Joey Barton has revealed that defender Ash Eastham had the opportunity to leave Fleetwood Town in the summer but decided to stay.
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Central defender Eastham, 28, was a Town regular in each of the last three seasons but has found game time harder to come by this time around.
Eastham was recalled to the starting line-up for Saturday’s 2-1 home win over Tranmere Rovers, his first League One appearance since the 1-1 draw with Wycombe Wanderers back in August.
His only other appearances this season have been in cup competitions: two in the EFL Trophy and at Barnet in the FA Cup first round this month. He was not involved in the Trophy tie at Everton last night.
Town boss Barton praised the way Eastham has conducted himself, despite having to watch on from the sidelines.
“He’s been patient,” said the Highbury head coach. “There was the opportunity for him to go on a permanent (move) or loan just before the window closed but he wanted to stay and fight for his place. He backed himself.
“It’s just been a case of waiting for his opportunity really.
“He’s done everything right in a very professional manner, so that when the opportunity did come around he was ready to take it with both hands.
“I thought in the game against Barnet and in the game on Saturday he showed real leadership, real qualities that I think we’ve lacked at times in our performances.”
Eastham’s lack of game- time is in part down to misfortune – a calf injury in pre-season allowed others to get ahead of him.
Fleetwood have yet to nail down a regular centre-back partnership, with Harry Souttar the most consistent choice, while fellow loanee Jimmy Dunne and Peter Clarke have both made nine league appearances.
Barton added: “Ash fell down the pecking order in the early part of the season.
“Peter Clarke came in and had a really good pre-season, which gave him the opportunity to play games and I thought he acquitted himself superbly.
“Ash was the one who had a bit of a calf strain in pre-season.
“It just shows you how important it is to get through pre-season and manage your body correctly.
“Ash pulled up in one of the pre-season camps and it just gave him a bit of a setback, which meant he was chasing the other lads.”