It’s Fleet’s longest away trip of the season this weekend and Garry Hill faces the uphill task of scoring points with a small squad still beset by suspension to Bagasan Graham and injury to Dave Winfield.
The Fleet dominated for long periods of Tuesday night’s clash at home to Hartlepool United but ultimately didn’t create enough to trouble goalkeeper Scott Loach and must summon up sufficient firepower at Holker Street if they are to achieve a double over buoyant Barrow.
Arif Omar is likely to travel with the squad once more as the Fleet boss – en route to Barrow today – was due to receive the results of Cody McDonald’s scan. “We’re fighting fires,” Hill said before his journey north. “Everyone knows the numbers we’ve been working with and we’ve been out of luck at the present time in respect of players we want to fetch in. By the same token, there’s no point in me signing anyone for the sake of it, just to make up numbers on the bench. I want to get through this weekend, work hard to get a result up there as of course we want to, then I can look at getting some of the players back, people like Bagasan Graham, hopefully Dave Winfield sooner rather than later too. I just want us to keep chipping away in that position, three or four points behind, in with a chance to the end of the season for those play-offs.”
Barrow have designs of their own on the play-offs and their immediate task is to close the gap on the team immediately above them, which just happens to be the Fleet. The Bluebirds were unfortunate to come away from the Kuflink Stadium with nothing to show after Danny Kedwell’s only goal of the game won it for the home side.
Barrow lie six points behind the Fleet but with a game in hand and will fancy their outside chances of reaching the top seven if they can pick up maximum reward. They have only lost one of their last 13 National League games, keeping an impressive nine clean sheets in that time. They played a cagey game at Sutton last week, soaking up plenty of aerial bombardment before winning the game with a goal two minutes from the end and wins over Salford City and Solihull Moors plus a draw against AFC Fylde show a combative side on a definite upward curve.
If Fleet can target one area of weakness, it’s Barrow’s lack of clinical finishing with the Bluebirds the lowest-scoring team in the top 14. Having seen loanee striker Tyler Smith return to his parent club, Jack Hindle is their current top scorer with nine goals while midfielder John Rooney weighs in with a few as well, presently on five.
Manager Ian Evatt told local newspaper The Mail, “I set a challenge to the front three and spoke to them at length last week. My point is if we are going to play three up front and three forwards, they really have to be a handful in and out of possession. That means making defenders lives a misery, constantly working to make bad balls into good balls, constantly pressurising them. The only disappointing point for me is we’re not putting teams to the sword. We’re giving them a fighting chance, so hopefully we can work on that and end up being more clinical in front of goal and more clinical in our final-third decision-making.”
To that end, Dior Angus is in on loan from Port Vale, having scored nine times this season in an earlier stay with Nuneaton Borough. Another attacking player, Kyle McFarlane, is also in on loan from Birmingham City and midfielder Lewis Hardcastle has been sent up from Blackburn Rovers.
Barrow’s record against teams above them is good, but then so is Fleet’s against sides below them and away from home so the clash couldn’t be tighter. Fleet came away from Holker Street last season with a 1-0 win during our run-in to the play-offs, only our second victory there in eight attempts. Hill will hope his side can keep performing miracles to get them through this weekend when the Fleet manager hopefully sees some light at the end of the tunnel with the return of Graham and the suspension deadline coming another step closer.