Doncaster Rovers v Fleetwood Town: The opposition view

Joey Barton
Joey Barton

Plenty of eyes have fallen upon the fortunes of Fleetwood Town this season following the appointment of Joe Barton as manager.

As Barton prepares to bring his side to the Keepmoat this weekend, we spoke to Fleetwood writer Rosie Swarbrick of the Blackpool to get the lowdown on how the former Manchester City and Newcastle United midfielder is faring.

Q: There's plenty of attention on Fleetwood this season due to Joey Barton's appointment. How is it going so far?

RS: The Doncaster faithful might see a few familiar faces from the side that lost 3-0 at the Keepmoat last year but this is a side now a world away from the one that saw Uwe Rosler lose his job last February. 

Joey Barton has worked to address the faults of last term.

He has made Town stronger defensively on set-plays, he has recruited experience and leaders and finally fixed that troublesome left-back berth.

He has also brought the best out of the stars of last season.

Defender Ash Eastham, keeper Alex Cairns and forwards turned wingers Ash Hunter and Wes Burns have all gone up a gear under his management so far.

It is an interesting point now as it is the first time he is starting to come under a touch of pressure.

That 5-0 win at Scunthorpe showed the rest of the division what this side is capable of.

But in recent weeks they have struggled to keep a clean sheet, needless defensive errors leading to back-to-back defeats at Southend and at home to Barnsley.

Injuries and niggles have impacted Town in recent weeks with skipper Craig Morgan's absence a big blow.

Since he came off injured at Sunderland Town have not kept a clean sheet Barton switching up either Spurr or Bolger to partner Eastham but yet to find a settled replacement to that strong defensive unit of Eastham and Morgan.

He has just brought in Ross Wallace and Ryan Taylor to boost the squad and now he just needs to find a settled XI and stop the niggles.

Q: How do you assess Barton's early days in management?

RS: So far so good but we are entering the first period of questioning.

Fleetwood have picked up too many niggles so far and it has hampered them.

The red card for Burns was harsh in the 2-1 win over Bradford and his suspension impacted Town's play. 

Hunter too missing the tenth game of the season due to five bookings shows a need to tighten up on yellow cards.

At the moment it is already evident how key Morgan, Burns, Hunter and Evans will be is Town are to challenge at the top.

Keeping them fit and suspension free will be key.

You get the feeling he knows his best XI but due to injuries and suspensions he has had to chop and change in recent weeks.

Town were at their best in that run that saw them beat Scunthorpe and go unchanged for a number of games.

He needs to find that consistency in team selection and perhaps another solution when Town go behind.

So far Town have not managed to come back from a losing position.

He needs to find a way to get his side to come back but aside from that with his recruitment and the work to improve those already on his books the melting pot for success is there.

He just now needs a bit of luck when it comes to injuries and to find a settled side.

He has a thorough knowledge of the division and he will be a success in management.

The key thing that everyone has spoken of is his good man-management skills.

He's also assembled a good team in Steve Eyre and Clint Hill around him to supplement Barry Nicholson and company in the existing coaching staff.

People are smiling again at Highbury and you can tell that there is a real team spirit.

A world away from those faces of misery and dejection after Town's last trip to Doncaster.

From a press point of view Barton has been a delight to work with.

He likened me to Jeremy Paxman the other day which I'm taking as a compliment! 

Q: What were the expectations going into the season?

RS: There was a mix of trepidation at the start of the season but after an unbeaten pre-season there was a feeling around Highbury that something special was going on.

An opening day defeat to AFC Wimbledon brought everyone crashing back down to earth but then Town went on a seven game league unbeaten run.

That 5-0 win at Scunthorpe shows that Fleetwood are serious contenders this season and if you look at Fleetwood's squad on paper it is one of the strongest in the division.

Barton has assembled a squad that not only has the best keeper in the division in Alex Cairns and two of the league's most exciting young attackers in Wes Burns and Ash Hunter but he has mixed in experience in the guise of skipper Craig Morgan, Ryan Taylor, Ross Wallace and Dean Marney.

A front two of Paddy Madden and Ched Evans one that many in League One would envy too.

There is a real expectation that Town can do something this season.

The out of transfer recruitment of ex-Premier League men Taylor and Wallace also shows Barton has the backing of his chairman.

This squad is certainly capable of challenging at the top. 

Q: What style of play and system does Barton favour?

RS: Barton has favoured a 4-4-2 but in recent weeks we have seen a 4-3-3.

He likes a settled flat back four and with the amount of attacking options he has switched between the two formations.

Town's best performance of the season, the 5-0 win at Scunthorpe saw that 4-4-2 at its devastating best.

The key so far has been the wingers.

He's turned forwards Ash Hunter and Wes Burns into wing wizards, no surprise that Town's record with Burns suspended was DDL and with Hunter missing due to suspension on Saturday they also lost to Barnsley. A total of DDLL when both Burns and Hunter are not on the pitch at the same time.

They are now both back so presumably that 4-4-2 will return. 

Q: Who are the dangermen for Fleetwood?

RS: The two wingers Burns and Hunter but Ched Evans is a huge player too.

He scored five in his opening six games but has had a bit of a dry spell recently.

The forward has scored 30 odd goals for Sheffield United at this level before so knows how to net at this level.

The concern for Fleetwood is injuries, he has already shaken off niggles and illnesses but now he is a doubt with a shoulder knock.

He is a big miss but the stage is then set for another forward who is no stranger to scoring in this division too former golden boot winner Paddy Madden to take centre stage.