ACCRINGTON Stanley boss John Coleman is hoping Stalybridge Celtic's highly-rated left-back Jerome Fitzgerald will seize his chance to earn a contract at the Interlink.
Coleman has snapped up the 25-year-old defender and he says the former Morecambe trainee will play some part in Saturday's home clash with Halifax provided the league waive the seven-day rule.
And Fitzgerald, rated as one of the best left backs in the UniBond League, has between now and the end of the season to prove he deserves a full-time contract.
"He is a good defender, has good pace and uses the ball well," said Coleman. "He played for the British Universities side in Korea in the summer but was injured and didn't start the season until later on. He has played around 20 games for Stalybridge this season.
"It is up to him - he knows the situation, he has got to see if he can win a contract and I hope he will play some part on Saturday."
Former Rossendale player Fitzgerald, who is currently at university and is on non contract terms at Celtic, has only moved into the defensive position this season from the wing.
"He went to left back by accident," said Celtic boss David Miller. "Our regular lad was injured but Jerome looks like he has been there all his life. He has adapted well. He is one of the best left backs in the UniBond Premier Division and he has come on in leaps and bounds over the last 18 months.
"He is good in the air, strong, has a good left peg and, being a winger, likes to go forward as well. John has given him a chance to step up a gear and it is up to him to take it."
And Coleman is hoping to keep centre back Darran Kempson until the end of the season. The 19-year-old is on "work experience" at Stanley and so can continue to play for the Reds until they hear from Preston. Kempson has said he is enjoying his time at the Interlink and is keen to play until April although he is waiting to see if he has been offered a professional contract at Deepdale.
And, as Coleman looks at more options, the Reds chief has admitted that some of the Stanley players are now playing for their Accrington lives.
"We have spoken to a couple of players about deals for next season but some of the players are playing for contracts. It is up to them now."
Coleman has given his regular players a week off training in the hope this will revitalise them for the derby on Saturday. However they should be boosted following a 10-1 win over Guiseley Reserves in the Lancashire League Cup quarter-final midweek.
Coleman mixed the team up with trialists and players who have played less regularly for the first team. Dean Calcutt scored four, John Durnin and trialist Mark Rasmussen - who was at Burnley last season - got two each and Jon Smith and Steve Halford were on the scoresheet. Fitzgerald also played.
"The regular players needed a rest, they were jaded but there should be no problem lifting the players for tomorrow," said the Reds chief. "It is the team closest to us geographically, there should be a good atmosphere and we have really got to get a win and what better place than at home in a derby?"
Stanley have not won in five league games and have seen their play-off chances fade. Coleman admits it is "looking bleak" but will not throw in the towel.
"We will just keep our heads down, keep pressing and hope other teams slip up. But whatever, there is a lot to take from this season. We have had a good season. If we finish in the top eight we have done a lot better than some of the full-time clubs. We have had good crowds, had a good FA Cup run, are in a final and enjoyed some good wins in the league.
"We don't want a bad end to the season to detract from this so we really want to get back to winning ways. I was talking to our former player Mark Brennan and he was saying historically, Accrington always finished the season strongly no matter what. We have got to make sure we live up to that reputation again."
And he knows he needs a couple more of his players to chip in with goals.
"Andy Gouck, Lutel James and Paul Mullin have been the main scorers and Rory has chipped in with a couple. But we need a few more people to get their head down and try their luck."
Steve Hollis and Robbie Williams are still suspended while Ged Brannan has started responding to treatment on his thigh. Halifax, meanwhile, have signed former Manchester United and Huddersfield player Ben Thornley.