Fleetwood Town boss Joey Barton looks to strengthen after the departures of Peter Clarke and Ash Hunter

Ash Hunter has joined Salford City on loan
Ash Hunter has joined Salford City on loan

Joey Barton wants to strengthen his Fleetwood Town squad in January after Ash Hunter followed Peter Clarke in joining another club this month.

Veteran defender Clarke signed for League One rivals Tranmere Rovers on New Year’s Day ahead of Town’s 1-1 home draw with Sunderland.

After that match, Barton confirmed that forward Hunter was set to join Salford City on loan; a move that was confirmed today and is for the rest of the season.

The circumstances surrounding their departures could hardly be more different, with Barton suggesting that Clarke’s exit is all about finance whereas Hunter’s switch is about learning a disciplinary lesson.

The 24-year-old passed 200 appearances for Town this season but has not featured in League One for six weeks.

Barton said: “Ash Hunter is going to go out on loan. That has been agreed with Salford.

“He just needs to go and play football again, and decide he wants to be a professional footballer because we need good players.

“I don’t like losing Ash because when he came off the bench he was making an impact, but you can’t behave the way he does and expect to play in our football team, so hopefully he learns that lesson and comes back to give a good account of himself.”

Clarke (37) made 17 Town appearances this season and could make his Tranmere debut at Premier League Watford in the FA Cup on Saturday.

Barton is clearly sorry to lose him and said: “At his age, we couldn’t give him the money and the contract Tranmere were, which shows that there are teams way below us in the table who have more money than us, which is bizarre but we can’t compete with them.

“Clarkey was superb, so it’s an absolute blow because he’s a great lad, a great trainer and a great professional.

“But the move is closer to home for him. He is guaranteed to play every week and he gets more money, which always helps.

“He has a family to feed and lads at our level have to think about putting their kids through school. He goes with our blessing. We are gutted to lose him but we couldn’t give him the package he had been offered.”

Barton actually spoke of being “four bodies down” following the injury to Jordan Rossiter and loanee Jimmy Dunne’s early return to Burnley.

And he challenged Town’s younger players to seize the shirts which are becoming available.

Barton added: “We certainly do need to see some of the young players take opportunities.

“I’ve challenged them and said, ‘Look, you have basically got this month to show me you can make an impact in our first team.’

“I thought when Harvey (Saunders) came on against Sunderland he caused chaos and nearly got himself in, so he could be a bonus for us.

“If they don’t, we’ll have to reinforce our group.”