HOPE Akpan has a fight on his hands to win back his City shirt as competition hots up.

The midfielder was not even on the bench against Northampton after being dropped by Gary Bowyer.

Jackson Longridge, Omari Patrick and Tyler French also missed out completely having featured in the Leasing.com Trophy at Bolton.

Akpan, understood to be one of the higher earners at the club, has yet to put his stamp on proceedings this season. But leaving him out completely still came as a surprise among City fans.

Bowyer insists his omission alongside the others shows the growing battle for places within his squad.

He said: “The competition that we have is healthy. I want players not being happy because they’re not in the team or the squad.

“But they’ve got to be patient and understand it’s a squad game. When the opportunity comes, they’ve got to grab it.

“Hope was one to be left out the squad along with Tyler French, Jackson Longridge and Omari and that just shows you the competition we have at the club.

“You can see the quality we’ve got at this moment. When people are fit it causes you a problem.

“But it’s always a nice problem to have as a manager rather than having a treatment room full of players.”

Bowyer felt the strength of the bench in the last game, which included Callum Cooke, Zeli Ismail, and on-loan striker Aramide Oteh, highlights the resources now at his disposal.

Shay McCartan is also pushing to be involved again and played a half in a game behind closed doors earlier in the week.

The City boss added: “We’re building the squad now where you can take somebody off and put someone else on and they are another game-changer.

“Don’t forget we’ve still got a few more to come back into the squad that give you more options, especially in an attacking sense.

“It’s always nice having those options available to you.”

Ismail will miss out on Saturday’s trip to former club Walsall after a debut red card for two bookings. The winger was sent off in stoppage time to end a lively sub appearance, which saw him set up the first goal for Clayton Donaldson.

Bowyer said: “It’s a disappointment for the boy because he showed exactly why we brought him here – and what a favourite he’s going to be among the supporters.

“He’s just exciting. He takes people on and keeps doing it and he’s only going to get better.”