By Ashley Cox

BARRY Town United will play European football next season for the first time since July 2003, after Gavin Chesterfield's men stormed back from two goals down to earn a landmark 5-2 win at Bala Town on Saturday.

With their victory at Maes Tegid securing a top three finish in the JD Welsh Premier League, the Jenner Park outfit have sensationally booked their ticket to the UEFA Europa League qualifiers, with three WPL fixtures still to play.

However, the fight for Europe might have gone to the wire were it not for a stunning Barry fightback at the weekend, as three goals in the space of the seven second-half minutes emphatically turned the game at Bala on its head.

At the start of play on Saturday, Barry knew they needed to better the result of fourth-placed Newtown to shore up third position, with the Robins playing host to champions-elect The New Saints over at Latham Park.

As Barry and Bala embarked on a competitive and evenly-matched first-half, news soon filtered through that TNS had taken a seventh-minute lead via Aaron Edwards, meaning that a point would now be enough for Barry to lock down their coveted European place.

By half-time, the situation looked nervously promising for travelling Town team and their enthusiastic support, with Ryan Brobbel doubling the TNS lead in Newtown and Barry on terms at the break in Bala.

45 minutes from European football, few can have imagined the drama that would follow.

While Barry had enjoyed several chances, with Kayne McLaggon firing over the crossbar and captain Jordan Cotterill shooting just wide, the second half saw Bala turn up the heat on Mike Lewis and his Barry defence.

After 52 minutes of action, the Lakesiders found their breakthrough, with Anthony Stevens' left-footed cross whizzing across the Barry penalty area, allowing Chris Venables to head in, three yards from the goal line.

Seven minutes later, Barry were 2-0 adrift, with Kieron Smith lashing the ball beyond goalkeeper Lewis from near the penalty spot, after Curtis Watkins had initially headed away Chris Seargeant's inquisitive in-swinger.

Two down by the hour mark, Barry's hopes of securing their European return looked to have been put on hold.

However, the defiant Cotterill, on his 150th appearance for the Jenner Park club, offered new hope in the 64th minute; the skipper digging in, cutting inside and then beating Bala goalkeeper Ashley Morris, after a sublime pass from Mo Touray had unlocked the hosts' defence.

With full-back Paul Morgan a second-half casualty, Barry boss Chesterfield rolled the dice on teenager Evan Press and the youthful substitute justified his manager's faith with an effective showing, as the tide of the contest continued to turn.

In the 68th minute, Touray pitched in with another astute pass, allowing McLaggon to throw his man a dummy and midfielder Clayton Green to collect high on the left flank.

Green's ball into the danger zone forced Morris into a low save, before McLaggon showed his striker's nous to follow up from close range, making the score 2-2 and putting Barry's Eurostar train back on its tracks.

By this stage, TNS had gone three ahead, meaning a draw would be enough for Barry to qualify, should they be able to close things out with a precious point intact.

What happened next instead sent the Barry faithful wild, as Chris Hugh seized the ball with aplomb and strode up the field, before playing in teammate Touray inside the Bala Town area with a pitch-perfect pass that opened him up on goal.

Eyeing the prize, Touray then showed classic composure to slot home, putting Barry in front for the first time and sending supporters scrambling for their passports.

It would get even better for Barry in the final fifteen minutes, as McLaggon nipped in front of Morris to meet a Hugh free-kick up field, before rounding the goalkeeper and sliding the ball into an empty net.

Substitute Drew Fahiya then rounded off a remarkable comeback with Barry's fifth in the 89th minute, side-footing in with gusto and celebrating accordingly, after terrific Touray had served up another key pass.

Barry will now embark on a first European adventure since the end of the professional era, a huge feather in the cap for Chesterfield, his team behind the scenes and the players whose efforts have made this achievement a reality.

With Connah's Quay Nomads losing at Caernarfon on Friday night, Barry still have a chance of snatching second and a spot in next season's IRN-BRU Cup, should they be able to overturn a three-point gap between the teams across their final three fixtures.

Intriguingly, the Town will head to Connah's Quay's Deeside Stadium on Saturday 20th April, for what could end up a crunch encounter.

First though, Barry will entertain a TNS side closing in on the title, which they will hope to clinch at Jenner Park this Saturday night (7.30pm).

Admission for this final Barry vs TNS clash of the season is only £7 (adults), £5 (senior citizens/students) and £3 (children) at the gates.