DAVID Flitcroft has thrown down the gauntlet to his reserve strikers to help fire Bury to a top 10 finish after losing Daniel Nardiello and Danny Rose for the remainder of the season.
Top scorer Nardiello is suspended for the final two games – at home to Portsmouth on Saturday and at Morecambe next weekend – after picking up his second red card of the campaign in Monday’s 1-0 defeat at York City, which ended Bury’s chances of making the League Two play-offs.
Rose, who has scored three goals in six appearances on loan from Barnsley, was recalled by his parent club on Tuesday to help with their fight against relegation from the Championship.
That leaves Everton loanee Hallam Hope and veteran Clive Platt – who needed a painkilling injection to play at York – of the recent first-choice forwards.
“It’s an opportunity for someone, without a shadow of doubt, to come in and step up,” said Flitcroft.
Ashley Grimes and Temitope Obadeyi will likely be the fall-back option, although both are still yet to score for Bury since joining in the summer.
Flitcroft may even choose to run the rule over youth striker Navid Nasseri, who has been given until the end of the season to prove he is worth a full-time contract.
Whoever comes in, they will be left in no uncertain terms as to the importance of Saturday’s final home match of the campaign.
“Portsmouth is a massive game,” said Flitcroft. “I want to finish as high up the league table as possible and maintain an unbeaten record at home – that is something that this group of players will want to achieve.”
Bury are unbeaten at home in 15 matches - including 12 since Flitcroft’s appointment in December – and while they go into the Pompey game in 10th place in the League Two table, they could still finish as high as eighth or as low as 18th.
A number of players are also vying for new deals.
Pablo Mills last week became the first of the current crop to sign a contract extension, agreeing to stay for at least 12 months.
Flitcroft confirmed he is also in talks with loan defender Chris Hussey, whose contract at parent club Burton Albion runs out in the summer.
But he added: “It’s just tentative in terms of trying to assess if he wants to be part of what we are trying to do.
“He’s obviously still Burton’s player and he could potentially get called back for the play-offs, so that is something we are monitoring.
“But Chris has been a massive part of what we have done.
"The last time I saw quality (of crossing) like that was a lad I played with – Brian Barry-Murphy. He put in incredible detailed work on his crossing and Hussey has got that. ”