BARROW'S BRILLIANT REVIVAL: HOW HAVE THE BLUEBIRDS TURNED THEIR LEAGUE TWO SEASON AROUND?
Barrow suffered a blow in the summer when popular manager Ian Evatt left for Bolton, but it looks like they have stumbled across a suitable replacement just in time to avoid an immediate return to non-league.
Evatt had the Cumbrian outfit playing an attractive brand of football, resulting in an amusing tag of ‘Barrowcelona’.
That earned them a first season in the EFL since 1972, and after the appointments of David Dunn and Michael Jolley didn’t go as hoped, the experienced figure of Rob Kelly has guided Barrow to four straight wins and a resultant seven-point buffer to the bottom two.
It didn’t take long for the club to name Evatt’s replacement as Dunn arrived at Holker Street in pre-season, a well-known ex-player making a return to management after a short spell at Oldham.
The Blackburn legend quickly set about overhauling the squad, making nine signings before the start of the season and several more shortly afterwards.
Some EFL experience was added in the form of Luke James and Mike Jones, but it was always going to take a little while for all the new players to settle.
They did push Derby all the way in EFL Cup, but after that, the Cumbrians struggled for goals in their first six league games, only netting four times.
They were involved in a lot of low-margin contests, with opponents often winning by the odd goal, so Dunn would’ve felt relieved when Barrow started finding the net in high-scoring draws against Walsall and Bolton, before picking up back-to-back wins against Mansfield and Bradford.
The lack of EFL experience in the squad started to tell once again though, and Dunn was unable to turn their fortunes around, with a humbling defeat at Crawley leaving them just outside the drop zone on goal difference.
That was the end of Dunn’s time at the club, so Kelly came in for his first caretaker spell, immediately turning things around with a convincing 3-0 defeat of high-flying Cheltenham.
This was perhaps not a huge surprise, because although some EFL fans may not have heard of Rob Kelly, he had been assistant at the likes of Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forest in addition to a brief spell at the helm at Leicester 15 years ago.
More recently, Kelly had worked with Uwe Rösler at Düsseldorf and Malmö, so it was something of a coup for Barrow to bring him in in the summer, initially as Dunn’s right-hand man.
Despite that impressive victory, former Grimsby boss Michael Jolley was quickly brought in, someone with clear ideologies of how he likes his teams to play.
He did manage two wins in his first four, but things gradually worsened and it became clear that he was struggling to get those ideas across.
Jolley only took charge of eight games, and although results weren’t ideal, the main reason for his departure appeared to be differences of opinion with the board concerning the style of play.
In that case, you have to ask why they appointed him in the first place. However, Kelly’s second spell looks set to ensure a second successive season in League Two for Barrow.
Eye-catching January signings Jamie Devitt and Neal Eardley only had a couple of games under Jolley, but those two additions, Eardley in particular, have steadied the ship and after gradual improvements in performances, the result went Barrow’s way with a 2-0 win against Mansfield just over two weeks ago.
That started a run of four straight victories, all with clean sheets, and although they conceded twice this weekend, Chris Taylor’s late winner sealed three more big points against Crawley.
Kelly has said that he’s just making everything simpler for the players and has gone back to basics, and it certainly seems to be working. Perhaps the two previous managers were too keen to impress early in their careers and went for overcomplicated styles of play.
The most disappointing thing about Barrow’s recent rise has been that their fans haven’t been able to celebrate their best spell for almost 50 years because of the pandemic, but hopefully they’ll be back in full stadiums at the start of next season, and with Kelly in charge, it should be for another campaign in the EFL.