Port Vale: McCombe ready to stand up to Torquay's heavyweight challenge
TOUGH centre-half John McCombe says he is relishing the prospect of a good old scrap as he prepares to renew acquaintances with Rene Howe.
Howe, below, who stands 6ft tall and weighs in at 14st 2lb, was the bulldozing pinnacle of a Torquay team who reached the League Two play-offs for a second year in a row last season.
The 25-year-old has got off the mark this term with three goals in three league games, but McCombe, who is 6ft 2in tall and nearly 13st himself, is not scared of putting his head in where it hurts.
"Rene's a decent player and a big and strong lad, which is no different than a lot of strikers we see in this division," said the Yorkshireman.
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"He is a handful, but players like myself, Clayton McDonald and Gareth Owen are no shrinking violets.
"This is the season we really want to make Vale Park a place visiting teams don't fancy coming to, and that goes for the opposition forwards too."
McCombe was a striker until switching to defence at the age of 16, and played there for Huddersfield Town and Hereford before joining Vale in 2008.
Like his colleague Owen, he had a brief spell on loan at Plainmoor, although he never made an appearance for the south coast club.
The 29-year-old Owen proved his fitness by coming through the reserves' 1-0 win over Mansfield on Wednesday, and even scored the winning goal.
Joe Davis, aged 18, also waits in the wings for another chance at the back, while Richard Duffy, a right-back so far this term, was a recognised centre-half at former club Exeter.
McCombe, who netted his 16th Vale goal against Morecambe last week, added: "We have strong competition for places, particularly at centre-half, and it was unfortunate Dave Artell left. He is a decent player who could have given us even more food for thought.
"Myself and Clayton have started the season fairly well, but know we have to be at our very best or else someone will take our places."
Torquay, at the opposite end of the spectrum, are struggling for centre-halves following the sending off of Aaron Downes during their thrilling 4-2 win over Rochdale last weekend.
Manager Martin Ling has been scouring the loan market in search of a replacement, but is now expected to hand a debut to 18-year-old rookie Kirtys McKenzie.
Ling had said earlier in the week that "Port Vale away is a big ask" to blood a centre-half.
But he admitted yesterday: "I've spoken to a few clubs, but whoever I could have brought in would have been making their league debut, and I've got a player here I'm confident in.
"Kirtys has played all through pre-season, alongside Brian Saah more than anyone, and I'm really tempted to play him unless something comes in and takes my breath away.
"He did well in the summer, scoring against Leeds and playing against Peter Crouch when Stoke came down (for a friendly)."
McKenzie, if picked, would follow in the footsteps of fellow 18-year-old youth-teamer Niall Thompson, who made a sensational debut on the wing last Saturday.
But Thompson is under pressure for his place from Danny Stevens, who is fit to make his first start of the campaign after recovering from a thigh strain.
However, midfielder Damon Lathrope (knee) and wingers Lloyd Macklin (hamstring) and Saul Halpin (ankle) will all remain on the sidelines.
Vale and Torquay have shared 17 draws and 17 wins apiece down the years.
McCombe said: "They have always given us a good game over the past couple of years and it will be no different this time. It will be tough, but we'll be looking for a win."