Joey Barton says the form of Fleetwood Town’s current front three is the reason why Ash Hunter has not been starting games.
Town are eighth in the table and six points off six-placed Doncaster Rovers going into Saturday’s game against Gillingham at Highbury.
Having beaten Burton Albion 1-0 last time out Barton is pleased with how his new-look 4-3-3 system is gelling.
Hunter has moved out of the starting line-up in recent weeks after the return of Ashley Nadesan from his loan spell at Carlisle United.
The fan favourite has 12 assists, but with Nadesan netting his first goal to join 18-goal Paddy Madden and Ched Evans, the Town boss has outlined the reason for leaving out Hunter.
Barton said: “He is not starting because there is a game plan.
“At the minute the other lads tasked with it are delivering it.
“Paddy crossed for Nadders to score on Saturday to win us the game.
“Ash came on and nearly put the icing on it (when he hit the bar).
“The lads recognise it is a real squad effort.
“The beauty of the group we have now is they are all in it together.
“We lost 11 and brought one in, in January. We have a smaller group.
“The numbers are down but we feel it is a lot tighter knit.
“Everyone who is here now has got ambition and hopes to play.
“You have a group of young lads behind that itching to get their league debuts; Ged Garner, Ryan Rydel, James Hill, Harrison Holgate or Eddie Clarke.
“We have a real nice feel about the group and a real togetherness.
“I think that has shown in the performances.
“We are five unbeaten away from home, in a position in the league table where – while we have not got realistic chances of promotion – we still have something to play for.
“This time last year we did not have that; unfortunately they were fighting for survival.
“This year we are looking up the table.
“Can we be perfect and hope a couple of teams sneak up?
“If we manage to get in that play-off zone – which is a long shot – we’d be one of the sides with real momentum. You just never know.
“The most pleasing thing for me is that the culture of our group is really starting to grow.
“As a byproduct of that, I spoke about (former San Francisco 49ers head coach) Bill Walsh and (his book) ‘The Score Takes Care Of Itself.’
“While that has not been easy because there were periods when we did not get results you have to believe in that process.
“For me, to sit with 48 points and the chance to go to 51 on Saturday with 11 games to go, at the start of the season I’d have taken that based on we did not know what we are getting into.
“The challenge now is to see how far we can push it.
“We come back in the summer and go on; that is football, it is about constantly getting better.”