Matty Orton – @MattyOrton1
Devon to Cumbria, or more specifically Plainmoor to Holker Street (and back) is only a 692 mile endeavour. M5, M6, junction 36 and then follow the A590 as it snakes and spirals its way down through the Furness peninsula. But, this isn’t a usual jolly to the Lake District as at the end of the A590 you’ll find Barrow, and Holker Street. An old school traditional ground, long established with plenty of character but as confounding as it is uninspiring. The town too is disconsolate, evoked by former days of prosperity before the collapse of its ship building industry. It’s one of those places you only ever find yourself in because of Football.
However, when it currently comes to football in Barrow, things are thriving. The league leaders were a team who were 28/1 outright at the start of the season – they are currently looking poised for a long awaited return to the Football League. Something they’ve longed for since being unelected in 1972.
Torquay United were 14/1 outrights back in June. That currently stands at 1000/1. Promotion only is at best 100/1 and, whether you bet or not, those odds sadly paint the picture of where our season is currently and inexpertly stumbling towards.
Historically, Yellow marauding raids on the Furness peninsula have, for the most part, been largely unsuccessful. Our only ever win at Holker Street (before this game) came in 1969, admittedly we didn’t play there for 45 years until 2009 – but have still failed to claim a victory there.
However, before the match we were the last team to defeat Barrow back in late October, after a stunning performance at Plainmoor (those were the days), and although things haven’t quite gone to plan since then, we will have gone into this game fearless and confident of going toe to toe with the table toppers.
We were described as a ‘funny side’ on BT Sport recently. ‘Torquay – they score a lot but always concede. You never quite know what you’re going to get’. Pre-match, that statement felt more relevant than ever.
So what did we get?
A 4-4-1-1 with high press. A bright start saw us have an early chance from a corner. The early pressure was promising and the teams looked well matched as both sides built their attacks well but failed to find that killer ball in the final third. Little, Reid and Nemane could sniff out a possible blunder at the back as they chased and closed down balls with Barrow having clearly being instructed to play it out from the back.
Lewis was booked early on for a rather soft looking foul, closely followed by a booking for Kay. We were well in the fight for the first 30 minutes but that moment of quality or stroke of luck failed to arrive.
Then the pendulum started to swing. Barrow began to have a good spell of pressure and produced some nice passing combinations. Towards the end of the half it had fully tilted and we were the side who were under the cosh. A break in play allowed Gary Johnson to call the team in and get inside their heads as we were starting to become exasperated under pressure.
All even at the break, and despite a cagey display from both sides (and the lack of clear cut chances) you could guarantee there would be a goal in it somewhere. It had that feel to it. We very much started the second half as we had started the first – bright and with a continual high press which eventually came to fruition. The ball flashed across the box and Kyle Cameron (of all people) was there to chest it into the back of the Barrow net. The yellow army celebrated. The flag went up. The referee turned the players away as he walked over the linesman. For a brief moment we had VAR at Holker Street. The ref turned and awarded the goal prompting the 77 to once again erupt with celebration. The Barrow technical area clearly wasn’t happy with the finding. Despite the referee’s best effort to try and calm down the Barrow bench and explain his decision, the protest continued and he eventually had no choice but to brandish a yellow card for Evatt.
Provoked and frustrated by the goal – it was like we had disturbed a wasp’s nest. Immediately, Barrow’s demeanour changed as they clearly felt unfairness in the ruling. Instantly Longridge found himself making a goal saving tackle inside the area as Barrow turned the screw. Just minutes later and under continual pressure, a cross in from our left looped up and off of Gary Warren’s head, dropping just inside the area only to find John Rooney who smashed a half volley into the net. 1-1.
At that very moment the rain started to pour on the exposed travelling faithful, but it felt symbolic. Kalala came on and immediately found himself in the referee’s notebook. Moments later a deep ball was thrown in behind our backline. Warren’s hand went up as he tried to get the right side of Quigley. Covalan made his mind up and started to come, giving Quigley the initiative for a split second and lobbed the ball over him with the outside of his boot. Had Covolan stayed on his line…. 2-1 to Barrow.
As the ball hit the back of our net the rain almost metaphorically lifted. The Yellow army had been stunned with an extraordinary 12 minutes of football. Barrow sought a 3rd and we never looked like recovering from that knockout blow.
Lucas Covolan – 5: Distribution from Covalan was good in fairly difficult and windy conditions. However, despite the sneaking suspicion of offside, he was hesitant for Barrow’s 2nd goal. Went to come and seemed to then find himself in no man’s land. Stay on his line and Quigley would have had to have pulled off a world class wonder lob to beat him.
Joe Lewis – 6: Joe was slightly unnoticed today which probably meant he did okay. He’s a doing a good job filling in at right back but you can tell he isn’t playing in a position that comes naturally to him. At times he had space to carry the ball forward but was marginally hesitant on the uptake.
Kyle Cameron – 6: Kyle gets a 6 today, only because he scored. Somewhat short with his judgement at times – allowing the ball to run whilst looking for Covalan, to then realise it was absolutely nowhere near him (Cov) and it was his ball. You could tell he has recently lacked game time and looked to some degree rusty. A few games next to Warren I think, will see him improve.
Gary Warren – 6: Gary had his work cut out with Quigley and had to call on all of his experience to be able to deal with him. Matched him up well for an hour and then struggled when Barrow began to turn the screw.
Jackson Longridge – 7: I felt Jackson was probably the pick of the bunch from our back line today. He was solid, assured and accomplished. Pulled off and absolute wonder tackle at 1-0 to deny Barrow an equaliser. A defender who I would say is happy to sit deep. He’s less likely to go on any jinking runs or an overlap. Not so much a criticism, but simply the type of defender he is.
Armani Little – 7: Armani got a good amount of game time under his belt. I would blame a few of his mislaid passes on the final cobwebs coming off as he gets back up to full fitness. He’s still on protocol pitch time but he’s getting closer to a full 90. Playing in behind Reidy – perhaps not his strongest position? Discuss.
Asa Hall – 8: Asa had a return to Holker Street that he could be relatively proud of. He was certainly one of our better players. Fought and won plenty of his battles. His contribution at the core of the team was invaluable. I dread to think what may have happened if he wasn’t in the side.
Connor Evans – 7: Connor did ‘okay’ but we are still waiting to see the Lemon back to his usual self. I hope he gets there soon but worryingly, was forced off and replaced by Jake Andrews due to injury. Had that not been the case, would Andrew’s have made an appearance? Strange as this was the sort of game and set up more suited for Jake as opposed to Kalvin.
Ben Whitfield – 7: Kept his credentials in check. He chased down things he had no right too. He perhaps risked injury at times with a few hard tackles. Jumped for balls he was never going to win. Despite his dedication to the cause I felt we weren’t set up to play to his strengths. We looked far too narrow for Whitfield’s best game to be effective. He took a knock and had to come off but thankfully according to Johnson it was nothing serious.
Aaron Nemane – 7: Aaron played centrally once again, but never really had the chance to tear into Barrow with any pace. Tricky and troublesome for the opposition at times, he did well for fair chunks of the game but lacked the final ball into the final third.
Jamie Reid – 6: He must have thought ‘why am I still here?’ at some point out there. I felt for Reidy as it was a lonely and frustrating afternoon for him. He was nullified by a very good Barrow central defensive pairing.
Kalvin Lumbombo-Kalala – 6: Absolutely not the game, or rather the set up for Kalala to come on and change anything. We weren’t set up to accommodate his width and pace. Andrews would have been the better choice – which was the general consensus on the terrace.
Jake Andrews – N/A
Jared Lewington – N/A
Man of the Match: Asa Hall
Tough but once again I think it has to go to Asa Hall. Another seasoned performance from the skipper. Take him for granted at your own peril.
I did at one point find myself asking ‘What were they?’. It was definitely a 4-4-1-1, but frustrating to watch at times for those on and off the field. Barrow played out from the back and the high press was working well for the first 30 minutes as the closing down on their keeper was opening up gaps in the middle of the pitch. We were, however, narrow and lacked any noticeable width. It was a tactic that worked for two thirds of the game but wasn’t sustainable over the course of 90 minutes. The game was won and lost during a 12 minute spell in the final third of the match. Reid was once again isolated upfront. It must have been so frustrating for him as he wasn’t getting any sort of look in. There was no point in him dropping deep to find the ball, even if he had and won it his options would have been limited. He’s a reactive striker and despite the team’s best efforts at times – he had nothing to react too.
Ian Evatt was appointed Barrow manager in June 2018. Since then he’s managed to puzzle together a no frills but fit for purpose team, capable of commanding and competing at the top of the National League. Things have gone right for them this season. Not hampered by injury, and having two players that have fired in 34 goals between them in Scott Quigley and John Rooney. Evatt has facilitated Rooney more freedom than his previous clubs and it’s proving it’s worth as he ran the midfield. Quigley likes to bully defenders and backlines and has notched 18 goals. They also have keeper Joel Dixon who has kept 13 clean sheets.
Barrow’s centre backs had Reid and Little under control for most of the afternoon. It was all too easy for them. As the ball was played into Reid one would deal with the clearance whilst the other would drop off and cover Little (or vice versa). They were composed, assured, passed out well from the back, measured in their approach and comfortable with what they were doing. They didn’t have a ‘wow’ factor despite being league leaders, but were industrious and physical in their approach.
Inconsistent. The referee was sometimes harsh and sometimes very lenient and soft with the more obvious incidents. A couple of bizarre choices made about corners and throw in’s. Although, a positive for me was the way he overruled the linesman. Credit to them both in that situation as the linesman has had enough gumption to flag as he felt he had seen something. They can then discuss what they have feel they have seen and come to a sure and conclusive verdict. We don’t see enough of that in my opinion and credit to the linesman as all too often they don’t even flag.
The controversial first goal. The match at that stage had become tense. Barrow’s cage had been rattled due to manner of which it had been awarded. They reacted ruthlessly, ferocious in their response and furious in its nature.
This game was all about ‘thirds’, and despite losing, overall I felt it was a relatively good away performance. Far from home, difficult and tricky conditions on a pitch that was kicking up sand like beach. Barrow had a game on their hands and for the best part of an hour we gave them a fight. However, I think the setup and tactical approach raised some eyebrows. A front three worked well at Fylde a couple of weeks ago and I was expecting to see that deployed once again. We were eye wateringly narrow at times and failed to attack their box with any real conviction. No or few balls were driven in, whipped across the area or flashed in front of goal. Rarely was there an overlap. Nothing was reminiscent of those away performances at Edgely Park or the Shay. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of Lewis and Longridge, I think injury (once again) lays claim to highlighting how important Ben Wynter and Liam Davis are at providing the mechanism for this team going forward.
Injury has been our plague, there’s no escaping it. No matter how much you may not want to use it as an excuse, it has ultimately been our downfall. Leagues aren’t won with inconsistent sides or squads continually being hampered and having to chop and change its components.
I would be intrigued to see Gary Johnson’s strongest XI on paper – and compare it to how many times that side has been fielded this season.
Barrow, on the other hand, show what a consistent side is capable of, and what can be achieved when a manager is getting the best out of his players. When the manager’s job became vacant at Barrow back in the summer of 2018, Kevin Nicholson’s name was one of those being bandied about for the job. They eventually went with Ian Evatt who was appointed in the June. Evatt walked in to a continual club in crisis – manager’s coming and going, Paul Cox, remember him? During the 2017/18 season Asa Hall made 37 appearances as Barrow captain under four different managers. That season they narrowly avoided relegation and all but confirmed our fate to regional football as they went 7 points clear of safety with 3 games to go.
Last season, 64 points saw them finish 11th. They’ve improved on that this campaign as Evatt has managed to engineer a very serious promotion challenge, they are now on the cusp of the Football League. They are a club geographically isolated and a long way from anywhere else. By no means am I comparing the Cumbrian coast with the English Riviera, but you can sympathise with their plight and begin to find the parallels in our recent quandaries.
No TUFC supporter would ever turn down the chance of promotion. And with Jamie Reid remaining a Gull until at least the summer there’s still an outside chance we could snatch that last playoff spot. But would a season of consolidation and establishment be all that bad? Something to build on for next season?
If Barrow do make it back to the Football League, then they will have created a blueprint to which we could forever point too as an example of how it’s done – we’d just do it with more class.