Fleetwood Town boss Joey Barton praised Kyle Dempsey for an “outstanding” return to league action in the 2-1 win over Oxford and said the midfielder can be the best player in League One .
READ MORE Match report: Fleetwood 2 Oxford 1
Dempsey was a key figure in the Town side that finished fourth three seasons ago but has struggled for game-time under Barton and was loaned to Peterborough last season.
He returned to Highbury to fight for his place but picked up a calf injury during the pre-season training camp in Portugal.
Dempsey, 23, made his first league start for Town since October in Saturday’s 2-1 home win and Barton said: “I personally thought man of the match was Kyle Dempsey.
“He was outstanding, everything we want our number eight to be. He has come back after a tough season.
“Him and the people close to him deserve enormous credit because he came back with his eyes in a different spot. He came back intent to show us what a good player he can be.
“He picked up an injury and the Demps we knew might have got down on himself and felt it was not going for him. But he had a different look about him and that is brilliant for us.
“I thought he was outstanding at Accrington last Tueday and grew as the game went on. On Saturday he picked up where he left off.
“He did everything but score a goal. If Kyle Dempsey is playing like that, that is the reason the fans were on my case when he was not in the side last year and the chairman.“But the player he was last year and the player he is this year are different players. The player this year could be the best player in the division.
“I’m delighted for him. He’s worked hard and it is a huge tip of the hat to him and the work he has done. Long may it continue.”
Paddy Madden made it six goals this season with Town’s opener, but Elliott Moore equalised from the U’s first chance in the 33rd minute only for Peter Clarke’s first Fleetwood goal to seal victory late on.
But Barton says Town need to improve defensively. He added: “We have got to tighten up. We’ve only kept one clean sheet this season, so it is a huge area of improvement.
“Seven games in we are sitting where we are in the table (fourth) but I’d much prefer to see a lot more clean sheets. On the flipside of that, I still think the best is yet to come from this team.”
Barton’s men had some choice words for each other at half-time after surrendering their lead. And the head coach says that is fine as long as harsh words help the team.
“What goes on in the dressing room is kind of left in the dressing room,” he said. “Before we got in there I was made aware there was disappointment about conceding a goal. Rightly so.
“We have challenged the lads to take ownership of the environment.
“If that means you have to get amongst each other, then as long as it is in the right way for the benefit of the team it is fine.
“I thought second half we asked a few questions of them, and we answered every one of them and we were superb.”