Joey Barton praised his Fleetwood Town side’s energy levels over a demanding Christmas and called on them to keep it up during an equally hectic New Year.
Sunday’s goalless draw with Bristol Rovers was the first of four home games in 10 days, continuing with today’s Highbury clash against Sunderland.
Town and the Black Cats have played fewer matches than all bar two clubs in League One and aim to use those games in hand to boost their promotion bids.
Both are unbeaten over Christmas and Barton said of Phil Parkinson’s team: “They are a good side, and we are competing and getting into that slot where every game gets bigger and bigger.
“It was another big one on Sunday, against a Bristol Rovers side sitting just above us in the table.
“They were a side we feel we could dominate if we play our way, and apart from not scoring a goal, the lads have done superbly.
“To back up the last few good performances against Gillingham, Rotherham and especially Rochdale in this busy period, and to deliver that sort of energy and performance – coming on like a steam train – is testament to the lads in terms of the work they have done, their nutrition and fitness.
“Now we have to dust ourselves down to go again in a tough game against Sunderland.”
Barton also hailed his players’ powers of concentration after the disruption caused by Ched Evans’ disallowed goal during Sunday’s game at Highbury.
The head coach’s protests after referee Paul Marsden had second thoughts about awarding the goal saw Barton shown a red card and sent to the stand.
But he praised his players for keeping cool heads and added: “They did brilliantly to keep their focus. If we’d been sitting here saying we’d won 1-0, I don’t think anyone at Bristol Rovers, their players or manager, would have any qualms but you don’t get what you deserve all the time in football – but you do most of the time.
“Thankfully the ref hasn’t sent anybody off because it wasn’t that sort of game. It was a good ding-dong between two sides trying to get out of this division.
“The disappointing thing is that we couldn’t break them down.
“We’ve created enough opportunities, with a bit more quality and a bit more care, to put this game way beyond Bristol.
“If we’d got the first goal, there’s no way they could have got back in the game because we had far too much for them.”