PETER JACKSON has one crucial question to answer when he watches Town Reserves at the McAlpine tomorrow (2.00).
Town's manager must find a replacement for the suspended midfielder Tony Carss at Carlisle United on Saturday and admits the position is up for grabs.
Carss misses the Third Division trip to Brunton Park following his dismissal against Torquay, so there's a big opportunity for someone to step up and cement a place in Town's promotion push.
Jackson - who may play defender Ian Hughes for part of the game against Sheffield United's second string - is looking for candidates to impress in the Pontin's Holiday's Premier Division fixture.
"I'm disappointed to have to make a change because of Carssy's one-match ban, but there's a place now going begging in the first team for Saturday," said Jackson today.
"That means tomorrow's match is a big game for a lot of lads, especially with injuries clearing up and the squad looking as strong as it has all season.
"That's a great thing to be able to say at this stage in the season - because we have been tested to the limit at certain times - and the players know that if they produce the goods when they've got the shirt then they will keep it.
"That has to be a big incentive for our midfielders when they take to the field tomorrow and I'll be watching with interest to see how they all do."
Welsh Under 21 man Lee Fowler will be as keen as anyone to prove he's worth a go, having been dropped to the bench for Saturday's 2-1 win against Lincoln City.
Club captain Rob Edwards, experienced Chris Holland, Dwayne Mattis and John Thorrington will have designs on selection, not to mention Paul Scott, who is on the comeback trail and able to play in either defence or midfield.
"It has been a real squad effort this season and I've always said to the players that if they play 46 matches or just one, we are all in this together," said Jackson, who reported that Ian Gray's hand operation had gone well.
"All those who are out of the team are itching to get back in, they are always involved in what we do as a club and they are part of a tremendous spirit we've got within the camp here."
While Nat Brown remains under treatment for the groin injury which forced him off against Lincoln, defender Nathan Clarke was absent from training yesterday suffering a dead leg.
Physio Lee Martin was giving him further treatment today and he is expected to be fine for the weekend trip to Cumbria.
Anthony Lloyd is back in full training after his concussion against Lincoln, while Jackson is pleased to have Hughes back among the squad.
"Hughesy trained without problem yesterday and, if he feels fine after today's session, then he'll probably play a part in the Reserve game," said the manager.
"You always have to be careful when players have been out for a while, but Ian is over the knee surgery and keen to play."
FORMER Town striker Jon Stead is facing a three-week lay-off because of a hamstring strain suffered during Blackburn's 3-2 Premier League defeat at Charlton.
The £1.25m man, above, was substituted at half-time on Saturday. Stead, 20, had scored in both his previous two matches for Rovers - he netted 18 times for Town this season before moving - and made his England Under 21 debut against Holland at Hull a week ago.