Six things we learned from Fleetwood 3 Southport 1

Conor McAleny shone for Fleetwood against Southport
Conor McAleny shone for Fleetwood against Southport

It might just have been a training game in the sunshine at Poolfoot Farm but after a 3-1 win over Southport the future looks bright for Joey Barton’s crop.

It was more of a training exercise than a grueling 90 minutes as the players eased themselves back in but there were still plenty of talking points and food for thought from the Cod Army’s first taste of the new Barton blueprint.

Kyle Dempsey in action for Fleetwood v Southport

Kyle Dempsey in action for Fleetwood v Southport

Town fought back from a goal down as striker Conor McAleny’s neat chip, a volley the ex-Everton man would be proud of from new centre-half Craig Morgan and a trademark set-piece from left-back Joe Maguire clinched the convincing win.

But what did we learn from the 90 minutes? Fleetwood Town writer Rosie Swarbrick looks at the main talking points.

Conor McAleny can be key to Fleetwood Town's fortunes in the new 2018/19 League One term as forwards impress

Barton started with a 4-3-3 set-up as Town debuted their new Hummel home strip against the National League North side.

It was a formation that gave McAleny and Hunter to pick up where they left off last term under John Sheridan.

McAleny lit up the left flank at times in the first half, impressing with his link up play, hunger and eye for goal.

Ash Hunter was as lively as ever on the opposite right flank of the forward line though development squad forward Ashley Nadesan still needs to find another gear if he wishes to give the duo and second half starting strikers Wes Burn and Paddy Madden a run for their money this term.

McAleny though was the stand out striker in this game, the challenge this year for the talented forwards must be to become the first player since now England hot-shot Jamie Vardy in 2012 to hit more than 20 goals in a season for Town.

And it was a statement opening 45 minutes from McAleny, he had an electric start to last term, impressing in pre-season and netting twice on debut in the opening day over Rotherham.

But just a week later the 25-year-old picked up a niggling foot injury that plagued his start to life at Town.

Now he is fully fit, hungry and on the evidence of that first 45 minutes relishing life under fellow Liverpudlian and ex-Evertonian Barton.

If he can finally get his first 30 plus game EFL season under his belt the sky is the limit for Town.

The 4-3-3 formation allows the midfield freedom to attack as Sheridan's licence to thrill rolls on

But forwards Burns and Madden also showed their pedigree in the second half leading the line in a 4-4-2 that saw development squad duo Dan Mooney and Michael Donohue utilised on the wings.

Barton has expressed his desire to use wingers but Town had more probing attacks on the wings when set-up in 4-3-3 with McAleny and Hunter wide forwards.

Though Burns managed to get in behind the defence a couple of times when he dropped off to the left of the front two.

It was the first glimpse of new Rangers loanee Holt as he combined with youngster Harrison Biggins in the centre of midfield though neither stole the show.

Holt was perhaps a tad too negative and Biggins too quiet, both growing into the game as the half progressed.

Kyle Dempsey was as combative as ever in the middle of the park on the right but also showed his new attacking intent.

On the left Ged Garner showed enthusiasm to get a foot on the ball with ex-Squires Gate striker and the man given the central role of the three Jack Sowerby rattling the bar as Town’s midfield and McAleny looked to picked the ball up and shoot from the gap between Southport’s midfield and defence at the top of the box.

McAleny's goal came from a classic striker move as he pounced on a sublime defence splitting pass from Morgan, beating the offside trap and shrugging off the defence to chip Southport’s keeper.

Town also looked more comfortable on the ball in the first half, spraying the ball around with ease unlike the second half which looked more laboured though they grew in confidence as the half progressed.

Perhaps that was due to the new arrival of Holt and youth of Biggins but there is time for them to settle as pre-season rolls on.

Though in the first half there was certainly more of the attacking intent John Sheridan started to install into the midfield in his short reign.

New signing Craig Morgan gave Town a threat on set-pieces as central defensive three show leadership qualities with vocal presence.

Morgan is not famed for his goalscoring exploits but his height and experience certainly caused Southport problems on set-pieces and he looked an astute signing despite it being his first taste of competitive action since last July for Wigan in pre-season.

Town struggled both defensively and attacking set-pieces last term but Morgan showed initiative in the box just before the half-time whistle pouncing on a the keeper’s spill from a Harrison Holgate free-kick from the right to fiercely volley home the second.

Morgan and Eastham looked comfortable alongside each other in a flat back four Eastham especially more vocal and Bolger too in his 45 minutes with the vacant skipper role left by Nathan Pond up for grabs.

All three stepped up to their senior player role commanding from the back with Bolger assisting development squad player and ex-Southport loanee Nathan Sheron in his back four.

Full-back auditions in full swing but Coyle odds on for number two shirt despite lack of action

With new loan duo versatile defender Tommy Spurr and returning Leeds right back Lewie Coyle rested as they ease back in to life at Town Gethin Jones and Holgate got minutes under their belts at right back with Eddie Clarke and Joe Maguire sharing left-back duties.

Though Coyle looks odds on to reclaim his number two shirt, even without kicking a ball in this training ground game.

Holgate got forward as much as possible and was one of the most involved of the development squad youngsters whereas January Everton signing Jones had a much quieter half when he took over.

It was Clarke’s first outing for Town since his free transfer from League Two side Tranmere.

The 19-year-old is the man tipped to fill the boots of Amari’i Bell who left a gaping hole in Town’s defence when he departed for Blackburn in January.

He certainly showed similar attacking ideology and shades of Bell, galloping forward on the left when given the opportunity and linking well with McAleny.

Though like Bell, defensively improvements can be made but it was a promising debut.

Joe Maguire showed more defensive gumption in his 45 but still at times ended up on the wrong end of a Bolger ear bashing for switching off.

But he showed he is no mug in the attacking third, curling home a free-kick to put the game to bed in the closing embers after Burns had done well to win a set-piece.

The full-back role battles will be interesting to watch this pre-season with left-footer Spurr also able to put his hat in the ring.

Battle for number two keeper spot also brewing

There is another battle brewing in the sticks as the quest to start the term as Alex Cairns’ number two rolls on.

Barton sent on a fresh XI at the break with England U17 World Cup winner Billy Crellin making way for Matty Urwin, both donning the new keeper second strip of black with blue detailing.

After Chris Neal’s departure and no current shopping trip planned for a new keeper planned both are now vying for that second shot-stopper role behind Cairns.

In truth both keepers were barely tested by Southport but Urwin, who excelled on-loan at National League North side Chorley, was the more talkative of the two and with a clean sheet and 45 minutes looks in pole position to step-up to the first team.

Though with both keepers set to go on tour to Hungary with Town they both have the opportunity to challenge Cairns.

Writing on the wall for absent Toumani Diagouraga?

Cairns was one of few to be rested as he joined Bobby Grant on the sidelines.

Carins and Grant are expected to feature against Salford City though but one name that was a glaring omission from the team sheet was central midfielder Toumani Diagouraga.

The 31-year-old joined on a free transfer from Plymouth in January but failed to bring that blistering form to Town.

The ex-Leeds and Brentford man reported back for pre-season and is not injured with the writing now appearing to be on the wall for his short-lived Town career.

Given that and this 90 there may still be room for recruitment in midfield and room for another established attacker to fill the void left by last term’s top goal scorer Jordy Hiwula.

Yes it was just a training game but there were certainly plenty of positives from our first taste of Barton’s new rule though the blueprint for the new League One season will become a lot more clearer when Town face Salford City in their first official friendly at Salford City.

And with ex-boss Graham Alexander taking charge of his first game at the National League game it is set to be a mouth watering Friday night clash.