Joey Barton has warned that Harry Souttar has a fight on his hands to force his way back into Fleetwood Town’s starting side.
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The 20-year-old central defender started this season’s first six League One games but then missed the victory over Oxford United while away on international duty with Australia.
He was replaced by fellow loanee Jimmy Dunne, who kept his place for Saturday’s 3-3 draw at Southend United and scored Town’s opening goal, his first for the club.
Souttar, who is on a season-long loan from Stoke City, remained on the bench until the 81st minute at Roots Hall.
“That’s the challenge for him now,” said head coach Barton. “The competition for places in our squad means he goes from starting with us, then misses a period of training with us. The team are doing well and it’s tough to get back in.
“So he’s going to have to work hard to get his place back in the side.
“Jimmy Dunne has come in alongside Peter Clarke and has done superb, getting on the scoresheet.
“The competition is what we want and we’ve got that throughout the squad.”
Souttar trained with the Australia squad in Dubai but was an unused substitute for the Socceroos’ 3-0 win over Kuwait in last week’s World Cup qualifier.
Fleetwood were the only League One side not in action on Tuesday night and have dropped three places to seventh, five points behind leaders Coventry with a game in hand.
Town welcome Rochdale to Highbury on Saturday.