Fleetwood Town head coach Joey Barton admitted he has had a disagreement with Bobby Grant over team selection as the midfielder was omitted from the squad for the second game in a week.
Grant, 28, started in midfield for Barton’s first league game in charge, Town’s opening day 1-0 defeat to AFC Wimbledon.
But after starting the next game, the 2-0 win at Oxford, Grant has found game-time hard to come by, with just 36 minutes in the league since.
Despite injuries to attacker Conor McAleny and midfielder Dean Marney, Grant has not managed to fight his way back into the starting line-up
With Harrison Biggins, Jason Holt, James Wallace and latest signings Ryan Taylor and Ross Wallace all preferred in the middle of the park over the last two games, versatile attacker Grant has also fallen behind Paddy Madden, Wes Burns, Ash Hunter and the injured Ched Evans in the pecking order for places up front.
Grant was not at Highbury to watch Saturday’s 3-1 defeat to Barnsley or the 1-1 draw with Wycombe on Tuesday.
He is among the club’s longest-serving players, having been at Highbury since 2015.
Barton says he has no problem with Grant being unhappy about not playing, he just wants him to communicate that displeasure in the right way.
Barton said: “We have had a disagreement based on team selection. Like anything, the manager, weirdly, is always right.
“I’ve got a lot of time for Bob. He is a fiery character, as we all know.
“He is very opinionated but he cares. He cares about football. He wants to play games of football.
“I have no problem with that. The key is communicating it at the right time, in the right environment.
“I don’t want to see him happy not playing football because you should never be if you are paid to play football.
“We are fine. The group is fine. Everyone respects what we are trying to do. Everyone respects each other. As long as that continues we are going to be absolutely fine.”
Despite a lengthy injury list that ruled skipper Craig Morgan (hamstring), McAleny (hamstring), Marney (groin), Evans (shoulder) and Tommy Spurr (groin) out on Tuesday night, two key figures of the last two seasons have joined Grant in being out of the starting line-up.
Midfielder Dempsey and centre-half Cian Bolger did not get off the bench against Wycombe.
Bolger and Ash Eastham were the senior centre-halves at Barton’s disposal on Tuesday but the Town boss gave 20-year-old defender Nathan Sheron his first league start alongside Eastham.
Bolger had made costly errors on his previous two appearances and Barton explained his decisions are footballing ones based on current form, not on what players have done previously.
He said: “When we came in we spoke with him (Bobby). It is just football decisions – same with Demps, same with Bolge.
“I know the lads aren’t happy. You should never be happy as a professional footballer if you are not playing football.
“It is important that you are not happy but it is important that you conduct yourself in the right way.
“I’ve said from day one – the team comes first.
“My focus is on the XI that are on the pitch and the lads on the bench that are going to impact the game.
“We have shown with the academy. Eddie Clarke gets on the bench. I was hoping to give him his league debut but the game did not pan out that way. Shez came in and was outstanding.
“We have more than enough players here and you will be rewarded based on what you are doing, not on what you have done in your career.
“That is unfortunately the way football is. It is put up or shut up.
“If you are putting up and you are showing that you can contribute to us as a team, then you can play and you will be part of our group. If you are not, you will not last very long here.”