JOE Tait might have been handed the captaincy and won an individual award during his first month at York City, but he still feels he needs to get fitter.

The 28-year-old defender was given the armband during Sam Collins’ first game as caretaker manager – the 0-0 draw at Brackley – before going on to claim The Press Player of the Month honours for August.

But Tait believes he must now work hard during the Minstermen’s fortnight break from action to get fully up to speed fitness wise.

The ex-Spennymoor centre-back missed a month of pre-season training, prior to being invited to Bootham Crescent for a trial by former City chief Martin Gray.

He subsequently played in City’s final pre-season fixtures against Leeds United and Ilkeston Town, earning himself a full-time contract in between and has since completed every minute of the club’s opening eight fixtures – an outfield record only matched by fellow defenders Kallum Griffiths and Hamza Bencherif.

But, with City’s planned trip to Nuneaton this weekend postponed due to international call-ups for the home team, Collins has promised a punishing two-week schedule before the next game at home to Kidderminster a week on Saturday and Tait is hoping he can benefit from the extra work on the training ground, reasoning: “The last thing we want is to miss a game because we’re on a decent run of form, but we have no control over international fixtures and we just need to be ready for Kidderminster.

“The manager has said training will be tough throughout this two-week spell and so it should be. I’m still playing catch-up having not had a pre-season, so that will help me.

“I look after myself and you need games to be match fit, but the double-sessions will do me good too.”

City kicked off the campaign with Sean Newton as skipper, before injury meant Russ Penn assumed the role.

But Collins subsequently selected Tait as his on-pitch leader and it is a responsibility he’s revelling in.

“I absolutely love playing for York City and I’m so proud to be representing the club,” the Middlesbrough-born sentinel enthused. “To be given the privilege of the armband and leading the lads out is an honour and I’m hoping to make the club and fans proud by having a successful season.

“I think we’ve looked solid so far and believe we’ve got a cracking squad, so I’m hoping I can add value on and off the pitch.”

City’s defensive record has certainly improved this season with Tait in the team.

A tally of just five goals conceded can only be bettered in the division by table-topping Chorley (three), while the team kept four clean sheets in August, having only managed the same number during the final 40 fixtures of last term.

Commenting on the team’s performances at the back, Tait pointed out: “Sam (Collins) played centre half himself and we pride ourselves on being hard to beat, so it was disappointing to concede a goal at Hereford (in Saturday’s 1-1 draw), but we’ve only let one in during our last three games, which gives us a good platform to kick on this season now.

“The goal was also a bit unlucky going between my legs, which meant Adam Bartlett was unsighted, but I think that, come May, we’ll still look back on the game as a good point won.”

Collins has also encouraged Tait and fellow centre-back Bencherif to occupy wider positions on the pitch as the launchpads for attacking moves by playing the ball put of defence.

It is a tactical switch that has been welcomed by the squad with Tait declaring: “It’s a bit different to what I’m used to, but the manager has told us to go out and play because we’re good players and we’ve embraced what he’s trying to implement.

“Hereford made it a bit more difficult by pressing higher up the pitch and we could have played a bit more at times, but me and Hamza are both comfortable on the ball and the longer Sam is in charge the better we’ll get in that respect.”

Tait went on to suggest that his role bringing the ball forward as the likes of Simon Heslop and Josh Law occupy deeper-lying midfield positions brings out the best in his attack-minded former Spennymoor team-mate – right-back Griffiths.

“Kall’s more effective the higher up the pitch you get him, so it makes perfect sense to do it,” Tait admitted.

With the City back four’s next challenge pitting them against two forwards in former Bootham Crescent attacker Ashley Chambers (20) and Joe Ironside (19) who netted 39 goals between them last term and have managed three apiece this season, Tait is looking forward to taking on their Kidderminster team.

“They’re a really good side, who like to get the ball down and play,” he pointed out. “Ashley Chambers is a good player and Joe Ironside is big and can be a right handful up top, so we’ll have to be on our mettle.

“But, if we stick to the game-plan and listen and buy into how Sam wants to play, then there’s no reason why we can’t take all three points, which we will go into the game expecting to do.”