IT HAS been a changing environment for Stephen Darby.

City’s ever-dependable right back was one of the first names on Phil Parkinson’s team sheet for the past four seasons.

This term has been different as Darby sat out the first month recovering from groin treatment before returning to the ranks minus the captain’s armband.

It is a clear indication that nothing is set in stone under Stuart McCall.

But a club record unbeaten run suggests everything is going to plan and Darby is equally unruffled at losing his role as regular team leader to Romain Vincelot.

Darby said: “To lead the lads out in front of the fans is an absolute honour and you wear the armband with pride.

“But I’ve got no problem now. From the first day he signed, Romain has been absolutely brilliant as have all the lads who came in during the summer.

“It’s not strange at all for me and doesn’t change my mentality going into games. I’ll approach it the same way and give 100 per cent like all the lads in the dressing room.”

Darby’s return coincided with a thigh injury to Tony McMahon, whose form at the start suggested there could be a fierce battle for the right back role when he is fit to return.

It is another welcome headache for McCall in a side that currently boasts the best defensive record in the division.

Darby added: “There is competition all over the pitch, not just in a couple of places. But that can only be good not only for myself but the whole squad.

“Everyone is driving each other and that has got to be healthy. You can’t go into the next game thinking you will always be playing regardless.

“You’ve got to prove it day in, day out – to yourself and the management – that you are worthy of that shirt. Every session, every game you’ve got to be giving 100 per cent.

“Nobody has got a divine right to play. It’s up to us as a group to train well and take that into the games.

“I think you’ve seen that in recent performances and with the results. It’s important that we keep standards at a high level.”

The seven changes McCall made for the Checkatrade Trophy highlighted the depth of talent at his disposal. Rory McArdle, Matt Kilgallon and Nathan Clarke joined Darby in a back four that boasted over 1,500 senior games between them.

Darby said: “You only have to look at the lads who haven’t played as much as they would have liked so far.

“It’s a sign that we have a strong squad because they are big players. There are so many options.

“It’s not just about the 11 who are starting or the 18, it’s everyone involved. We’ve got a great group, good character and a strong dressing room.”

As City close in on leaders Scunthorpe, they also head to Oxford with a four-point cushion on third spot. It is an enviable position to be in but Darby, as you would expect, remains firmly grounded.

“You don’t get any prizes in October for where you are in the table,” he warned.

“Nobody mentions the league table or the run of form. We just approach each game the same.

“We know you’re going to have to work just as hard for those points whether you’re playing someone at the top or near the bottom.”