Fleetwood's clean sheet king Eastham inspired by opening day snub

Ash Eastham and boss Joey Barton embrace after Fleetwood Town's 5-0 win at Scunthorpe
Ash Eastham and boss Joey Barton embrace after Fleetwood Town's 5-0 win at Scunthorpe

Fleetwood’s latest centurion Ash Eastham revealed being left out of the opening league game spurred him on to fight for his shirt.

Eastham celebrated his 100th appearance for the club in the 5-0 win at Scunthorpe last week and followed it up with another clean sheet in the draw at Charlton.

The 27-year-old was Town’s player of the season last term but boss Joey Barton opted for new skipper Craig Morgan and Cian Bolger for the opening 1-0 defeat to AFC Wimbledon.

A week later Eastham was back in the side for the 2-0 win at Oxford and has not looked back since – that was the first of three clean sheets in his four league appearances.

And now, with a League Cup second-round clash at Premier League side Leicester on Tuesday, the defender is relishing the battle for places at centre-half, with Preston loanee Tommy Spurr also in contention.

He said: “I had a chat with the manager. He left me out the first game of the season. I had no problem with that.

“I understand that we have four fantastic centre-halves and that drove me on personally to get back in the team.

“I am not prepared to give my shirt up lightly. I want to play as many games as I can, I’m looking forward to the challenge and making a success of it.”

It is the first time in the ex-Rochdale and Blackpool man’s career that four experienced centre-halves are fighting for the two spots.

Long-serving skipper Nathan Pond was replaced by 33-year-old Morgan, and 30-year-old left-footer Spurr also joined Eastham and Bolger.

But with speculation linking Bolger with a loan move up to the Championship, it could be a three-way battle soon.

Though for now, with all four in contention for the Tuesday night’s clash, Eastham says competition is fierce but friendly.

He said: “It is probably the first time in my career there have been four experienced centre-halves.

“You normally have three, with a young lad following that up. It is something new but we all love a challenge.

“As much as we are fighting with each other (for a starting spot), we are trying to push each other on in training and get the best out of each other.

“Everyone will get their chance with injuries and suspensions. It is a long old season.

“We are only five games in and we are going to need everyone from now to the end.”

And with three clean sheets from six games, Eastham says the current back five of keeper Alex Cairns, Morgan, Lewie Coyle and new left-back James Husband and himself are proud of their back-to-back clean sheets.

And he says any success the club enjoys this season will be built on clean slates.

He said: “Myself, Morgs, Coyley and Hubby pride ourselves on that.

“It is nice to maybe chip in with a goal but it is satisfying as a back four to lead the team to a clean sheet, with Cairnsy too.

“That is what top teams do. It is not the goals you score that defines you but clean sheets determine whether you have a successful season or not.”

And Eastham is hoping to keep the goals against below 46 this term, Town only conceding three in their opening five league games.

He said: “I remember thinking if you can go through a full 46-game season and maybe keep your goals against 46 or below you have had a pretty good season.

“We have three clean sheets out of the five but we want many more. We know our job is not done yet.”

And the defender says success can be helped by the Cod Army as he thanked the 80 who made the trip to Charlton for their support.

He said: “It is fantastic. You see our fans constantly singing in the corner. They fill you with pride.

“We need them week in, week out and they do the same at home. They will be a big part in us being a success this season.”

And Eastham says those two big results against last term’s play-off contenders Scunthorpe and Charlton show their intent this term.

He said: “We played Scunthorpe on Wednesday, Charlton on Saturday – two teams that were in the play-offs last season – and I think it is a credit to us as players, our manager, staff and squad that we want to be competing at the top end of this table.

“It was a tough game on Saturday but I was really chuffed with a clean sheet.

“A draw was a fair result and we move on to Tuesday.”