd at Ninian Park was 2,689.
2000: A 1-1 home draw against Carlisle United in the Third Division (League Two) with Barry Conlon on target watched by 2,976.
2006: City recorded their sixth successive league win when they defeated Gravesend & Northfleet 1-0 at Bootham Crescent in the Conference. James Dudgeon was the marksman and the crowd was 2,902.
Compiled by David Batters