If perfect planning does indeed prevent poor performance then it’s safe to assume that Paul Cox’s first year in charge at Barrow has been planned to near-perfection.

The former Mansfield Town boss celebrated the first anniversary of his tenure at the Cumbrian club this week and does so with the Bluebirds sat firmly in amongst the National League play-off challengers.

They are the in-form side in the division, with an unbeaten run now lasting sixteen games, a new club record.

That form has taken them to fourth place in the National League and nestled them in amongst former Football League clubs Dagenham and Redbridge, Lincoln City and Tranmere Rovers.

At the time of writing they sit just six points behind leaders Forest Green Rovers, a far cry from the club Cox walked in to this time last season.

A 3-1 defeat against Dover Athletic led to the exit of former manager Darren Edmondson.

With the club lying in 16th place owner Paul Casson and his board chose Cox as his successor.

The ship was steadied, with Cox leading them to a mid-table finish and gave them a solid platform to build upon.

This season has been something of a surprise, even for an ultra-positive Cox.

“A whirlwind” was how he described the past twelve months, as he admitted that there is still a lot of work to do to get the club to where he believes they need to be to compete with the “giants” of the National League on a consistent basis.

“It’s been a whirlwind if I am honest” said Cox.

“I knew when I got to the club, having spoken to the chairman, how much needed to be done. 

“We spoke about building this club up, building a football club that could make a serious impact in this league and ultimately get promoted.

“What has happened within a year has been nothing short of amazing, we are probably a year ahead of where I expected us to be.paul casson

“There are a lot of people working extremely hard behind the scenes to put in a strong infrastructure, to put the blocks in place and we knew when I first came in that it would take a long period of time.

“To give a comparison when I got to Mansfield they gave me five years to get a club of that stature, with the infrastructure in place already, out of the league.  We did it in two years on that occasion but obviously there was a lot more in place being a former Football League club and not having been out of the league too long.

“I think this year has been an amazing year so far, we are so far ahead of schedule it’s frightening but we are rightly placed in the league because of our consistency.  If we could complain about anything then maybe we should have won games that we have drawn.

“But still for a club that had a reputation as a yo-yo club, even with Paul Casson in place, we knew it was long-term project and there is still a lot more work to do on and off the field to compete consistently against some of the giants we come up against”

With a mid-table finish achieved last time out, Cox sat down with Bluebirds owner Paul Casson (pictured right) and set out the plan for his first full season in charge of the club.

The target, a realistic one according to Cox, was to improve on last season’s eleventh place finish and to “affect” the play-offs.

The plan was to give Cox a solid platform to develop a strong squad for next season, but their remarkable improvement has given the former Notts County defender something to think about.

“We finished last season in great form and everyone started talking about the play-offs” revealed Cox.

“Initially speaking to everyone at the club it was a case of putting down a marker and saying we want to improve on where we finished last season.

“We wanted to get closer to the play-offs and that wasn’t a defeatist attitude, it was giving ourselves a realistic goal to aim for.

“As I said we took over a club that were historically a yo-yo club between the bottom end of the National League and the top end of the National League North.

“We finished eleventh last season and this season we thought if we could break into the top ten, maybe affect the play-offs in some way, then that was progress.

“The onus would then be on developing a strong squad and building into our second full season next year but we are ahead of that”

A busy summer in the transfer market saw Cox bring in players from lower down the non-league pyramid.

That has paid off in spectacular fashion, with the likes of former Northwich Victoria striker Richie Bennett (pictured left) playing a part in their impressive showing this season.

The form of striker Byron Harrison, a pre-season signing from Chesterfield, has also caught the eye.

bennettHarrison currently sits in second place in the National League goalscoring charts, with only Dover Athletic hit-man Ricky Miller able to improve on his fourteen league goals this season.

Squad building is a work-in-progress for Cox, with the Bluebirds boss keen to shake off an unwanted “surprise package” tag that has been placed upon his side this season.

He said “Some of the players we have brought in, and I am not just talking about some of the players that came from this level or the Football League, some of the players that came from lower down the pyramid, players like Jordan Williams and Richie Bennett have really hit the ground running.

“They have found a level of consistency that has been frightening and the more experienced players we have brought in have helped with that. 

“But what we won’t do is set any silly goals.  We will get to Christmas andtake stock of where we are.

“People see us as the wild card, the surprise package, but I don’t like that tag.

“I want to be seen as being what we are, which is very consistent and competitive.  We are lacking in terms of squad depth but as a football club we are learning.

“From the chairman, to the chief executive, to me, we have all been honest.  This is new to Barrow and that is a thrill, it’s very new and exciting.

“But to be ultra-competitive when we come around the bend after Christmas time we need extra quality and depth in our squad because that is where the likes of Tranmere, Forest Green and Lincoln have an edge”

Cox revealed that his staff are working around the clock to improve the Bluebirds squad, with a number of players currently on their radar.

However he stressed that signings wouldn’t be made for the sake of it and that they have to fit in with the current squad, described by their manager as “a great bunch”.

“We are always looking to strengthen.  Myself and my team are working very hard and it is difficult because myself and Gary Simpson are the only full-time staff so we are putting the hours in.

“Our part-time staff are working hard too, very hard.  We are always on the lookout and we have people in mind but I don’t want to rock the boat with this squad.

“They are a great bunch so we have to bring in the right characters and personalities to compliment the blend we have.

“We will sit with Paul, plan stategically, and see if we are in a position to attack but we didn’t see ourselves in this position so early in our business plan so it is imperative to keep our feet on the ground and understand it is a business plan that is a medium term project, rather than a quick fix”

Cox and his in-form side will face a stern test of their play-off credentials with Saturday’s trip to third place Dagenham and Redbridge.john still

The Daggers have recovered well from relegation from the Football League last season and after a summer of change sit just five points behind leaders Forest Green Rovers.

If Cox’s side were to win in London on Saturday they would leapfrog their opponents in the league and could move into second place, although that would require Danny Cowley’s Lincoln City to slip up at home against Maidstone United.

Cox is looking forward to testing himself against Daggers boss John Still on Saturday afternoon, a man he believes is the reason why the Daggers have a good chance of bouncing back from relegation at the first attempt.

“Every time I come up against John it is always a good football match.

“One thing you can say about John is that he is great at steadying the ship.  His experience, his knowledge, his decision-making is always key.

“I see Dagenham as being up at the top of the league because of John Still.  You can’t doubt his ability and his achievements.

“I think he has had three promotions from this league and he has a wealth of excellent experience and knowledge.

“It is a tough game but we are as ambitious as they are and we will go down there to try and win.

“These players don’t know how to go to places and try and play for a draw.  We are attack-minded, we will play on the front-foot and take the game to Dagenham.

“We don’t know any other way really”

Whatever the result is in London on Saturday, Paul Cox and Barrow are planning for a bright future.

Interview: Mark Carruthers (@marknldaily)
Image: Barrow AFC / www.actionimages.com

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