RICHIE Barker has challenged the Shakers players who are out of contract in the summer to prove they have a future at Gigg Lane by helping the club stay in League One.

With captain Steven Schumacher out with a hamstring injury and suspended midfield partner Peter Sweeney absent for the last three games, it has been down to the Bury understudies to grind out a couple of morale-boosting draws which slowed the freefall toward the relegation zone.

Notable performers in Barker’s side have been holding midfielder and former Arsenal trainee Patrick Cregg, and right-back Andrai Jones, while Mark Carrington has also added steel and guile to the Bury midfield in place of the more celebrated absentees.

With Sweeney available again following his three-match ban for violent conduct in the 4-1 reverse at Carlisle United on March 10, manager Barker has a welcome selection headache as he prepares to host Ronnie Moore’s form team, Tranmere Rovers, on Saturday, still seven points short of the safety target of 50.

“I’ve tried to reiterate to the players that if they come in and give their best and do well, they will keep their place,” he said.

“There are one or two of them with a few things to play for. Patrick, Andrai and Mark are all out of contract in the summer, so they’ve now got a seven-match mini season in which they can earn something out of the game.”

Club captain Schumacher came on as a late substitute in Saturday’s impressive 1-1 draw at Preston following his return from injury and looks a likely starter on Saturday, but striker Lenell John-Lewis is believed to be at least another week away after sustaining a thigh injury in the 3-3 draw with Huddersfield on March 3.

Otherwise, the Bury squad has a clean bill of health.

Meanwhile, the Shakers have signed goalkeeper Jonathan Bond on loan from Championship side Watford until the end of the season.

Current keeper Trevor Carson is due to return to Sunderland following Saturday’s game while Cameron Belford – on loan at Southend – has opted to stay there for their League Two promotion push.