Joey Barton says Sunderland v Fleetwood is not a David v Goliath battle and the Town boss believes his team is “slightly better” than a Black Cats side tipped for automatic promotion.
Ex-Newcastle player Barton heads back to the north-east with his sixth-placed Fleetwood side, who are dubbed underdogs despite being only three points and two places below Sunderland.
A Sunderland Echo article by their former player Gary Rowell argued that Fleetwood were punching above their weight with facilities incomparable to Sunderland’s.
The piece stated: “The Fleetwood players will be relishing the opportunity to play on such a huge stage at the Stadium of Light. It won’t get any better for most of them to play at a big ground in front of a big crowd.”
This ignores the fact that Fleetwood’s squad has plenty of Championship and Premier League experience, with Lewie Coyle, Jason Holt, James Husband, Dean Marney, Tommy Spurr and five-goal hot-shot Ched Evans, who is tearing up the division.
Barton believes his squad is better than Sunderland boss Jack Ross’ man for man and that Fleetwood chairman Andy Pilley deserves credit for enabling Town to compete on an equal footing with a club that was in the Premier League three seasons ago.
The Town boss said: “Everyone is talking about David v Goliath. I get that Sunderland have a £28m budget and Fleetwood are nowhere neat that level.
“Their fanbase obviously is humongous compared to ours, probably 10 times our average, but on the field is where it matters.
“I don’t see a David v Goliath. If anything I think we are slightly better than them player for player.
“I think Sunderland have more to lose in front of their own fans than we do. We will have that ‘little old Fleetwood’ tag.
“Nobody rates us but when you look at our facilities we are not punching above our weight.
“We have a fantastic training ground, a really good long-term strategy by the owner and we have invested in the right kind of players.
“At some point somebody needs to start giving the chairman and his football club the credit they deserve.
“If we had the finances available to us that Sunderland have, with the parachute payments and Premier League money, then I’d be very surprised if this football club was in League One.
“If you’d said to Andy when he started his journey as Fleetwood chairman that he would be playing against Sunderland in front of 30-odd thousand people he would have said you were mad.
“That is the progression of this football club but we are still a long way from being on an equal footing with Sunderland in terms of size and structure
“But I don’t think we are a million miles away from them (on the field).We go there as a team playing good football.”
Barton played in Newcastle’s 5-1 Premier League thrashing of Sunderland in 2010 and he added: “There has to be a little bit of something there when you play for Newcastle, a club you love, in a derby but for me now it is just another game, another team in our way.
“There are three points on the line, same as against Bradford – another big club – and that is the challenge for Fleetwood now.
“They are not the first big club to be in this league but progressive clubs will want to take a shot at you.
“The weirdest thing is there will be more people in the stadium on Saturday than there will be in the town of Fleetwood. That is quite a novel fact.”