Fleetwood Town boss Joey Barton says he has to get Ash Hunter into his starting XI as he ponders giving first starts of the season to Ash Eastham and Kyle Dempsey in the EFL Trophy at Accrington Stanley tonight (7.45pm).
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Barton celebrated his 37th birthday on transfer deadline day with the gift of a new loan signing – 21-year-old defender Jimmy Dunne from Burnley.
The centre-half joins Town for the rest of the season from Barton’s previous club, while deadline day also saw fellow defender Craig Morgan leave the club and winger Ross Wallace end his short-term contract.
Dunne could make his Town debut at Stanley, the club he helped to win promotion to League One during a loan spell two seasons ago.
And with Stoke City loanee Harry Souttar away on international duty with Australia, Ash Eastham is in line to make his first start of the season.
Eastham’s only appearance in the opening seven games of the campaign has been off the bench in the 1-1 home draw with Wycombe a fortnight ago.
And with Dempsey recovering from a pre-season injury to make an impressive cameo in the defeat at Lincoln on Saturday, he too is in contention to start Town’s first EFL Trophy group game away to their League One rivals.
One player who has certainly forced his way back into the starting line-up is Hunter.
The attacker was moved to the bench at Lincoln, with midfielder Harrison Biggins preferred.
But Hunter sparked Town’s attack into life in the second half and Barton says he has to find a way to get him into the side.
The Town boss said: “Ash Hunter is pushing hard to start. (After) his performance at Lincoln I have to get him into the side.
“He is so productive, certainly for the front two. He causes chaos with opposition back fours.
“We have to find a way of getting the best out of him and Demspey was excellent when he came on.
“It was pleasing because he did that in pre-season but then got an injury. I thought he looked really good.
“He will now get an opportunity to showcase what he can do for our team.”
And Barton has one enforced change at the back tonight, with Souttar also absent for Saturday’s home clash with Oxford United.
The Town boss added: “We have Ash Eastham to come in. We are good to go.
“Soutts is away on a full international call-up with Australia and it is a great opportunity for him.
“He will be a miss because he is a key component in our squad but we will adjust.”
But Barton insisted he would not make wholesale changes for tonight’s game.
He said: “We will make a couple. There are lads that deserve an opportunity, lads champing at the bit if they have not played as much from the start as they would like to.
“It will not be wholesale because it would not be fair to make eight or nine changes, then all of a sudden expect them to perform. They have not got the team chemistry or the continuity of playing together.
“But we will look to shuffle the pack and give people an opportunity to showcase what they can do for our football team.”
Barton wants to win the EFL Trophy as he bids to build a winning mentality that will fuel their league chances.
He said: “We are going to win. We are going to play every game this season to try and win it.
“Last year there was slightly a different emphasis but this year we are trying to win every game of football we possibly can because winning breeds momentum, winning breeds confidence and you cannot have any shortage of that if you want to get promoted this season.”