YORK City number two Russ Howarth is threatening to push Alan Fettis to the limits in the quest for number one status.

Howarth is anxious to avoid a repeat of last season when he spent the vast majority of the campaign warming the bench.

And just like then Howarth today started his season in the dug-out among the substitutes for the history-making opener against Rushden and Diamonds at Bootham Crescent.

All last term the 19-year-old failed to make a single League appearance. Indeed he enjoyed just two senior cup outings as an in-form Fettis took a permanent grip on the goalkeeping jersey.

Consolation for Riccall-based Howarth, however, came in his selection for England Under-18s, most recently at the end of May when he played for his country in the 1-0 defeat at the hands of Switzerland.

But with international ambitions still burning bright Howarth is now anxious to stoke up the fires closer to home.

Speaking to the Evening Press, Howarth said: "Hopefully I can make a claim this season. As it stands, Alan is going to be number one. His form last season was outstanding.

"But if I get in I can take my chance and push Al for the number one."

Statistics suggest Howarth should get more opportunities in the upcoming campaign - Fettis last season was the only City player to play in every League game.

Even the Northern Ireland international admitted that in terms of staying injury free he had enjoyed an exceptional season.

It seems unlikely the former Hull, Nottingham Forest and Blackburn Rovers ace will be able to repeat his ever-present status - injury is bound to strike at some point, a fact not lost on Howarth.

"I wouldn't wish injury on anyone at all," insisted Howarth, who saved three spot-kicks as City won through to the final of the North Riding Senior Cup in a penalty shoot-out at Whitby during the pre-season.

"I would rather get in on merit, but the way he has been playing it is going to be difficult so we will have to wait and see.

"But I'm not resigned to being number two, definitely not. I have a good working relationship with Al, we get on very well.

"But I want to be pushing him and I think that is what he wants.

"It is no good if he knows he is going to be playing every game. He needs to be pushed to do the best he can every week."

Despite the prospect of starting the season as number two, Howarth is hopeful he will still be included in the new England Under-20s set-up.

Most of the players involved at U-18 level last season are expected to make the progression into the U-20 squad - just one step down from the U-21s bossed by David Platt and two from Sven-Goran Eriksson's senior squad - as England look for continuity at youth level.

"I played in the last England Under-18 game and did okay," said Howarth, now in the last year of his contract.

"They think they have got a good set of lads and want us to develop together. Hopefully, having started in the last game and done all right I'll be in the squad."

Updated: 11:07 Saturday, August 11, 2001