YORK City defender Chris Smith reckons to have overcome his biggest hurdle on the long road to full fitness.

Smith, a couple of pre-season friendly appearances aside, tasted his first competitive action in almost six months yesterday.

The former Reading defender and big fan favourite at Bootham Crescent came through 25 minutes of action unscathed as City reserves' lost 2-1 to Hartlepool United.

Speaking after the match, a delighted Smith, who underwent a hernia operation at the end of last season, told the Evening Press: "I've been waiting weeks for that."

After undergoing surgery in May, it was hoped Smith would have recovered in time for the start of this season.

However, swelling and bruising around the bone delayed his return, the hard ground at the training ground servied to make the problem worse, before an injection helped reduce the inflammation.

"It's been very frustrating, no footballer likes to be injured so I'm just delighted to be playing again," said Smith.

"Hopefully, everything is now going well and I can push on from this.

"I've not had a reaction from training, nor have I had a reaction from playing and, hopefully, there'll be no reaction today."

Reflecting on yesterday's appearance, Smith said: "I struggled a bit for match fitness but I think my enthusiasm got me through.

"I have fallen behind the lads fitness-wise. Although the season is only about five weeks old they have played something like seven or eight games in that time.

"I have also set myself goals for this season and I have already fallen behind those goals. There is nothing like playing to build up your match fitness.

"I have been working hard in the last week to build me up and hopefully I can get another 70 minutes in for the reserves again next week and push on from there."

In a further boost for City, trainee striker Lev Yalcin also featured in a City shirt for the first time since the turn of the year.

Yalcin, who has had a long-standing groin problem, played 20 minutes and also scored City's goal in the 2-1 defeat, getting a final touch at a corner in injury time.

Striker Aron Wilford played the first 45 minutes for City before being withdrawn at half-time.

That suggests the former Scarborough and Whitby Town marksman could be in manager Chris Brass's plans for the weekend's trip to Yeovil.

Both Hartlepool's goals were scored by Jermaine Easter on ten minutes and 80 minutes. Former Middlesbrough defender Andy Kelly played 65 minutes for City before being replaced by Smith.

City were expecting to hear whether central defender Richard Hope had accepted the club's extended contract offer today.

Hope's initial one-month deal ran out after last Saturday's 2-1 defeat to Rochdale but player-boss Chris Brass is confident the former Blackburn defender will put pen to paper.

Hope has also stated his desire to stay at Bootham Crescent.

Updated: 11:13 Thursday, September 11, 2003