The year may be new but the challenges don’t come any easier as Fleet’s first away trip of 2020 is their longest – and arguably toughest. Leaders Barrow await having lost just one league match in their last 18.
Ian Evatt’s side may be the surprise package of the season but they’re taking top spot in their stride having maintained their position at the summit for the past eight matchdays.
It’s difficult to recall that when they came to the Kuflink Stadium back in September, they were just beginning a run of form to lift themselves away from the relegation places!
Holker Street has never been a particularly happy hunting ground for the Fleet, with only two wins in nine matches going back 40 years. That said, you have to go back more than 10 years to find the last time Barrow beat us on their own ground, a 2-0 win in October 2009.
Fleet travel up by train to take on the Bluebirds with Kevin Watson under no illusions about the size of the task. “It doesn’t get any easier, does it?” he said. “I know what I’ve got in this group, we do need more bodies. And we need goals to change games, if we get them the shackles come off, but 1-0’s not enough for us. Barrow are having a very good season, they’re flying high and we’re scrapping and we’ll continue to do that. We never make it easy for anyone but if we get in front we have to do more.”
Myles Weston’s hamstring injury is likely to keep him out once more, with John Goddard again the most likely deputy though he is still without 90 minutes in the tank since his own return from injury. There are further options for Watson to change things around with Jamie Grimes, Alfie Egan, Tomi Adeloye and Josh Umerah knocking on the door for starts. Harry Palmer will also make his first start since November to replace Thailand-bound Jordan Holmes.
Barrow were the only side to come away from the Kuflink Stadium with a clean sheet this season until Dover managed the same feat last weekend. Then, their 3-0 victory was greeted by the Fleet faithful as a new low, but at the time it disguised the quality that the Bluebirds were just beginning to show.
In midfielders John Rooney and Josh Kay plus striker Scott Quigley, Barrow have got a potentially title-winning trio – the three have scored 29 of the side’s 50 goals this season and at least one of them has featured on the scoresheet in 21 of Barrow’s 27 league games.
If there’s some encouragement for the Fleet, it’s that Barrow’s away form has been a little better than their home form of late. The Bluebirds stuttered to a 2-2 draw at home to bottom club Chorley in late November and have since enjoyed only a narrow win over strugglers Aldershot Town and a draw with AFC Fylde at Holker Street.
That Boxing Day clash with Fylde saw 3,267 turn up at a ground that had less than a third that attendance at the beginning of the season, an indication of how much Barrow’s rapid rise has captured the imagination in this corner of Cumbria.
Their manager said of the Fleet visit, “The good thing for us is now we can can play the 3-4-1-2 or the 4-3-3 because we have to keep opponents guessing. We can’t allow them to set up and try and stop us from playing and that was starting to happen, to be honest, so now we’ve got a couple of variations that we can go to, to keep opponents guessing and hopefully cause them problems.”
Former Carlisle left-back Patrick Brough could be a doubt for the Bluebirds while Huddersfield referee, Samuel Barrott, is a new face for the Fleet having only been promoted to this level last summer.