Fleetwood Town boss Joey Barton lifts lid on Sunderland's interest in Ched Evans
Joey Barton admits he wouldn't have stood in the way of Ched Evans leaving Fleetwood Town if they could have replaced him, amid January interest from Sunderland and Bolton Wanderers.
In the end the Black Cats landed their No.1 target last month, prolific Wigan Athletic striker Will Grigg for a fee rising to £4million.
But Sunderland had considered Evans, until Jack Ross decided against a move.
The controversial forward, who is on loan at Fleetwood Town from Sheffield United, was one of several back-up options Sunderland were considering in case they couldn't land Grigg.
Evans, who was imprisoned for rape in 2012 before the decision was quashed and he was found not guilty in a retrial in 2016, has scored 12 goals this season.
There was also deadline day interest from Bolton Wanderers in Ched Evans but in the end he remained with Fleetwood.
Reflecting on a dramatic 48-hours, Barton told the Blackpool Gazette: "A lot of credit goes to Andy Pilley and Steve Curwood (chief executive).
"The experience and knowledge of the chief executive and the chairman were paramount in us keeping hold of Ched Evans.
"When Sunderland were in for Ched, our hands were tied because he is not our player.
"You can understand the parent club wanting to sell the player; as difficult as that was, we were powerless over it.
"The aftermath - once that passed and Sunderland fell out of the race or decided not to go for him at 11pm that evening - is there was no recall option.
"It had gone, they had exhausted that. If anyone is at fault for it going wrong then it is not us.
"We did everything correctly as a football club and even then, at 6pm on deadline day, there was an attempt to get the player out.
"We spoke to the EFL, they confirmed Fleetwood were in the right legally as well as contractually and thus, the madness descended.
"We attempted to get players in at late notice, even though everybody we had spoken about replacing Ched with the night before had signed for somebody or gone off the board.
"We get to Thursday and we did not want to keep a player that would be unhappy.
"So we said to Ched ‘if we find a suitable replacement we will allow you to go.’ We tried to sign three different players.
"We were quoted a ridiculous amount of money for transfer fee and wages because they knew we were not in the best position.
"We spoke as a team and said ‘we are not prepared to pay over the odds.’
"We have an exceptional chairman and an exceptional chief executive, who have got a real strength and desire for Fleetwood to get better and a desire for us not to be pushed around and bullied by clubs that historically are bigger than us.
"As a young manager my respect for them was already high; it is now tenfold having seeing them operate because most, under that pressure, could have made the wrong decision for the football club."
Sunderland owner Donald revealed to Roker Rapport that he had a conversation with Jack Ross about signing Evans, but that the Black Cats boss said no.
However, Donald insists it was for 'footballing reasons' rather than because of a backlash from fans over the potential arrival of Evans.
He said: "I know (Sheffield United manager) Chris Wilder well and I phoned him directly and asked him 'who you got, who you looking to move out because we need a striker'.
"He gave me a couple of names of people out there and I mentioned him (Evans), and we said to Sheffield United that we may be be interested.
"Jack talked it through and again it was a footballing decision. We got down the avenue of having a conversation and then Jack said 'I think we want to go in a different direction, so no thank you'.
"So that's where we got to."