Fleetwood Town will need to be at their best in order to come away with something against Bolton Wanderers this weekend, according to Joey Barton.
Town’s head coach believes that the Trotters will constantly improve during this season after a difficult period.
Due to financial uncertainty surrounding the club, Bolton were unable to sign players and, at one stage, could have gone out of business.
Despite all the problems, and the thin squad that the Wanderers have, Barton has acknowledged that, based on their analytics, Bolton are actually a mid-table side.
He said: “They’ll be a lot more competitive than they were at the start of the season.
“They’ve got some good players in for this level, they’ve become really competitive.
“They’re struggling off the back of missing pre-season, I think (manager) Keith Hill’s spoken about that.
“They should get stronger and stronger as the season goes on.
“We know it’ll be a very difficult game, we know we need to be the best versions of ourselves if we’re going to get a positive performance and a positive result off the back of that.
“I’ve been prepping the lads all week, saying this isn’t the youth team that got sloshed five and 6-1 by other teams in the early part of this season.
“They’re a middle of League One team.
“The data says, when you take out the youth team, they’re a team on projection that would finish comfortably in the middle of the table.
“That was us last year. So, we know what a good side we were last year and how difficult we could be; on our day we could cause anybody problems. Bolton are exactly the same.”
The Town boss doesn’t expect more than mid-table from Saturday’s hosts this season, but does see the groundwork being put in coming to the fore next campaign.
He also had sympathy for Bury, who were expelled by the EFL in a similar financial position to Bolton.
Barton believes that the Trotters’ involvement in this season has given other teams an edge, having played and heavily beaten them when they were forced to use young and inexperienced players.
But whatever happens, he thinks that Bolton will be back closer to their former selves in the future.
He said: “Do I think they’re going to push on and be a play-off chasing team?
“No, because of their points deduction and they’re probably going to get more deducted for Brentford last year and Doncaster this year.
“While it’s admirable what they’re doing, there’s a good chance they’re going to be powerless over their season this year.
“What Keith has done since he’s gone in is a good job, and I think they’ll bear the fruits of that next season.
“Either in League One, if the sanctions aren’t as harsh as they expect them to be, or in League Two where they would be a very powerful, dominant team.
“Bolton will be back, they’ve got great supporters; the madness of what’s gone on, by the looks of it, has cleared and now they can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“Unfortunately for Bury, they don’t have that.
“I thought it was bizarre what happened because, surely, if Bury were stopped from playing then Bolton should have been.
“Their youth team has been able to play games which is great for them but it’s warped the league table, which has caused teams to have an advantage in our competition.
“I could waste my energy focusing on that and talking about it or I could just say ‘we’ve got to be better.’
“We’ve just got to make that up somewhere, as do the teams that are chasing that.
“You give yourself, then, a bit of leeway because Wycombe and Ipswich beat Bolton’s youth team.
“They both beat them in different manners; so did Coventry but didn’t get the result.
“So they have had an advantage whether they like it or not.”