By Chris Dunlavy,
Ian Evatt has challenged his Barrow players to shun “small club syndrome” and target promotion to the Football League.
Favourites for relegation after a wretched 2017-18 campaign, the Bluebirds surprised everyone with a mid-table finish and several notable scalps, including a 3-2 victory over Salford.
Now Evatt – who took charge last summer and signed a new three-year deal in April – wants his players to take inspiration from history.
“When I was at Blackpool, we got promoted to the Premier League on a £3m budget,” says the 37-year-old, right, who also played for Derby, QPR and Chesterfield.
“By my reckoning, that’s less than Salford spent last season. If we can do that then I see no reason why Barrow can’t reach the Football League.
“It’s 100 per cent mentality. You can’t come in here with small club syndrome. You have to put demands on the players and change expectations. You have to foster an addiction to winning.
“That was a struggle at times last season, and I was disappointed in the end. Because irrespective of what happened the year before and the wider perception of Barrow, I thought we had a chance. But the penny is dropping.
“At the end of every National League season, only two teams will be happy. We have to expect that we’ll be one of those two – regardless of budget, regardless of size.
“That’s my ambition as a manager and I wouldn’t have signed a new contract if I didn’t think we could achieve it.”
If Barrow lacked anything last season, it was firepower and a killer instinct. Though delightful to watch and a match for the division’s elite, the Bluebirds were the lowest scorers in the top half of the National League and displayed an irritating tendency to blow ostensibly winnable games.
Half of the Cumbrians’ 16 defeats came against sides who finished in the bottom half of the table, including a 1-0 reverse against basement boys Maidstone.
“Our record against the top six was fantastic,” concedes Evatt. “We didn’t lose to Fylde. We beat Salford and Solihull. We took points off Leyton Orient. It’s frustrating, because on our day we could beat anybody.
“We also got a lot of praise from opposing managers, saying we were the best footballing side they’d played. We just weren’t consistent enough.
“For me, the biggest problem was that we didn’t score enough goals, which is why I made it a priority to go out and sign some strikers.”
And he has, bagging a brace of former EFL hitmen. Dior Angus, who spent an injury-hit spell on loan at Holker Street last season, has arrived on a free transfer from Port Vale.
The 25-year-old joined the League Two outfit after scoring 17 times for Redditch in the first half of the 2017-18 campaign, but made just three appearances in his 18 months at Vale Park.
“When a club like Port Vale comes calling, you need to take the chance,” says Evatt. “Dior did, but he wasn’t really given an opportunity.
“He went on loan to Nuneaton and scored a hell of a lot of goals. It isn’t easy to score 13 in 18 games for a struggling side in National North. He came to us, suffered with injuries, but we could all see the potential.
“The thing with Dior is he’s never been coached in a professional environment and that’s what he’ll get here. There’s so much improvement to come, and he’s excited by that.”
The other arrival is towering forward Scott Quigley. Released by Blackpool after two fruitless seasons, the 26-year-old scored nine goals in 17 National League games for Wrexham during the 2017-18 season and spent last term on loan at Halifax.
“Scott is 6ft 4ins, a big physical specimen,” adds Evatt. “But look closely and you’ll see he’s very mobile and very technical. He can shoot with both feet.
“We just felt we needed a focal point up there. A footballer, but someone who can handle the physical side as well.
“It won’t change the way we play, but it does give us an option – that if it’s late in a game and we need to go direct, Scott can cope with that.
“Most of the teams in this league are big and powerful. They play direct football. That’s not us, but we need to be able to handle it.
“Both Scott and Dior have the raw materials to be excellent footballers, to score 20 goals a season in the National League.
“We tried to get it done early because we knew there was other interest. We’ve done that, and I’m really pleased because they were our No.1 targets – especially Scott.”
Evatt says both players are typical of the recruitment process that a side like Barrow must employ to compete with the division’s financial behemoths.
“We’re Barrow,” he says simply. “We’ve got the third lowest budget in the division. We can’t throw money around like Salford or Solihull, so we can’t think like them either.
“What we can do is a lot of research. Who fits the bill? Who is the right age? Who can we develop and improve?
“We can also make ourselves an attractive proposition. Players do their homework as well, and I’m sure Scott will have studied the way we play. What he’ll have seen is a club that plays the right way and an environment where young players can improve and move on.”
And talking of playing the right way, Evatt admits that Holker Street’s reputation as a feared destination for travelling opponents is probably over.
“It’s still a long journey,” says the former centre-half, who is targeting another five players to complete his 20-man squad.
“But because of the football we play, it’s no longer a horrible place to go. The ground’s been redeveloped. The pitch is beautiful. We’re open and expansive.
“We have to win games our way. We’re not built to beat teams up. We’re not built to be horrible. We’re built to play teams off the park, and that’s what we’ll be trying to do next season.
“We’ve got a chance and I think we’ll be underestimated by a lot of people.”