At the beginning of the season Barrow AFC, of the Blue Square North, were being tipped to be embroiled in a relegation battle, but a season is a long time in football.
Back in November, Barrow were in the bottom three and looked destined to be scrapping it out with the fellow stragglers in a bid to stay in the league. However, they are now on the verge of coming out of the league at the right end.
The Bluebirds are now in fourth place in the Blue Square North and are in the thick of a three way tug-of-war to make it into the play-offs.
Ex-manager, Phil Wilson, and Barrow parted company in last November, after only one league win. In his place, player managers, Darren Sheridan and Dave Bayliss were appointed. Since then the Bluebirds have only lost twice.
“When we were not playing well (at the start of the season), I think, deep down, everybody knew the managment team had to turn it around or face being sacked. We were too inconsistent to be aiming for a play off place and, in turn, that knocked players confidence and we were on a downhill struggle.” explained, goalkeeper, Tim Deasy.
“Once we started winning at home and drawing away things got better and better and now we have an amazing chance of reaching the play offs.”
36 year-old Barrow fan, Mark McClinchey, thinks that the change in management and the change in fortunes were no coincidence.
“It’s unbelievable that the same players, who played under Wilson, have lifted their game under the new lads, and are playing brilliantly.
“Sheridan and Bayliss have got the lads playing for them. The team are clicking with them and have all bonded extremely well. I think that them being part of the squad before hand has helped a lot.”
This is a view echoed by, Bluebirds’ stopper, Deasy.
“As Bayls and Shez were part of our squad anyway, we knew they were one of us, and they knew how good a squad we really are.
“They’ve allowed us to play how we felt right, i.e defend where we felt comfortable, play football and go for more goals instead of wasting time n trying to hold on to a one goal advantage.”
Deasy also believes that changes in the way the team train under the new managers have contributed towards the incredible progress the side has made.
“Training is more game related and certain players have been given more freedom to play and express themselves. Its not a case of pretty football all the time though, we have beaten some tough sides, under the new managers, through playing ugly football and staying strong.”
Flookburgh born, striker Jason Walker has been one of the main beneficiaries of the appointment of Bayliss and Sheridan.
Walker was on the fringes of the squad under Wilson and very rarely got any game time. However, under the new management, the diminutive forward has forged a very good partnership with fellow forward, Nick Rogan.
“Rogan has been great up front with Walker. A decent strike partnership is something we have missed over the last four years or so.” says Mark
Other players that have impressed have been Deasy and, former Liverpool reserve centre back, Steve McNulty. The latter Mr McClinchey singled out for special praise.
“Steve McNulty has been extremely solid in defence. He’s a different class. Probably the best centre back I’ve seen up here for many years.”
Many of the Barrow fans are optimistic for the future of the club under the guidance of the two player managers and are hoping that the current good form is a sign of things to come. Mark is no different.
“They need to just keep playing as they are, winning every game and don’t rely on results elsewhere.
“An extra striker would do us no harm. Bigger crowds would be great too, but if we go up, I am sure they will increase.”
With Barrow’s last two home games, against Kettering Town and Tamworth, attracting crowds of 2086 and 1499, respectively, and another bumper crowd expected for the final game of the season, at home to Worcester next Saturday, Mark’s hopes are turning to reality and many believe that, under Sheridan and Bayliss, things are set to get even better.