CITY boss Chris Brass believes the return of Jon Parkin can provide the boost that his team need to get back into promotion contention.

Fit-again Parkin netted in Saturday's 1-1 draw against Boston during his first league start of the season and the 21-year-old striker is expected to lead the line again against second-placed Oxford tonight.

Brass said: "I was more than delighted to get him back because I think it gives the team a lift to see players coming back like that. He did well and put himself about right to the death.

"He's come through it fine when I truly did not think he would make the 90 minutes but he dug in there and he can only get fitter. It will benefit him playing more and more games and as long as he stays injury free we will be happy.

"If he can get his fitness levels to where he knows he should be then he's someone who will go on to bigger and better things."

Brass will especially welcome Parkin's presence against Ian Atkins' men, who have their own powerhouse striker Julian Alsop available again after suspension.

Alsop, who is 6ft 4in tall and weights 14 stone, has already been banned for eight games after two red cards this season and a suspension outstanding from the last campaign at Cheltenham.

He is not certain to start at Bootham Crescent after Oxford won 4-0 at Bury on Saturday with 10-goal Steve Basham, who bagged a brace, partnering Jefferson Louis in attack.

But United, even without Alsop, can field several players over six feet in their starting line-up and Brass wants his players to be ready for an aerial onslaught.

He said: "Ian always puts out good, strong and powerful teams that work hard so we will have to match them in that department and then, if we do, hopefully during the game we will take our chances. They have started well and had a good result at the weekend so we have got to make sure we are up for it.

"We have raised our game against the better teams so far this season and that's what we will be out to do again. We are at home where we are difficult to beat and we will have to make sure that continues.

"We will make players aware of what they will be coming up against but we worry more about playing to our strengths and we will be looking to make it difficult for Oxford."

Brass also believes the confidence of his team is being restored and feels that coincides with the return to fitness of key players like Parkin, Chris Smith and Lee Bullock.

He said: "When we have a fully-fit squad I truly believe we are as good as anybody. If we can get everybody fit and playing together we will get confidence.

"They are only a young group of lads and if we can get their confidence going again like we did at the start of the season then I would expect to go on an unbeaten run and that's our aim. There's only Christian Fox and Steve Downes on the injury list now and I think the biggest thing is just believing in themselves again which I think they are starting to do and that obviously comes with results.

"We created chances on Saturday and if one or two of those had gone in we would be right on again. The youngsters are still learning but they are learning quickly."

Updated: 11:31 Tuesday, October 21, 2003