OPINION: Five things for Joey Barton and Fleetwood Town to address next month
This January transfer window could be a busy one at Highbury.
From keeping hold of Alex Cairns and Ash Hunter to extending Lewie Coyle’s loan, this what Joey Barton needs to do next month.
1. Keep hold of Alex Cairns
Barton called Cairns one of the division’s best keepers and his form shows that is no throwaway comment.
He has put in man-of-the-match stints, impressed time and again and celebrated his 100th appearance – but he has not had the clean sheets he has deserved due to performances in front of him.
West Ham United were linked with a move last year, with Bristol City rumoured to be interested this summer.
Cairns, though, is tied down to a lengthy contract at Highbury until 2021 but could chairman Andy Pilley’s wallet be tested for the 25-year-old this January?
If Fleetwood truly want to challenge at the top end of League One, they need to keep hold of the likes of Cairns.
Matty Urwin has impressed on loan at National League North side Chorley but could he fill Cairns’ boots?
England Under-19 keeper Billy Crellin is one for the future and has not shone when given the chance in first team cup games, while Paul Jones has also failed to cover himself in glory.
If Cairns does go, Barton will need to consider recalling Urwin or get shopping for a new keeper.
2. The same can be said of attacker Ash Hunter
While his appearances have been limited in recent games, the striker-turned-winger’s record speaks for itself.
Twelve assists and four goals have made him a key component in Town’s attack and, at just 23, it would be no surprise if the Championship comes knocking.
Like Cairns, he is tied down until 2021, so if someone does want to swoop it may require an offer near to £1m to tempt Pilley into selling.
Given his impact on Town’s attack, losing him would be a major blow.
3. Address Lewie Coyle’s future
The right-back’s loan spell from Leeds United is due to end in January.
Coyle has made that position his own and his absence with a rib injury was felt in Town’s loss at Luton Town last time out.
Experienced pro Ryan Taylor could not fill the gap, and with Gethin Jones wasting a chance to impress in the development squad’s midweek loss to Macclesfield Town, Nathan Sheron is the strongest candidate to fill in.
James Husband’s loan from Norwich City is also up in January, and although he has brought balance to the backline, his injury-prone start to life at Highbury is a concern.
Rangers loanee Jason Holt has been inconsistent but has shown enough to prove that he can impress in the second half of the season.
Seven goals so far for Ched Evans too show how valuable his loan has been and Town will be hopeful Sheffield United do not trigger a recall option on his season-long loan deal.
One loan that looks set to end is that of Preston North End centre-half Tommy Spurr, who has been receiving treatment for a hip injury.
That would leave a free loan slot if North End do decide to recall the injured defender.
But where do Town need to reinforce?
4. Strengthen up front and in defence
We have seen this campaign how fruitful the partnership of Evans and Paddy Madden can be .
Going into the Burton Albion clash tomorrow, Madden is on 10 goals for the term and Evans on seven.
The fact of the matter is that Town’s up-and-coming strikers are not at the same level as that pair.
The way that Barton has wanted to play thus far has seen the other strikers – Hunter, Wes Burns and Conor McAleny – all mainly used in wide roles or just behind one of Madden or Evans.
Chris Long has failed to light up Highbury on his return, while academy product Ged Garner has been named on the bench in recent weeks – but looks too raw to push Evans and Madden.
Could Ashley Nadesan be the answer? The 23-year-old has netted eight times in 22 appearances for League Two side Carlisle and is set to return to Town in January.
One thing for certain: be it Nadesan or a new arrival, Fleetwood need back-up up front.
It is not just there that Town are in need of strengthening, with central defence also in need of reinforcement.
After starting the season with four experienced centre-halves, Barton now faces having three for the rest of the season and Sheron as back-up.
Skipper Craig Morgan had a slow start before building up a partnership with Ash Eastham.
However, after being sidelined for a month following September’s draw at Sunderland, he has not returned to that level of form.
At the moment it is a tussle between Morgan and Cian Bolger for that starting spot alongside Eastham.
Town need fresh competition in that department and for Morgan to rediscover his form.
5. Town need to offload to recruit
Ross Wallace and Ryan Taylor’s arrivals scraped the last bits of the Financial Fair Play budget.
The Gazette understands Town are currently within that budget but it looks like it will be a case of outs for ins this January.
With Spurr likely to go back, that frees up a loan. However, with Bolger falling behind Morgan, Eastham and even Sheron at times, it would be no shock if Town were to sell him this January.
They fought off interest from Hibernian in the summer, but with a contract extension unlikely to be signed anytime soon, Town could be tempted to cash in.
Spurr does not look set to be the only exit this window.
Bobby Grant has been loaned to Wrexham after spending time with the U18s alongside Gethin Jones and Long.
Grant’s contract expires in the summer as is the case with Urwin, Nadesan and Joe Maguire, who is currently on loan at Crawley Town.
Jack Sowerby, who is also on loan at Carlisle, signed a ‘long-term’ deal with Town last season, though the club would not disclose the length of that contract.
Dan Mooney could also attract interest this January thanks to his loan spell at National League North side Chester, which has been extended until the end of the term.