Fleetwood Town boss Joey Barton said Conor McAleny is still in his plans and confirmed he “loves” the forward as a player.
McAleny’s last league start for Town was in the 3-0 win over Coventry City in November.
The forward has since made four cameos off the bench but was an unused substitute in the 3-2 FA Cup exit to AFC Wimbledon and last Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Oxford United.
Barton is a fan of the 26-year-old and says he is looking for a way to make the most of McAleny’s talents.
But with Paddy Madden, the suspended Ched Evans, Ash Hunter, Wes Burns and Ashley Nadesan all in competition for places at the front of Barton’s 4-3-3 formation, the head coach assures McAleny his chance will come.
Barton said: “I love Conor as a player, but when we looked at the shape he was really struggling with the demands of the position in terms of the discipline that is required. It is just going to take time.
“He has got to stick with us but I rate him as a player and I’ve told him that.
“We just need to get him a run in the team in a position where he can showcase his ability.
“It must be really frustrating for him. I constantly keep talking to him to reassure him how much I believe in him.
“At some point we have to try and get him a run in the side but it is difficult when you have got Burns, Madden, Hunter and Evans scoring goals and creating goals. Nadesan has also come back and created goals.
“Unfortunately we can only pick 11 players. and you have got to get the jersey and make sure nobody else can get it off you.
“Unfortunately for Conor, lots of the lads in those front lines have made fantastic cases for not coming out of their shirt.”
Like McAleny, Hunter was among the substitutes last weekend, though Barton says that was for his protection.
He explained: “Ash did not train on Tuesday or Wednesday because of a tight hamstring. We cannot afford to have Ash out for six to eight weeks.
“We must monitor him. He has done some really good shifts and we wanted to have a look at a new shape.
“It worked for large parts, so Ash has got to figure out which of those positions suits him.
“I’ve got an idea for him in terms of a couple of positions, and we want to work on that going forward because he can be an absolute thorn in the side of the opposition.
“We are going to make him better than he has already been, which is very good this season.”