YORK City defender Chris Smith admits he is reaping the benefits with the fight for first-team football at Bootham Crescent hotter than ever.

Smith has been one of the stars of City's fine start to the season and produced another polished display in Saturday's 2-0 win over Boston United.

Smith's rise to prominence comes after the player failed to establish himself as a first team regular last season following his free transfer from Reading.

With a number of new defenders added to the squad over the summer it looked like Smith would be overlooked again, especially after being handed the number 18 shirt when the squad list was announced.

However, injuries meant the 21-year-old started the campaign and after a man-of-the-match display against Macclesfield on the opening day the Derby-born player has not looked back.

Speaking to the Evening Press, he said: "I didn't get off to the best of starts last season because I was injured in pre-season.

"I just didn't really gain anything after that, I was playing here and there. But I worked hard in this pre-season and the gaffer has given me a chance.

"All I can do is keep trying to play well. The gaffer brought in a few new defenders over the summer and I suppose at the start of pre-season I was a little bit worried.

"But I think it inspired me to work just that bit harder, to get into the team and prove that I want to be in the starting XI."

Midfielder Lee Bullock meanwhile made his first senior start of the season against Boston and reckons City's attacking football was rich reward for honest endeavour.

"We battled hard for three-quarters of the game and earned the right to knock the ball around," said the 21-year-old, who underwent ankle surgery at the end of last season.

"You have to earn the right to enjoy it and the last couple of seasons we haven't done that.

"Now everyone is pulling together and battling hard and we seem to have a nice blend in the team.

"We were very keen to keep it tight at the back and not concede.

"We have got a lot of options, we are working at keeping clean sheets and building from there."

Updated: 08:36 Wednesday, August 28, 2002