Bluebirds to hit the bullseye
When joint Barrow manager Dave Bayliss became plain old Barrow manager Dave Bayliss in February 2012, it was a significant shift rather than a subtle change. The departure of Darren Sheridan, with whom he had shared management duties, left Bayliss in an alien position – now pressure was centred squarely on one pair of shoulders.
So it is little wonder that the Bluebirds have taken time to adjust. Last season ended with an embarrassing whimper as the Cumbrians endured a seven-match losing run during March and April, failing to even muster a goal during that spell. And things didn’t get much better at the start of this campaign; it wasn’t until September 8 that Bayliss’ men finally managed a victory, triumphing 3-1 at Tamworth.
But we fancy that after a pretty miserable six months, there are reasons to be cheerful at Holker Street. This is not a team anywhere close to becoming the finished article and their chief ambition remains survival but we’re backing them to continue their measured progress when Dartford visit on Saturday.
If there was ever a question that Bayliss had lost the players – there was, during those seven successive defeats – recent results would suggest otherwise. Since that debut success last month, the Bluebirds have won three and lost three. Not a record likely to have the play-off hopefuls sweating but it counts as a notable improvement. Two of those losses came against the current top two – Newport and Wrexham – while Barrow played with ten men and a defender between the sticks for much of their 4-1 reverse against Cambridge United.
Their latest two outings have shown Bayliss’ side in a far more encouraging light. At Braintree on Saturday and again three days later against Southport, the Cumbrians battled back from two goals down to win 3-2. Now, you don’t need us to tell you that’s hardly a defensive record to dine out on, but it has been about small steps this term for the Bluebirds.
And at bigger than 2/1 we reckon they look like value against a Dartford side fresh from a midweek drubbing. The newly-promoted Darts have enjoyed a remarkable opening to the season, losing just once in ten prior to Tuesday night’s 4-1 home defeat against Telford.
That run included victories over Newport, Hereford and Grimsby but we’re not convinced they can maintain that momentum on a consistent basis. The addition of experienced defender Mark Arber was a mightily canny one but this is not a side which appears to have the quality to compete for a top-five spot.
Braintree began last term with a similar burst before an unsurprising regression to the mean, and we expect Tony Burman’s charges to endure a similar drop. At 6/4 the Kent club look too short for a trip to deepest Cumbria. The hosts may not be watertight at the back but in Adam Boyes, Louis Almond and Danny Rowe they boast a thoroughly capable front line.
Meanwhile, Grimsby haven’t quite followed up last month’s 4-1 demolition of Luton as we expected them to, winning two from four, but they’re worth an investment at odds against ahead of Saturday’s trip to Telford.
Losing last season’s top scorer Liam Hearn to injury came as a significant blow to the promotion hopefuls but the board have continued to back the management in the transfer market, with Scott Neilson (Crawley) and Ross Hannah (Bradford) arriving on loan during September.
With Andy Cook and Anthony Elding also in the ranks and summer addition Joe Colbeck an assured presence in the centre of midfield, the Mariners are capable of blowing sides away. That victory over the Hatters demonstrated their potential - although their cause was helped by the visitors’ kamikaze formation - but they repeated the trick against Gateshead four days later, running out 3-0 victors before holding leaders Newport to a goalless draw.
And in seeing off Alfreton on Tuesday night, Town extended their unbeaten away record to seven matches – they are the only side in the division yet to lose on their travels, and have conceded just three times along the way. That statistic is enough to have us back them at the Bucks Head, in spite of the hosts’ recent progress. Andy Sinton has done a terrific job to have the part-timers punching well above their weight but, like Dartford, they shouldn’t expect to be in and around the top eight come April.
The Bucks have won once in four on home turf and we fancy they’ll be cut down to size by the Mariners.
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