Fleetwood keeper Alex Cairns has called the class of 2018/19 the best Town squad he has been part of as he eyes another promotion push.
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Cairns was a key figure in the 2016/17 side that recorded Town’s highest-ever Football League finish of fourth in League One.
Fleetwood battled at the wrong end of the table last season but are now looking up again.
Joey Barton has brought in experienced players like five-goal forward Ched Evans, skipper Craig Morgan, left-back James Husband and midfielders Jason Holt and Dean Marney, as well as re-signing right-back Lewie Coyle, and now Town have competition for places across the park.
Evans and Morgan missed Saturday’s 1-1 home draw with Accrington due to injury, with Barton also forced to withdraw Conor McAleny (hamstring) and Marney (groin) during the clash. All four are doubts for this weekend’s trip to Southend and Cairns urged other players to make a shirt theirs if the chance arises.
Town’s number one said: “I think we have got a good squad. It is the best squad we have had since I have been here. We have got strength in depth. And the good thing is that when players come in they know they have to take their chance or they are out of the team.
“Every single player on the pitch has to perform or they will be out, simple as that.”
Centre-half Cian Bolger came in for skipper Morgan against Stanley and was reunited with Ash Eastham in front of Cairns.
It was Bolger’s first league start since the opening day 1-0 defeat by AFC Wimbledon.
And his goal on Saturday ensured Town’s unbeaten league run since day one rolled on to seven.
Cairns said: “Cian has not been playing and that just shows how strong the squad is.
“He came in on Saturday and put a shift in for the lads. That shows the commitment he has.
“I’ve been used to that partnership for a long time. We communicate well. And as a back five with Hubby (Husband) and Lewie (Coyle) I thought we defended the box really well .... apart from their goal.
“It was one of those where you think, ‘Oh no’. I’m gutted for them because I felt we deserved that clean sheet.”
Town have won only once at home this season and Cairns says visitors have become aware of their quality and firepower.
He added: “Accrington proved they are a good side by coming here and taking a point from us but we want three points against anyone who comes here.
“Teams come here now knowing we are a good side. They are coming to try to stop us scoring goals because we have firepower up top. They realise they have to defend well and Accrington did.
“We can keep clean sheets and we have defended well too, aside from the goal, but you take the positives out of the game.”