When Livingston’s Bobby Barr broke through the Falkirk back line, skipped past three static defenders and rifled a low shot into bottom corner of the away goal at the Falkirk Stadium three weeks ago, he did far more than simply haul Gary Bollan’s side back into a game that they were losing 3-0.
Probably more importantly for him and Livi this season, he finally realised his full potential that has been screaming to be let out over the past near two years; and eventually silenced critics who have never before fully appreciated his value to the current Livi side.
Signed in January 2010 after he was ditched by Albion Rovers following a run in with Albion manager Paul Martin, the former Third Division Player of the Year made his debut in a 1-1 draw with Stranraer. His substitute appearance was in few ways noticeable.
He made more and more appearances as Livi secured the Third Division title with room to spare, and went about establishing himself in the first team as the Lions moved up to Division Two.
Yet after playing part-time football in Scotland’s lowest tier, it was hardly surprising that it took Barr longer in these games to begin to shine at a higher level.
His talent was apparent for all to see; unquestionable work rate and commitment, raw pace that few could match and an unerring desire to head for goal when in possession made him an ugly prospect for defenders. Many Livi fans found complaint in a lack of a final ball, and – for them – his all too frequent relinquishing of possession to the opposition.
He was in some minds dismissed as a Third Division player that would not ultimately make the step up. The criticism was harsh and unwarranted given his obvious ability, but fickle fans would not accept that the very nature of Barr’s game existed – and still exists – on taking chances and trying to pull off the unlikely.
Gary Bollan had faith, however. So to do other voices in the stands that could see he was a young man adapting to a bigger stage. And that faith was rewarded. In the second half of season 2010/11, Barr notched up four league goals and begin to feature regularly in the very best play Livi offered in matches. By the end of the campaign he had become an established and dangerous part of an exceptionally effective Lions attack.
The real challenge for all of the Livi players – not just Bobby Barr – was the step up to the First Division this campaign, to face full-time opposition week in, week out. In games where Livi have held no great superiority, as in previous years, the opportunity to play passing football has been at times lessened. Barr showed flashes of brilliance in these early matches – quite possibly reducing the Morton right back to tears in our first away trip to Cappielow – but again those same voices had emerged as recently as this month that he wasn’t bringing enough to the side.
That all changed at the Falkirk Stadium.
To large portions of the Livi support he is quite apparently one of Livi’s more effective players, but it seemingly took his relentless performance of skill and determination against Steven Pressley’s side to shift his more stubborn detractors.
In that second 45 minutes he ran the show against a talented and in form full-time opposition. There could be no excuses from critics as to how important Barr is to the threat carried by Gary Bollan’s men.
His superb individual goal was the catalyst that led to a fine team performance and comeback, and he was no less involved in the Lions’ impressive 1-0 win over Hamilton in our last league outing, wrecking havoc in the visiting defence to such an extent that Accies boss Billy Reid identified him as the main thorn in their side.
Last week’s visit to Irvine Meadow saw appreciation for his talents soar to a so far unreached level. Countless “I Love Bobby Barr” t-shirts, now official club merchandise, were on display as the Lions prevented a cup upset with some aplomb. The Daily Record went as far as to call him “the best wide player outside the SPL” in their own match report of the 6-0 success.
As Livi face up to league leaders Ross County tomorrow, we will get another indication of whether that is the case or not. But at least, in recent weeks, with the emergence of him as a new fans’ favourite, the very question of whether Bobby Barr should be on the pitch at all looks to have been finally laid to rest.