Fleetwood Town boss Joey Barton says Wes Burns was substituted in the 5-2 defeat by Portsmouth to protect the attacker and ensure he can feature for the rest of the season.
READ MORE: Portsmouth saved by bell says Joey Barton
Burns, 24, picked up a hamstring injury ahead of the 2-0 defeat at Luton on December 8. He returned off the bench in the Boxing Day win over Doncaster and started the Pompey clash on Saturday.
Barton says he was a key figure as Town came from behind to lead 2-1 at half-time against the table-toppers.
But Portsmouth netted twice in quick succession after Dean Marney was sent off and Burns was brought off in the 64th minute.
Barton said: “I had to take Wes out of the game because he had only trained for four or five days.
“It was a big risk to start him. He has been out for the better part of a month.
“Obviously he is a massive player in our squad. We took a calculated risk that we could play him.
“He caused havoc when he switched wings and we put him on the left. He was a huge part in us getting the momentum.
“But we were down to 10 men and it was a decision made for the season rather than for that game. Our lads kept knocking at the door but the main thing is that we protect our players.
“I knew there were a few people in the crowd that didn’t really enjoy it (Burns’ substitution) but my job is to manage the squad over the course of the season.
“I don’t want to take unnecessary risks with players because he is a massive part of our team.”
Ash Hunter had been replaced earlier following Marney’s red card.
Barton added: “Disappointed for Ash because it was a purely tactical one. We lost Marns and we could not play with a midfield of Wes, Harrison Biggins and Ash. He knows the score.
“I’m disappointed because it (the red card) completely changed our way of thinking. We wanted to come and take them on.”
But Barton would not criticise Marney or Ross Wallace, who gave away a penalty, stressing the group must stay together ahead of today’s trip to Shrewsbury. Marney is suspended and left-back James Husband is a doubt.
Barton said: “I’m not one for singling out individuals for criticism because it is not my way. We have to rally round. Everyone knows if we are going to get anywhere it is by being a group of men together. We have to lick our wounds, adjust and go again.”