James McPake has challenged on-loan Celtic striker Jonathan Afolabi to force his way into the Dundee team over the coming weeks.
The Republic of Ireland Under-21 international joined the Dark Blues at the start of the season and has featured 11 times, scoring three goals.
A raw talent, Afolabi’s strikes have been key ones – a winner against Morton, a last-gasp equaliser to keep Dundee in the cup against Bonnyrigg Rose and a pressure penalty to seal three points against Hearts.
However, the arrival of frontman Jason Cummings saw Afolabi drop out of the matchday squad completely in Dundee’s last match against Raith Rovers.
Top scorer Osman Sow struck his seventh goal of the season in the Kirkcaldy defeat, while strikers Cummings and Danny Mullen came off the bench in the second half.
At the moment, Afolabi is behind those three in the battle to lead the line for the Dee, but McPake insists there is still time for the 21-year-old to play a big role.
Asked about Afolabi’s situation, the Dark Blues manager said: “Jonathan is still here and still training away.
“It comes down to who is working hardest, doing the most in training and then, ultimately, doing it out on the pitch.
“Osman Sow is scoring goals at the moment but we have competition in those places. Jason Cummings has come in to add to that.
“It comes down to who deserves the place in the team most and that’s judged on training. That’s something all the players have to do.
“To get in the team you have to work really hard and prove you are worth a place in the team – then you have to produce the goods on a Saturday.
“Jonathan has to get to that level.”
‘We’re happy with the squad’
After adding Cummings to the squad, as well as winger Paul McMullan and centre-half Malachi Fagan-Walcott, McPake is pleased to have real competition for places.
Following a run of games postponed by adverse weather, McPake hopes his side can reignite their campaign against Queen of the South on Saturday.
A draw at Arbroath and defeat at Raith stalled a good run of form that included a win over Hearts at the turn of the year.
Now they have dropped down to fourth in the Championship table, but the Dens boss reckons increased competition for places will spur the Dark Blues on.
“I wish I had Alex Jakubiak to add to that but you can’t help injuries sometimes,” McPake added.
“We have great competition and the players push each other on.
“You can see in the goalkeeper position how well Jack Hamilton has played since Adam Legzdins has come in, Jack has been excellent.
“We now have more competition in central defence as well with Malachi Fagan-Walcott arriving. Jordon Forster is back in contention too so we have options there.
“Paul McMullan also adds to our attack and we are very happy where we are at with the squad right now.”
Forster returned to training on Tuesday after completing a period of self-isolation.
That means only long-term absentees Jordan McGhee, Jakubiak and Josh Mulligan are expected to be unavailable for the weekend clash with the Doonhamers.