Joey Barton says keeper Alex Cairns is among the best in League One but the Fleetwood boss was frustrated for his number one after the 2-1 defeat at Plymouth Argyle.
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Cairns’ saves ensured Town made it to half-time at 0-0 but he could not stop Freddie Ladapo’s double strike. Paddy Madden’s 84th-minute effort set up a tense finish.
Barton felt Cairns deserved a clean sheet but says the players in front of him must give the keeper less to do as they bid to bounce back at home to Coventry City tomorrow.
Barton also wants Cairns, 25, to keep up his hard work and improve if he wants to reach the next level.
The head coach said: “He is up there for sure. He has been first-class for us since the moment I walked into the football club but again he has lots of improvement to do.
“The game is about levels. A lot of lads aspire to get to the next level and they just have to keep working hard, keep listening to the coaches.
“I know Al is keen to improve and develop further. On another day a couple of the saves he makes probably deserve a clean sheet.
“But weirdly I thought our performance was much better than against Walsall (a 0-0 home draw seven days earlier), yet we come away with no points.”
Barton was unhappy to concede the second goal from a set-piece.
He said: “That is frustrating because we defended 13 corners last week relatively well. It always happens – if you make a couple of substitutions the work you have done in the week throws a few people off.
“I think it is a couple of small errors. Someone loses their man for a near-post flick-on and then someone does not pick the big fella up and he gets on the end of it.
“At 2-0 your backs are against the wall. Fair play to the lads, they get a goal back and never stopped going until the end. My thing is: do that at 0-0.”
Barton changed his full-backs, switching Lewie Coyle to the left at the expense of James Husband and bringing in Ryan Taylor on the other flank.
The Town boss explained: “We just felt there would be spaces to play in wide areas. We brought Ryan in for his passing ability from there and the way the wide players play for Plymouth.
“They tend to cut inside and don’t really go outside of you, so we wanted a right-footed right-back to deal with their player who chops inside on his left foot.
As for Jason Holt’s substitution at half-time, Barton added: “Holty picked up a booking. This referee (Charles Brakespear) sent James Wallace off at Southend.
“He is a bit card-happy and I saw young Holty fly into a few challenges, so I thought the last thing I want is to go down to 10 men. Holty was playing well but I felt we needed to make that tactical call.”
Barton knew he was not short of options, adding: “We did not go to Plymouth to draw. Every decision and selection we make is about winning the game.
“Maybe the reality is that we have some good players in this squad. It is never easy to put 11 out, especially when you see Dean Marney and Harrison Biggins not making the bench.
“We have good competition for places. It would make my job a lot easier if we didn’t but that is the nature of it.”