YORK City manager Gary Mills is challenging Jamal Fyfield to prove he has become a better player during a stint on the sidelines.

The 22-year-old defender has not started a game since Boxing Day but is poised for a recall in tonight’s home match against Tamworth with captain Chris Smith serving the second of a two-match suspension and fellow centre-backs David McGurk, Ben Gibson and Chris Doig all crocked.

Gibson is due to be ruled out for the rest of March with the hamstring injury suffered in the 2-0 win over Hayes & Yeading on Saturday.

Fellow centre-back Doig suffered a groin problem in the same game and, while his problem is not as serious, tonight’s clash is expected to come too soon for the Scotsman.

Prior to losing his place, Fyfield had been in City’s starting XI 21 times this season and Mills is hoping his watching brief from the stands has been educational.

The City boss said: “Jamal played the majority of our games earlier this season and was a big part of what we achieved then.

“He is a player with potential but, with potential, you have to accept you will get some mistakes. The problem comes if you have too many, because we want to be successful and get promoted this season.

“I decided in January that the time was right to strengthen at the back but now could be the time for Jamal to show me how he’s grown during his time out of the side. Sometimes, as a young player, it’s no bad thing to take a look at things from the outside.

“It’s not always about playing every game. Sometimes, you might need to watch and see what it’s all about and then, when your chance comes take it. Jamal will get that opportunity if Chris Doig cannot play.”

On losing Middlesbrough teenage loan defender Gibson – joint-winner of The Press Player of the month award for February along with Smith – Mills added: “Ben could be out for three weeks, which is a massive blow because he’s a good player. He’s settled in lovely and done really well.”

Mills will be looking to avoid an unwanted hat-trick of defeats when his team face Tamworth – the club he left behind to take over at Bootham Crescent.

As City boss, he has lost both encounters between the two clubs since leaving the Lambs but Mills insisted he is on no personal crusade, stressing: “I am just focused on the fact it’s a big league game in terms of us enhancing our position in the play-off places.

“That’s all I am bothered about – nothing else. I don’t want to talk about my old club, just the importance of getting a result.”

Mills is also aware of his team’s need to capitalise on their game in hand tonight.

Play-off rivals Southport and Kidderminster have both played a match more than the Minstermen prior to this evening’s fixture programme, which neither side figures in.

Victory for Mills’ men would, therefore, move them four points clear of fifth-placed Southport and six above Kidderminster in seventh, not forgetting City’s vastly superior goal difference.

The City manager said: “It would be fantastic to pull a bit further away from two or three clubs. We had the chance to take advantage of a game in hand when we played Gateshead but did not do that.

“We conceded an early goal and that set the tone but we’ve got another chance to make some ground tonight.”

With 12 league games left, Mills has insisted he is setting his players no points targets but he has issued a challenge to finish in the division’s top three and, therefore, secure the advantage of a home second leg in any play-off semi-final.

He said: “We’ve got to 60 points and I want to be on 63 at 10pm tonight. Last season, Fleetwood came fifth with 78.

“That would mean we need six more wins, but we are not looking at any finishing tallies. Anybody in the top half of the table still has a shout.

“Barrow have gone on a big run and they are only five points behind us now but we have got to be focused on ourselves.

“Fleetwood look like they are going to win the league but I want to finish in the top three.”

• THE funeral of former York City coach Clive Baker was held yesterday. Baker, who had a long coaching career at Sheffield Wednesday, died aged 77, of motor neurone disease.