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MATCH PREVIEW: Swindon Town vs Barrow

Bluebirds visit SN1 in League Two clash…

13 April 2023

Swindon Town make a swift return to action this Saturday, 15 April, as we welcome Barrow to the County Ground.

Here’s a bit of insight into our opponents ahead of another crunch clash for Jody Morris’ side as we look to end a run of four straight defeats.

The Lowdown:

Swindon face another tough test here at the County Ground this afternoon, welcoming visitors Barrow, who are still very much in the play-off race as we enter the business end of the season.

Barrow were formed in 1901 and spent their early years in the Lancashire Combinations League, as the town originally fell within the catchment area before it became part of Cumbria in 1974.

They were initially elected to Division Two in 1903 but were soon promoted to Division One in 1908.

In 1909 they moved to their current home, Holker Street, after initially playing matches at the old Drill Hall, as well as brief spells at the strawberry Ground, Ainslie Street and Little Park in Roose.

The Bluebirds enjoyed a successful spell in the Lancashire Combinations Division One, and won the league championship in the 1920/21 season, before forming part of the inaugural Football League Third Division North, where they became one of the founding members.

Barrow consistently remained at this level for a number of years, before being placed in the Football League Division Four’s first roster of teams.

During these years, they enjoyed relative FA Cup success, including a club record attendance of 16,874 for their 2-2 draw with Swansea Town in 1954, and they also set up a third-round tie with then league champions Wolverhampton Wanderers in the 1958/59 season, which they lost 4-2.

Barrow had more success in the 1960’s, winning promotion to the Third Division under the stewardship of Don McEvoy in the 1966/67 season, and his successor Colin Appleton led them to their highest ever finish of eighth in the third-tier.

Barrow then spent several years in non-league after they were voted out of the Football League ahead of Hereford United in 1972.

They joined the Northern Premier League and had a brief stint in the first national non-league division, the Alliance Premier League.  

After several near-misses, the club won promotion to the Conference in 1988, and had respectable tenth and fourteenth place finishes in their first two seasons, led by the club’s record goal scorer Colin Cowperthwaite.

Barrow also won the FA Trophy in 1990, their first major honour as a non-league club, beating Leek Town at Wembley.

They also embarked on an impressive FA Cup run the following season, reaching the Third Round where they were finally beaten by Bolton Wanderers.

This success wasn’t to act as a springboard though, as they were relegated back to the Northern Premier League the following season, and the 90’s saw them embroiled in financial turmoil and expelled from the Conference in 1999 due to improper administration after gaining promotion back into the Conference the season before.

Barrow became founding members of the Conference North in 2005, and after a dismal spell at the start of the 2007/08 season, won promotion to the Conference National via the play-offs.

After several seasons in the Conference National, they were relegated back to the Conference North in 2013 before bouncing back by winning the title a couple of years later.

This signalled an upturn in their fortunes, and Barrow, under Ian Evatt, were promoted back to the Football league on a points-per-game basis in 2020 after the COVID outbreak, finishing the league as champions before Evatt was poached by Bolton Wanderers.

Barrow narrowly avoided relegation in their first season back as a Football League club, and again last season, but have defied the odds to find themselves well within touching distance of the play-offs this term, with just five games remaining including today’s clash with Town.

Barrow’s season so far…

The Bluebirds have exceeded expectations this season, but their form has peaked and dipped throughout, where they often followed up unbeaten runs with spells without a victory.

They kicked off the season well, winning seven of their opening nine games and reaching as high as second in the table, but as they have regularly done this campaign, they followed up that run with five straight defeats which saw them drop to eleventh.

That inconsistency has seen them flit in and out of the play-off places this term, but fans will appreciate them currently sitting in ninth, leaving them with everything to play for entering this afternoon’s tie.

Last time out…

Swindon travelled to Barrow before Christmas, returning from Holker Street with three points thanks to an early Louis Reed penalty as the Robins clinched a 1-0 victory.

Town had a number of chances to make the win more comfortable, but their resilience on the day meant they were able to dig in and see the game out, picking up the win before making the long journey back to SN1.

Head to head…

Swindon have only ever played Barrow seven times in the league previous to today, holding a record of two wins and a loss since The Bluebirds returned to League Twoin 2021.

68/69: Barrow 0 – 3 Swindon Town W
68/69: Swindon Town 2 – 0 Barrow W
21/22: Barrow 2 – 0 Swindon Town L
21/22: Swindon Town 2 – 1 Barrow W
22/23: Barrow 0 – 1 Swindon Town W

The Manager: Pete Wild

Pete Wild has experienced a unique journey in football.

Starting out in coaching at just 18, he began by working with Oldham Council before getting involved as a Development Officer at the Manchester FA, following that up with time coaching in Oldham Athletics’ academy.

Wild also had a spell as England amputee football team manager between 2012 and 2015, before he was given his first taste in senior full-time management when he was made Caretaker Manager at Oldham in 2018, following the sacking of Frankie Bunn.

Wild steered Oldham to four wins, three losses and one draw before Paul Scholes briefly took over as boss.

He returned to the dugout as caretaker again soon after before he was appointed permanent gaffer, a position he held for only two months, citing personal reasons for his departure.

The Royton-born manager was then appointed Halifax Town’s head coach, performing well enough to receive interest from league clubs Grimsby Town and Bradford City, but opted to join Barrow at the start of this season.

Players to watch…

Josh Gordon

Barrow’s success this year owes a lot to the form of their forward Josh Gordon.

He has netted 15 this season and currently sits fourth in the League Two top scorers list.

The 28-year-old made his name with Walsall after starting with Leicester City’s under-23’s, returning a decent 21 goals in 107 games for the Saddlers, but has really pushed on since joining Barrow, with an almost one-in-three record of 21 goals in 69 league outings.

Ben Whitfield

Ben Whitfield signed for today’s opponents on a free from Stockport County in last summer’s transfer window, and the diminutive winger has chipped in with five goals and 12 assists this season, drawing admiring glances and an EFL Player of the Month nomination back August.

The Englishman started his career with Guiseley before he was picked up by AFC Bournemouth in 2014.

He never made an appearance for The Cherries but enjoyed fruitful loan spells with Kidderminster Harriers, Yeovil Town and Port Vale, before signing permanently with the latter.

After a mixed time with the Valiants, he had his contract terminated by mutual consent, spending time with Torquay United before signing for Stockport.

His time with The Hatters was short-lived though and marred by injury, meaning he was only able to make 15 league appearances before teaming up with Barrow at the start of this term.

Josh Kay

The 26-year-old midfielder has racked up over 160 league appearances for The Bluebirds since joining them back in 2018.

During that time he’s also weighed in with 22 goals, four of which have come this term.

The Blackpool-born Kay started his career off at AFC Fylde in 2015 before being snapped up by Barnsley, but he found first-team opportunities hard to come by in Yorkshire, featuring just once.

Subsequent loan moves back to AFC Fylde and one at Tranmere brought a further three appearances, but Holker Street is where he’s found his home.

Niall Canavan

The Irishman is one of the more experienced heads in the Barrow squad at the age of 31.

The centre-back is rapidly approaching the 60 appearance mark for Pete Wild’s charges, and his two goals during that period since January last year have all come this season.

Having started out life at Bradford City, his career has taken him to the likes of Shrewsbury Town, Rochdale, Plymouth and another spell with The Bantams.

Patrick Brough

The 27-year-old has been a mainstay in the Barrow side for some time now since joining them back in 2019.

To date, he has over 143 league appearances in blue, and provides a creative spark from left-back which has seen him contribute three assists this term.

Standing tall at six-foot three-inches, Brough kicked off his footballing career with Carlisle United, during which time he enjoyed two loan spells at Lincoln City and Salford.

Moves to Morecambe and Falkirk in Scotland were to follow between 2017 and 2019, before being picked up by Barrow in June of 2019.

He was an integral part of the Barrow side that won the National League in 2020, subsequently gaining promotion to League Two.

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