3:10pm Thursday 11th April 2013
HEROIC Barry Town came within a whisker of the Welsh Cup Final on Saturday, narrowly losing out to Welsh Premier outfit Prestatyn Town in a gripping battle at Latham Park in Newtown.
Arriving at the neutral venue as the rank outsiders, Barry gave a fine account of themselves and will be saddened not to have progressed after creating a number of good chances.
Outweighing the regret, though, will be a considerable sense of pride as Gavin Chesterfield's fully-amateur team bowed out with their heads held high, competing until the very last kick.
Between 150 and 200 Barry supporters from far and wide made the journey to Mid Wales, on an unusually warm Saturday in light of recent weather.
Taking the field to substantial noise and applause, the opening 15 minutes appeared much a feeling-out process as the historic two sides, curiously contesting their first ever meeting, battled for a foothold in the match.
With Prestatyn supporters adopting the stand behind Dan Bradley's goal for the first half, their top scorer, Andy Parkinson, fired the first warning shot; shooting just over the bar from distance, the ball bouncing off the roof of Bradley's net.
Conversely, however, it was a spell of strong passing play that saw the deadlock broken, with Prestatyn crafting a well-worked goal to cap a period of possession.
Bringing the ball forward, experienced player-manager Neil Gibson fed Parkinson with a low ball into the penalty area, giving Parkinson the opportunity to turn and shoot right-footed into the bottom left-hand corner after 18 minutes.
The opener stirred the North Walian supporters, for whom a sustained lead, matched with a win for The New Saints in the other semi-final, would have resulted in a first-ever appearance in the Europa League.
However, no sooner had Prestatyn devotees begun to sing of Europe, Barry Town equalised, with 20 minutes played. Shrugging off the catcalls coming from behind his goal, Bradley delivered a short pass to full-back Lee Baldock, who then fired a marvellous long ball down the field, chased by TJ Nagi. Immediately recognising the danger posed by Barry's own top scorer, Prestatyn goalkeeper Jon Hill-Dunt dashed out to deal with the threat at the boundary of his box. Hill-Dunt, however, could only get a hand to Nagi's effort, and the Barry striker quickly brushed by; demonstrating composure to pick his moment, elude a defender and slide the ball into the net for 1-1.
The equaliser prompted scenes of utter mania in the stand beneath the television gantry, where the bulk of the Barry supporters had gathered with flags en tow.
With the scores tied, momentum immediately switched to the Barrians, who pursued a second goal with vigour. Forward Ryan Jenkins, one of many standout players from the cup campaign, typified the Barry effort, chasing down a back pass and forcing outrushing Hill-Dunt into an ill-judged clearance that fell to midfielder Michael Hartley 30 yards from goal. Showing great awareness and vision, Hartley weighed up an effort, and struck the ball with the outside of his foot; high, curving and seemingly goal-bound. However, his looping, right-footed attempt bounced over the crossbar by inches, skimming the frame of the goal as the goalkeeper hurried back.
Prestatyn were not without their own chances and could count themselves unlucky when Ross Stephens' curling cross-shot free-kick brushed off Bradley's goalpost after 31 minutes.
Carrying the ball well, first-half substitute Chris Davies also enjoyed an effort, his powerful long-range effort bouncing up off Bradley's chest and into the goalkeeper's hands.
Barry began the second half strong, striving for every ball and carving out a string of quality chances over a half-hour period. First, some fine footwork and interplay between Jenkins, James Saddler and the strong Nagi freed Hartley, who cut inside from the right and shot with his left foot, testing Hill-Dunt under pressure from the awaiting Nickie Jones. Evoking memories of his goals against Flint and Pontardawe in previous rounds, Jenkins created another chance for Barry when he raced to capitalise on a mistake - only to be shut down quickly by the Prestatyn backline.
Keeping the pressure on, a picture-perfect corner from Hartley on the right was headed along by Baldock to the feet of Nagi, whose shot was cleared off the line. The ball then bounced back to Baldock once more, but with mere micro-seconds to prepare, his instinctive, reflex header, ricocheted painfully over the crossbar.
In a game bereft of any notable foul play, it was a total puzzler how referee Bryn Markham-Jones managed to hand out some eight yellow cards.
However, Barry continued to battle, with Ryan Dorrian winning a midfield clash, shipping the ball to Jones, who moved it on to Jenkins and back to Dorrian himself. Dorrian's flighted ball to Nagi was then headed clear, but Jenkins acted quickly to return the ball to the danger zone. This set up Nagi with a run at goal, and he looked poised to put Barry in front; only for defender Anthony Stephens to desperately restrict his path before Hill-Dunt saved the subsequent shot.
Prestatyn, to their credit, did just enough to keep their ship afloat and kept playing football, stretching Barry whenever possible and making Gavin Chesterfield's players work hard throughout. They appeared to have taken the lead when Chris Davies made good inroads, running between two Barry players and shooting with the outside of his right foot. The effort appeared destined for the net, only to ricochet extraordinarily off the post and then the bar, evading the outstretched leg of forward Jason Price on the line and allowing Barry centre-back Ryan Evans to defuse the situation and clear to safety.
It was, however, the distinctively-haired Price, formerly of Swansea, Tranmere, Brentford, Hull, Doncaster, Millwall and others, who would grab the crucial winner, turning in Gibson's inquisitive corner with a twisting header from five yards, with only 12 minutes remaining.
With nothing now to lose, Chesterfield rolled the dice, introducing three substitutes at once in the final 10 minutes as Troy Greening, Bobby Briers and Dale Howarth made their semi-final bow. Each played a role in BarryÕs final key chance. With four minutes of stoppage time added to the end of the match, a trademark long throw from Briers in the 92nd minute caused chaos in the Prestatyn penalty area. Eluding the tumbling Evans, the ball was headed rightwards by ex-Newport and Merthyr playmaker Greening, dropping unkindly for Howarth, who nonetheless managed to dink the ball through to Hartley. Hartley then shot with great technique on the turn, but his right-footed strike somehow avoided nestling in the top corner, flying inches wide.
As Hartley crumbled to the floor in despair, it became clear that, despite their relentless effort, Saturday was not to be Barry TownÕs day.
Within moments, the final whistle sounded and PrestatynÕs support erupted; though their European dreams were halted abruptly minutes later; Bangor's 94th minute winner seeing off TNS.
For Barry, however, their tremendous success in the Welsh Cup this season has shown that there is little for this young side to fear; on another day, indeed, they might well have left Latham Park making plans for a Welsh Cup Final.
Speaking after the match, Chesterfield outlined his goal to make occasions such as Saturday's a consistent feature of the team's seasons. On the evidence of their display at Newtown, this aim is more than achievable.
On Saturday, Barry Town proudly return to Jenner Park for their penultimate home match of the season; AFC Porth the opponents in a MacWhirter Welsh League clash.
Kick-off is at 2.30pm, with entry on the gate for £5 adults, £4 OAPs, £3 students and £2 children. Accompanied children enter for free and all monies go to the Barry Town Supporters' Committee, the community group responsible for Barry Town football.
Barry Town: 1. Daniel Bradley, 2. Geraint Frowen (14. Dale Howarth 84m), 3. Lee Baldock, 4. Ryan Evans, 5. Dan Clare, 6. James Saddler, 7. Nickie Jones (12. Troy Greening 84m), 8. Ryan Dorrian (16. Bobby Briers 84m), 9. TJ Nagi, 10. Ryan Jenkins, 11. Michael Hartley. Subs not used: 15. Lewis Cosslett, 18. Brendan Cropley.
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