While last season’s tenth-place finish in the National League represented a significant year-on-year improvement for Barrow AFC, it wasn’t enough for manager Ian Evatt, who had set his sights higher.

Throughout the campaign, Evatt made it clear that he expected his side to be challenging for the play-offs and felt the Bluebirds had ‘underachieved’ in not producing a sustained push for the top seven.

Having spent the summer evolving his squad, the 37-year-old, who has begun his second year at Holker Street, believes the National League has no clear favourite this time around and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t reach the play-offs this time.

“It is non-negotiable,” Evatt said, adding: “That’s our ambition, that’s our aim. You have to aim to be the best and you have to aim to be promoted, it’s as simple as that.

“For us to progress this season and to show progression, then for me we need to be in and around that top seven.

“We have the depth of squad now and the talent in the group to be able to do that. All we need now is some hard work, some progression and a bit of luck with injuries.”

While keen for AFC to get off to a good start in their opening games, starting at Wrexham tomorrow, Evatt knows there will be little respite in the campaign and won’t be getting carried away in its early stages.

He said: “We saw last season Leyton Orient not winning their first four games and Chesterfield winning their first three games, yet Leyton Orient went on to be champions and Chesterfield looked like they might be relegated for a long period.

“It shows you that a good start isn’t everything and the lads that won’t start on Saturday will obviously be disappointed, but it is a long, long season we’re going to need everyone at some stage, so when they’re called upon they’ll need to be ready to play.”