Crewe boss Steve Davis has opted not to extend Lauri Dalla Valle's loan stay at Gresty Road, but left the door open for the Fulham man's return to the Alex.
Finnish striker Dalla Valle, 21, hit five goals in 10 League One appearances in his two-month stay at Crewe.
But Davis instead sees Dalla Valle's return to London as a chance for Max Clayton and AJ Leitch-Smith to shine.
"If they struggle, then Lauri is an option we can go back to before the end of January," Davis told BBC Stoke.
"But I've had Max and AJ in for a chat and I've told them that it's time for them to come in, score some goals and show they're good enough for this division.
"I've thrown the gauntlet down."
Leitch-Smith, 22, who hit four goals over the first month of the season, has not started since being sidelined with knee ligament damage following a challenge by Brian Howard in the 2-0 defeat by Portsmouth in mid-October.
Clayton, 18, also has four goals to his name this season, but only one of them has come in League One - the winning goal against Coventry City back on 1 September.
"AJ has missed a lot of football," said Davis. "But we know what he can produce. And it's the same with Max.
"They've both been waiting patiently and we're looking for them to come in and fight for their places."
But Davis admits that he will still monitor Dalla Valle's movements before the window closes on 31 January.
"His contract is up at the end of the season and he's going back to have a chat with his agent.
"And, if it doesn't work out for him at Fulham, then he's got the whole of January to sort it out.
"He's a good lad, a real team player with a great work ethic and a big heart.
"He's the sort that goes back out there after training in the afternoon with a bag of balls to try new things and, with that sort of attitude, he'll go a long way."