Fleetwood Town boss Joey Barton is pleased to have competition for places up front with the return of Conor McAleny.
He came off the bench during Saturday’s goalless draw against Walsall at Highbury, replacing Ash Hunter midway through the second half after recovering from a hamstring issue.
McAleny had started the season in the wide left attacking role but, thanks to his various ailments, Hunter has come in and made the place his own with four goals and 12 assists.
The 26-year-old was accompanied off the bench by Ched Evans, who also came on at Highbury and illustrated Barton’s attacking options.
Barton said :”Ash has been phenomenal in terms of his productivity for us but he has not really had competition coming from behind because Conor McAleny has missed a lot of game time.
“If we look at the start of the season Conor was the starter; he was the marquee player in terms of that match winner.
“He has picked up a couple of knocks and niggles and that has allowed Ash to have a run in the side.
“He took full advantage of it but the key for them is they are competing for their spots – and Ash did not have his best day by his standards.
“He has set very high standards, certainly since I have been at the club.
“The wide men and the front men are the players that are a little bit easier to rotate because of the defensive structure behind that.
“Again, the key for us is utilising the squad in the correct manner to try and get points.
“It is nice to have the ability to leave good players on the bench and use them in the latter stages of games because it is going to be a squad effort if we are going to achieve what we want to achieve.
“We do need competition for places and we have not had that.”
The Town boss had named an unchanged starting line-up from the side which won at Alfreton Town, hoping they would repeat that outcome at the Impact Arena in front of the live TV cameras.
He said: “I thought the lads earned the right to start again.
“A Sky game, early kick-off, and I felt the lads who played at Alfreton were thoroughly professional in their performances.
“Not one deserved to lose a starting jersey so I told them in the build-up: ‘it is your jersey, keep hold of it, it is your fault if you give someone else the chance to take your place in the team.’
“That is the tried and tested method for any side or any successful side up and down the country.”
It meant that Cian Bolger retained his place in the backline with skipper Craig Morgan recovering from illness.
That is another battle Barton believes will help his side after they earned a first home clean sheet this season.
He said: “You are never going to be perfect every single weekend.
“To be fair to the lads offensively, on the whole, we have been very productive.
“On Saturday, while we weren’t firing on all cylinders, we still carved out three good opportunities to score goals and, on another day, we’d take one of them.
“The players it falls to – Hunter, (Ross) Wallace, (Paddy) Madden – you’d fancy one of them to convert; on the whole, they usually do.
“Bolger is back in, Morgan has had a bit of an illness the last couple of games and now they fight it out for the right to play in our defence.
“That is what we want, we want the players to pick the jersey and decide they are not giving it back.
“I want to pick the same side every week; if I’m doing that, we are doing something good.”
While pleased with certain aspects of Saturday’s performance, there was one area that Barton wants to address.
He will be having a word with the groundsman, Nick Hyndman, as he felt the Highbury turf was too long.
“I’m not sure the length of the grass on the pitch helped and I will be giving the groundsman a bit of feedback on that,” Barton said.
“When you play with the explosiveness of some of our players, to have a pitch that long is not ideal.
“I do get it is the winter months and he is keen on protecting it but it does not really help us.”