BARRY Town United’s quest for a return to Europe ended in disaster on Saturday, the club beaten 4-1 by a strong Cardiff Met, after being rocked by the eleventh-hour exclusion of goalkeeper Mike Lewis

With minutes until kick-off in Cyncoed, the Jenner Park side revealed first choice shot-stopper Lewis, 29, would be unable to don the gloves for their all-or-nothing play-off semi-final.

Writing their Twitter account, a club spokesperson stated: “The club are devastated for Mike who due to a contract issue (unable to be resolved with the FAW in time) misses out on today’s game”.

A frustrated Lewis, who was in attendance, had achieved more than a dozen clean sheets during Barry’s regular season, including credible shut-outs of high-scoring Bangor and champions TNS.

The former Aberystwyth Town man’s formidable form also had seen him called into the Wales C international squad and nominated for March’s JD Welsh Premier League Player of the Month.

It is believed Barry officials had argued their case for Lewis to play vehemently in the run-up to Saturday’s 5.15pm kick-off and had even explored legal avenues, only to be beaten by the clock.

Barry’s preparations had already been affected on Thursday as they lost workhorse Troy Greening, the long-serving midfielder suffering a freak accident that resulted in ligament damage to his ankle.

With Greening and Lewis’ unavailable, manager Gavin Chesterfield was forced to shuffle the deck, giving returning Callum Sainty his first start in two months and recalling deputy keeper Joe Massaro.

Talented Massaro had kept a clean sheet in April at relegated Prestatyn, but the former Cardiff City youngster and his Barry teammates would have quite the task to replicate this feat, against a Met XI that had put a total of seven goals past Bala and TNS in their previous two JD Welsh Premier outings.

Playing at a high tempo, the ultra-fit Archers were as sharp as their moniker suggests and took a 26th-minute lead when Wales C forward Adam Roscrow slotted past Massaro from inside the area.

Barry had matched their opponents gamely until this point, with the likes of Macauley Southam-Hales, Kayne McLaggon and Jonathan Hood attempting to unlock the hosts’ well-drilled defence.

However, Met’s opener gave the students confidence to push for more themselves and by half-time, the university side would have a foot firmly in their second European play-off final in as many years.

Five minutes before the interval, 20-year old Met midfielder Will Evans controlled with his right foot, pivoted and fired home with his left, beating a diving Massaro to double the Cardiffians’ advantage.

Then, moments before the break, an in-swinging Met free-kick looped cruelly off the head of the unfortunate Sainty to all but kill the game off, leaving Barry’s Europa League dreams in tatters.

In the second period, a shell-shocked Town worked hard to try and regain a foothold in the match, battling from underneath, yet continually thwarted by the hard-working and high-energy Met XI.

While Chesterfield would introduce a pair of attacking substitutes in Ryan Newman and James Demetriou, Barry’s breakthrough would not arrive until the 89th-minute, as Hood was handed the opportunity to score from the spot (after substitute Mart Swindlehurt had handled inside the box).

Firing his effort high into the Cardiff net, Hood made no mistake to claim his sixth goal of the season.

However, and in spite of the cheers of 500 or so travelling supporters, it was a case of too little, too late for the Town’s comeback effort, which seldom threatened to derail the Met’s route to the final.

Despite the disappointment of crashing out at the semi-final stage, Barry will have much to be proud of this summer, having exceeded expectations on their return to Welsh football’s domestic top tier.

Commenting in the aftermath of Saturday’s defeat, Chesterfield echoed this, conceding that the best team had won on the day and that his squad would not let it overshadow a positive past 10 months.

Securing their safety on March 9th with six games to spare and winning the Play-Off Conference by a whopping 13-point margin, Barry’s victories at Nantporth and Park Hall in particular will live long in the memory, while the ten-game unbeaten streak (spanning January through May) that wrapped up the regular season bodes well for another crack at European qualification in the 2018-19 campaign.

In the meantime, the Jenner Park outfit now looks forward to its end of season awards event, which will be held at the ground’s Jenner Suite on Friday 1st June and is poised to be a complete sell-out.