Crystal Palace manager Alan Pardew admits Patrick Bamford could end up returning to Chelsea in January if he cannot secure regular first-team football at Selhurst Park.
The 22-year-old striker scored 19 goals for Middlesbrough last season and was expected to play a key role after being loaned out to Palace to gain Premier League experience.
Pardew’s men sit fourth in the table after a flying start to 2015-16, but Bamford has only made two brief substitute appearances totalling 16 minutes of action in the league.
Ahead of Saturday’s home game against West Ham, the manager acknowledged the youngster’s situation will have to be reviewed in January if he is not playing more regularly in the first-team by then.
“It is an obvious story: he is not playing at the moment, someone has spun it,” said Pardew.
“That is unfortunate for Patrick because he is working hard, but it is an obvious situation. If he doesn’t play any real time between now and January, we will have to look at it for sure.
“He has had a lot of competition and he is trying to understand the way we play, but if he gets the chance I am sure he wants to take it.
“Is it up to him to prove himself? That is difficult to say about that, but he is fighting for his right to get into the team.”
Palace assistant boss Keith Millen indicated that Bamford had found the step up from the Championship to the Premier League a difficult one.
“We have spoken to Chelsea, they keep in contact with us and really do analyse what is going on with their players,” he said to the South London Press.
“Early on he found it quite a step up as far as the tempo and demands of the Premier League plus the way we play and train.
“He had to adapt. He also has a niggly problem with his knee which has not stopped him playing but has not been ideal.”