A 96TH-MINUTE wonder strike of a free-kick from Jonathan Hood rocked the JD Welsh Premier League on Saturday afternoon as Barry Town United came back from two down to earn a memorable 2-2 draw at champions The New Saints, writes Ashley Cox.

The result ensures only three points separate the top three heading into this weekend, with third-placed Barry set to welcome leaders Connah's Quay Nomads to Jenner Park.

Barry's trip to second-placed TNS last Saturday began disastrously, as the ruthless Welsh Premier champions seized a crushing 1-0 lead with only 43 seconds played.

Running onto Danny Redmond's long pass, Kurtis Byrne managed to scoop the ball above and beyond Mike Lewis, after the Barry goalkeeper had come off his goal line.

By the 20th minute, their bleak situation became even bleaker, as Jamie Mullan pulled away from two dazed Barry defenders and slid in at the back post, connecting with a perfectly-pitched pass from Redmond to double the champions' first-half advantage.

With Scott Ruscoe's Saints 2-0 ahead and spreading the ball around Park Hall with relative ease, it looked as if a potentially-heavy home win may well be on the cards.

To then make matters worse, Barry saw midfielder Tom Fry stretchered off after only 27 minutes, while the rampant and effective Redmond came dramatically close to making it 3-0, when his shot from long-distance deflected off a TNS team-mate and then the post.

Barry however would be handed a welcome lifeline in the 33rd minute, when match official David Morgan judged Chris Marriott to have handled illegally in the TNS area.

Kayne McLaggon confidently converted the subsequent spot-kick and thus began the Barry fightback that would eventually secure a most precious of points on the road.

While Jamie Mullan would spurn two clear-cut chances to restore the home side's two-goal cushion, Barry's tails were up; the penalty giving them a welcome fresh impetus.

After four minutes added for Fry's unfortunate injury, the patched-up Town XI were cheered from the field at half-time; their travelling supporters perhaps beginning to believe that the tide of fortune was changing; shifting ever-so-slowly, in their favour.

The second half saw Barry continue to edge their way back into the match, until manager Gavin Chesterfield opted to up the ante, bringing play-making forward Jordan Cotterill on for defensive anchor Troy Greening in the 65th minute.

Played out in glorious sunshine, a perfect storm was stirring at Park Hall, as the Saints' first-half wastefulness and a handful of early bookings, each came back to haunt them.

On 73 minutes, Tom Holland brought Paul Morgan down near the touchline, securing himself a second yellow and giving Barry a man advantage heading to the final stretch.

Looking to fire back in decisive fashion, Ruscoe then introduced the prolific Greg Draper for Byrne, but Barry centre-back Luke Cooper did well to frustrate the free-scoring forward.

With 13 minutes to play, Chesterfield would go for glory, answering the call of the fans and bringing on Modou Touray, in favour of full-back Morgan, to further bolster Barry's attack.

It was a final roll of the dice and one that would ultimately pay off, as the Wales U21 international shrugged off injury to support the chase for an all-important equaliser.

TNS though would very nearly crush Barry's hopes at the other end, as Blaine Hudson rose to connect with a corner, only for Lewis to pull out a stunning, vital reaction save.

Still in it and pressing, Barry felt their opponents were wavering and with supporters keeping the pressure on, both Spender and Jon Routledge would collect bookings.

Former Middlesbrough man Ryan Brobbel meanwhile had already been cautioned and, after cupping his ears at the crowd at defiance, manager Ruscoe would act quickly to replace him, adding to the minimum of five extra minutes decreed by referee Morgan.

In stoppage time, Barry created what may have been their finest chance of the match.

After Patten carried the ball towards to Touray, the substitute smartly played in Drew Fahiya, whose own stint on the field as Fry's replacement was way beyond the hour.

Fahiya kept his composure and delivered a sweet volley, only one central enough for the experienced Harrison to save, leaving spectators breathless at the drama on show.

However, the greatest drama of all was reserved for the 96th minute, as Barry were awarded a free-kick in striking range; a do-or-die, all-or-nothing opportunity at goal.

With three Barry players standing over the ball, questions of who exactly would take the shot quickly gave way, replaced by a split-second of silence to simply hope and watch.

Then, as Touray peeled away from the static TNS wall, Jonathan Hood powered his unstoppable drive into the top corner, eliciting scenes of joyful frenzy on the sidelines.

With Morgan blowing his final whistle straight after the restart, Barry could hardly have bagged this precious point any later, or, at indeed have trailed in the match any longer.

While taking their tally to 48 for the campaign, this particular point should be worth its weight in gold; a huge psychological boost that keeps the title race so very much alive.

Barry now stride into Saturday's showdown with Connah's Quay Nomads (7.30pm), a match that could see them return to the top of the table, with TNS in action on Monday.

Defeat at Park Hall would have left the Town five points behind the Saints and four off the Nomads, yet Hood's stunning strike means Barry continue to defy the notion of the championship race being a two-horse race between the established professionals.

While the Nomads will come to Barry off the back of a history-making IRN-BRU Cup semi-final success against Edinburgh City, Chesterfield's side already have Jenner Park bragging rights against the Deesiders this term, having beaten them 2-0 in September.

With November's return match another thrilling 2-2 draw, this Saturday's showdown at Jenner Park is the latest in a line of demanding challenges for this current Barry team, who are still to contend at the business end of the season since returning to the WPL.

Nevertheless, after the events of the weekend past, Nomads boss Andy Morrison and his JD Welsh Premier League front-runners would surely be foolish to write off a Barry Town side capable of conjuring up moments of pure magic as late as the 96th minute.