By Ashley Cox

BARRY Town’s hopes of UEFA Europa League progress are very much alive, after Gavin Chesterfield’s proud team claimed a battling 0-0 draw with Cliftonville in Thursday’s Preliminary Round first leg.

Having stopped their Northern Irish opponents claiming a precious away goal, Barry cross over to north Belfast for this Thursday’s return leg knowing that any score draw would see them through.

Indeed, should the Town make the scoresheet at Solitude, the hosts would need to net at least twice, with the winners of the tie to welcome Norwegian outfit FK Haugesund in the next round on Thursday 11th July.

Despite FIFA pitch technicalities forcing the game to be moved from Jenner Park, the first leg with Cliftonville was seen as Barry’s biggest match in 16 years; a storybook return to the European stage.

With enthusiasm intact, a ticketed crowd of 2,106 made their way to Leckwith Stadium, the most to attend a competitive Barry fixture since that fabled victory over Porto at Jenner Park in August 2001.

Long-time favourite Gary Lloyd, who put the icing on the 3-1 win with Barry’s third goal that night, was among a host of former Town players in the bumper crowd in Leckwith, joining the likes of Gary Barnett, Richard Jones, Chris Fry and TJ Nagi in supporting their old club on this sunniest of evenings.

For a number of today’s players, Thursday’s day in the sun had been so many seasons in the making, yet Barry persevered to ride out any jitters, focusing on playing the game and not the occasion itself.

When the visitors found themselves with a favourable first-half chance, Barry goalkeeper Mike Lewis was consistently up to the challenge, stopping a grounded shot with his feet, before Jonathan Hood’s dipping, zipping strike at the other end hastened the heartbeats of the travelling Irish.

A scrappy affair for stretches, Cliftonville would enjoy the lion’s share of possession, but the regular European campaigners were largely reduced to a hatful of hopeful efforts from distance, as Barry put the miles in on the lush grass surface to contain the Reds and keep the tie on an even keel.

At one stage, the persistent visitors attempted to storm the Barry penalty area, with Conor McMenamin’s eventual shot hitting the side netting and launching fleeting cheers from the Cliftonville faithful, who mistakenly believed their side had taken a valuable 1-0 advantage.

Forward McMenamin would re-emerge minutes later, with his low, left-footed effort clipping the opposite post, after Cliftonville ransacked a Barry short corner and darted up field on the counter.

Then, within moments, the former Swansea striker Rory Donnelly tried his own luck, resulting in almost a carbon-copy of McMenamin’s last attempt, as the Barry supporters breathed with relief.

While winger Jack Compton had helped drive Barry forward in the first half, the newcomer was unable to find a clear route to the goalmouth manned by ex-Coventry shot-stopper Richard Brush.

Both Chris Hugh and Jordan Cotterill worked hard to make things happen, yet Cliftonville remained resilient across the park; though the introduction of Drew Fahiya as an impact substitute did cause them some problems in the latter stages, as the visitors fought to contain Fahiya’s exuberant pace.

In was energetic Fahiya who set up Cotterill with 17 minutes remaining, but the Barry captain put too much behind his effort, sending it high above Brush’s goal from the edge of the penalty area.

After managing six minutes of stoppage time, there were a number of real positives for manager Chesterfield to reflect on, as he prepares to take his squad to the second leg in Northern Ireland.

A clean sheet for goalkeeper Lewis will certainly rank among them, with the likes of Clayton Green and Luke Cooper pitching in when needed to clear the team’s lines successfully and debutant Luke Cummings starting out as he will mean to go on with a successful shut-out in Barry Town colours.

With frontman Kayne McLaggon putting in one of his strongest shifts to date, 19-year old Evan Press won plaudits for his own solid performance, while midfield general Robbie Patten helped steer the Town through a demanding fixture unscathed, knowing he has even better displays in his locker.

0-0 at the half-way point, a trip to Ireland’s oldest club awaits, with Barry supporters expected to travel in their numbers for the 7.45pm kick-off at Solitude stadium on Thursday night (4th July).

Any Barry supporters wishing to attend the second leg are advised to contact the club for the latest seat availability.