Revealed! The inside track on Joey Barton's tactics, Fleetwood's form and weak links for Sunderland to exploit
Joey Barton will bring his Fleetwood Town side to the Stadium of Light for the very first meeting between the two sides.
Ahead of the League One clash, we spoke to Rosie Swarbrick, Fleetwood reporter for the Fleetwood Weekly News & Blackpool Gazette, to get the inside track on Barton, his tactics and what Sunderland should expect.
How well have Fleetwood been playing?
If a 5-0 thumping of Scunthorpe did not send a message out to the rest of the division then beating Bradford with 10-men certainly should trigger the alarms of the rest of the top 10.
Joey Barton means business.
Strong defensively and with firepower at their disposal most of the division would sell their right arm for Barton has assembled a squad that many in this tier would envy.
It is a team now littered with experience and young talent.
A spine of keeper Alex Cairns, Ash Eastham, ex-Burnley man Dean Marney in central midfield up to five-goal forward Ched Evans shows that strength.
Cairns, Eastham and new skipper Craig Morgan have been influential in a run that has seen Town pick up three clean sheets in their last five league games.
The wings have been key too, especially on a big pitch, the pace of Wes Burns and Hunter, transformed from strikers to wingers under Barton gives Town a deadly threat on the counter.
While a front two of Evans and Madden, both prolific goalscorers at this level, need no introduction.
Everything is clicking into place for Barton, you now get the impression he now knows his best XI and his side are learning and evolving week-in-week-out.
There are still creaks and cracks, players like Morgan and Marney easing their way back from lengthy spells on the sidelines but that win over Bradford was a big message.
Whatever happens on Saturday what you certainly will not see from this Barton team is a lack of work ethic or endeavor.
Are there are any injury doubts or selection headaches?
In the league Barton has fielded the same starting XI for the last three games.
But this week he is without Wes Burns, sent off for a challenge on Adam Chicksen in the Bradford win. Other than that Barton has a healthy and competitive squad to pick from.
That one selection headache you would expect is with Burns unavailable who do Town play on the right wing?
Are there are any noticeable weak links which Sunderland will be looking to exploit?
The left-back role has been a big problem since the departure of Amari’i Bell to Blackburn in January but James Husband has been brought in on-loan from Norwich City and has started Town’s last three league games.
He has made a difference, building up a partnership with striker turned winger Ash Hunter on that left flank.
Town were guilty of poor game management against Rochdale, conceding in the dying embers after controlling the game.
But in a similar position at home to Bradford but with the added slight of 10-men they never looked like conceding in the latter stages – a constant cycle of improvement. Barton’s motto of ‘you win or you learn’ put in practice on the pitch.
What kind of away support should we expect to see turn out at the SoL?
Fleetwood as a town is surrounded by the sea on three sides, given that geographical limitation and a population of just under 26,000 at the last census the club has a small but dedicated fan base.
Like Barton’s underdog team they do bring the noise, the fans praised for their cheer at Charlton in the club’s last league away clash by defender Ash Eastham.
Fleetwood are unbeaten on the road in the league and are yet to concede on the road in the league to date. With that strong base Town are far from short of firepower.
If they score, they will score more than one with the counter-attacking ability leading to gaps their experienced hitmen and pacy wingers can exploit.
Don’t believe me? Just look at that blistering 20-minute demolition of Scunthorpe at Glanford Park.
Final score: Sunderland 0 Fleetwood 2