BARRY TOWN UNITED 2
THE top-of-the-table Welsh Soccer League clash between Barry Town United and Llanwern proved a game of two halves and two own goals, with little to separate the title-chasing teams at the end of an exhilarating Third Division encounter at Newport Stadium.
The table-topping Gwent side entered the match as the form team, coming off the back of three consecutive wins in March that saw them score no less than 20 times.
However, it was second-placed Barry who started the brighter, almost breaking the deadlock in the 17th minute as Jordan Cotterill rattled the crossbar with a left-footed effort from outside the box.
Several minutes later full-back Geraint Frowen made a fine tackle at the back post to keep the Town on level terms, but this was the peak of the leader's first-half chances.
At the other end, Barry looked full of energy and creativity, a real contrast to the side that had struggled through their visits to Risca and Newcastle Emlyn earlier in the month.
After an audacious dummy let Cotterill run through, Llanwern goalkeeper Chris Golton was driven to make a strong save. Cotterill then enjoyed another effort, only this time denied by an outstretched foot, forcing one of a host of Barry corners.
With the travelling Barry contingent of around 100 in full voice throughout the half, Town continued to press, with James Dixon, Dale Howarth and Troy Greening looking lively.
Nonetheless, Llanwern weathered the Barry storm and the sides went in level at the break.
The second half was only minutes old when Gavin Chesterfield's side finally managed to turn their positive play into an all-important opening goal. Launching an attack down the left wing, Barry sent a low ball into the danger zone and, despite eluding the Town attackers, the pressure forced a Llanwern defender to turn it into his own net.
Jubilation for the travelling supporters would, however, prove to be fleeting as the resilient home side got themselves back on a level footing within a matter of minutes. After a Llanwern attack was deflected for a corner, the resulting attack caused problems not dissimilar to those at the other end moments earlier. And it was left to Mike Bishop to back heel the equaliser from10 yards.
Throughout the match, Llanwern utilised the long throw as a weapon, somewhat akin to a free-kick in its effectiveness. Many Town supporters, though, took exception at what they viewed as stolen yards preceding a number of throw-ins; something that would patently make this tactic all the more dangerous.
With Llanwern having played their way back into the match, it would be a strike set up by one of their long throws that allowed them to go ahead. Falling to former Barry striker Nic Hooper near the edge of the penalty area, few could complain about the quality of the strike - a powerful and skilful drive that would have nestled comfortably in the highlights packages of any league.
Having been under the cosh for most of the first half, Llanwern were ahead and appeared relatively comfortable, repelling the attacks of a Barry team who appeared ever-tiring after their earlier surges forward.
While Paul Morgan's flighted effort from the right flank tested Golton under his crossbar, some new ideas and fresh legs were sorely needed and Barry boss Gavin Chesterfield duly rolled the dice to make a triple substitution, introducing Ryan Jenkins, Lee Baldock and Nickie Jones.
The changes injected the Town with much-needed energy, and they continued to seek an equaliser. Yet, with the home side doing their utmost to frustrate and contain the visitors, a point appeared to be off the cards... until the final minutes.
After a Barry corner from the right was cleared off the line at the back post, the Town tried again, with the clock now as much an adversary as their formidable opponents. Nevertheless, their persistence was ultimately rewarded, when a high ball again forced an own goal from Llanwern with 90 minutes on the clock.
With the Barry supporters ecstatic, a stoppage time corner saw the Town go for glory and all three points, only for Golton to deny a goalbound header that would have won it at the death.
It was a breathless finish to a match that lived up to its billing and yet one that did little to decide the fate of the championship, with all still to play for in the run-in.
Interestingly, Hooper and Bishop were also the scorers in the earlier match at Jenner Park in October, which also ended in a 2-2 draw.
On Saturday afternoon, Barry earned more crucial points on the road with a 3-2 win at Tredegar Town.
Remarkably, this game was another to contain two own goals, making it four now in two games after none all season in the league before last week.
Tredegar found themselves in front early on after Barry goalkeeper Dan Bradley sliced the ball into his own net, but the home side equalised with James Dixon's first goal since returning to the side.
Another own goal put Chesterfield's team ahead before the interval, and Troy Greening's third after it appeared to secure the win before a late penalty kick ensured an anxious close.
As it was, Barry hurtled up to 66 points, keeping them five behind Llanwern with two matches in hand (prior to the visit of Grange Quins on Tuesday evening).
This Saturday the Town are home at Jenner Park against Pontypridd in a 2.30pm kick-off, with another home game against Newcastle Emlyn on Tuesday night (7.45pm).
Entry to each match is available on the Barry Road and Gladstone Road turnstiles at £4, with concessions for OAPs, students and children.
With the league campaign down to its final 10 matches, all are welcome to come and support Barry's team in pursuit of its first Welsh League honours in 20 years.