SAM Smith has been challenged to make the most of a golden opportunity this week to ignite his Oxford United career.

The 20-year-old has struggled to establish himself since joining on a season-long loan from Reading in July.

But the next few days offer the striker, who has started just once since September, a chance to stake a claim.

Jamie Mackie is likely to be rested for tonight’s Checkatrade Trophy tie at Wycombe Wanderers and the veteran forward is suspended on Saturday in the Emirates FA Cup clash.

That opens the door for Smith and first-team coach Derek Fazackerley has thrown down the gauntlet.

He said: “Sam will see it as an opportunity – and he’ll probably get it as well.

“It’s up to him then how he performs in the two games, if he starts both, to try to push harder for a place in the league side.

“Like most players you tend to get into form by getting two or three games on the trot where you can get into a bit of rhythm.

“In all honesty whether we expected more of him or not, I think Sam would have expected more from himself.

“He’s become a little bit frustrated, but he will get the opportunity over the next two games to show what he can do.

“I’m sure he’ll be chomping at the bit.”

Smith’s only goal this season came in the Trophy victory against Fulham Under 21s nine weeks ago.

That 3-0 win means Karl Robinson’s side travel to Adams Park knowing a win would take them into the knockout stages.

Smith’s chances have been limited since, but the loss of Jon Obika for the rest of the season means the U’s badly need someone up front to share the load with Mackie.

While United are yet to see the best of him, Rob Dickie knows just what Smith can do.

The pair came through Reading’s academy and although the centre back is two years older, they often played in the same youth side.

Dickie said: “Sam’s highly-rated at Reading, so he always used to play up with our age group.

“He’s a very good finisher, having known him a long while I think he is a really good addition to the squad.

“I just think the fans are yet to see what he can bring, because of his lack of consistency.

“All he needs is that one goal to kick-start his Oxford career.

“He’s not really had that many minutes to prove himself, so I think it’s a really good opportunity for him this week.”