VERDICT: Fleetwood Town 2 Bradford City 1

Fleetwood Town's Ash Hunter celebrates scoring the winner
Fleetwood Town's Ash Hunter celebrates scoring the winner

Joey Barton wanted to build a fortress – and did he start at the weekend.

To many, that 5-0 thrashing of Scunthorpe United was a statement of intent but the cauldron of harmony at Highbury on Saturday was a real message to the rest of the division.

Refereeing decisions, controversy, a man down and yet nothing could stop Fleetwood Town from getting their first three points at home.

As soon as Wes Burns walked down the tunnel after getting sent off to a standing ovation the message was there; togetherness.

Town’s summer has been spent pushing their new mantra of ‘Onward Together’ which was fully epitomised by Barton’s players and the supporters.

Burns, harshly shown a red after winning the ball and sliding into Adam Chicksen with his momentum, knew as he walked down the tunnel that the fans were on his side.

Referee Andy Haines had already angered the home support by ruling out – rightly – Ched Evans’ early effort, as well as a making a number of decisions in Bradford City’s favour and a penalty which saw them on level terms.

The home faithful booed as Eoin Doyle levelled Evans’ 12th minute opener from the spot, though Jason Holt was rightly ruled to have fouled George Miller.

However, many were unhappy that a throw-in during the build-up had not been given Town’s way – and that was before Burns’ red card.

It could have turned sour but, instead, saw the Cod Army chanting Barton’s name, the new boss urging them on and the fans becoming that 11th man Town needed in the second half.

Evans and Ash Hunter were the architects of Town’s win with both encapsulating that underdog spirit.

Evans is getting his career back on track with five goals to show from six league starts.

He has been the standout summer signing and is well on course to becoming Fleetwood’s first 20-goal forward since Jamie Vardy.

His work in both goals, pouncing at the back post for the 12th minute opener and then his ability to brush off the defence and tee up Hunter to sweep home the second showed his Championship class.

The only fear now is that, given his current form, other suitors or his parent club, Sheffield United, might consider taking him away.

Six games in though and Saturday’s standing ovation shows he has already won the hearts of the home faithful.

As for Hunter, the ‘next Vardy’ tag has lingered since his arrival from non-league in 2015.

This was a performance that said he is capable of playing in the divisions above.

He was unplayable on the left wing in the first half and Barton stressed afterwards that, not only did he set up Evans’ goal and score the winner, but his second-half display in a midfield three to defend and help Town manage the game was just as essential.

He has been helped by the signing of James Husband from Norwich City, who is finally filling the shoes of Amari’i Bell at left-back.

Town’s work on the left-wing, especially in the first half, was magical, while the second period was all about grit, steel and game management.

As a disciple of Burnley boss Sean Dyche, this is what was expected from a Barton team; flair, ability but also the fight and the will to win.

When he arrived he spoke about creating a team that represented the people of Fleetwood.

When he first came in he spoke of this ideology: “We are going to take the game to everybody at every opportunity, the same way I did as a player.

“We are going to be in people’s faces as much as we can, on the front foot and playing a brand of football that represents this local community.

“This area has hardwired working-class values instilled in it and the team will represent that.

“We won’t be prima donnas or have anyone strutting round. If you do not buy into giving everything for the team you will not be at Fleetwood Town.

“If you give us everything and buy into it, then you will be very successful here.

“We need the team to represent the people because it is a people’s team.”

That was seen on Saturday, while in midweek, his words about giving youth a chance were reflected in the selection of U18 skipper James Hill for Tuesday’s trip to Leicester City.

Yes he did not prioritise the Carabao Cup and Town crashed to a 4-0 midweek defeat but 11 changes later and it was clear why.

The league is the priority and this, a Town team that with 10 men for 47 minutes still outplayed their visitors, should strike fear into the division.

That cup defeat is already forgotten and all, it seems, are on the same page with that same will to win and belief.

In contrast, Bradford did not believe.

It was a Bantams team that people have been unaccustomed to witnessing in recent times; a far cry from that side that knocked Town out of the League One play-offs in 2017.

Town, also, are a different beast from then.

The exciting thing is that this is just the beginning and there is still work to do for Barton and his players.

Look at the players that were left out of the squad; men like Kyle Dempsey, Bobby Grant and Cian Bolger.

Something special is going on at Highbury but Barton’s underdogs and the Cod Army are together.

Did someone say onward to Sunderland on Saturday?