LEADERS Barry Town challenge champions The New Saints on Saturday afternoon with the Saints’ Park Hall home the setting for the biggest game of the 2019-20 JD Cymru Premier so far (2.30pm), writes Ashley Cox.

The Saints have clinched Wales’ football crown in each of the past eight seasons, but defeat at Bala Town in August leaves Scott Ruscoe’s men looking up at a Barry Town team now unbeaten in seven.

Trailing 2-0 inside 12 minutes at Richmond Park last Saturday, the subsequent TNS comeback that saw the reigning champions beat Carmarthen Town 6-2 bodes ominously for the campaign ahead.

However, Barry’s record at Park Hall compares favourably with many of their Cymru Premier rivals.

From their three prior visits to the venue, Barry have brought home a credible haul of four points, with Kayne McLaggon scoring a memorable winner in November 2017’s 1-0 win and Jonathan Hood almost bursting the net with an incredible 96th-minute free-kick equaliser in February’s 2-2 draw.

Saturday’s showdown near the Wales/England border sees Barry aiming to stretch their unbeaten start to eight Cymru Premier matches, but Town have lost their most recent encounters in league, cup and pre-season, as Mike Harris’ fully-professional juggernaut shows little sign of slowing down.

Still, Barry boss Gavin Chesterfield will be delighted to be in the mix as the season approaches its third month, with last weekend’s win over Cefn Druids another indicator of Town’s own abilities.

With Barry vs Druids a typically entertaining affair, a healthy crowd of 501 turned out at Jenner Park for the Sunday afternoon kick-off, the final game of the Cymru Premier’s seventh match weekend.

However, both teams’ initial efforts were impeded by injury setbacks, with Druids’ Cody Ruberto rapidly replaced by Dean Rittenburg, before Town’s Callum Sainty pulled up in the 19th minute.

Sainty’s replacement, Evan Press, would contribute a stirring performance, but manager Gavin Chesterfield will be concerned at losing yet another player, particularly one in Sainty’s position.

Nevertheless, Barry impressed with a first-half full of ideas and gusto, with Mo Touray clipping the frame of the goal in the 27th minute with a low, right-footed effort and winger Drew Fahiya’s inquisitive ball to the far post tipped over by Druids goalkeeper Michael Jones on the half hour.

Jones would frustrate Touray again moments later, denying the Wales U21 international with a diving save, after spritely Sion Spence carried the ball up-field and found his teammate unmarked.

Spence’s speedy runs down the right flank were beginning to cause Druids some serious problems.

However, it was a sizzling surge down the left by Barry’s Chris Hugh that opened the scoring in style.

Collecting at the touchline, Hugh then set off, beating three Druids defenders with a skilful, powerful burst of pace and evading the tackle of a fourth, before slotting past Jones into the corner of the net.

It was yet another Goal of the Season contender; one that gave Town a worthy 1-0 lead at the break.

Into the second period, Jones would be called into action once again, saving from the impressive Spence after a neat one-two pass on the edge of the final third had unlocked the Druids’ defence.

The visitors though would fare better in the second half, with James Davies forcing a robust low stop from Barry goalkeeper George Ratcliffe, before Druids captain Neil Ashton spurned a direct free-kick.

Pressing into stoppage time, Druids pushed to snatch an equaliser, but Barry could sustain the pressure, dealing effectively with each of their attacks to claim a fourth consecutive clean sheet.

While Clayton Green took the Man of the Match plaudits, Town fans would be pleased with some strong performances across the park; from an industrious Kayne McLaggon up front, to newcomer Luke Cummings at the back, the latter enjoying perhaps his best 90 minutes in a Barry shirt to date.

The aim now for Chesterfield’s Barry will be to take their strong start to Park Hall on Saturday and leave nothing on the field, as the race for top spot in the JD Cymru Premier continues to intensify.

Finally, the club has echoed the condolences expressed across the town’s football community, following the recent passing of Sandra Whittaker, an official at Jenner Park between 1994 and 1998.

Well-known for her role as Vale of Glamorgan League secretary in the 1980s and 1990s, Sandra helped develop the club’s Football in the Community programme, an initiative that inspired young supporters and players across the town during the club’s first seasons in the then-League of Wales.

Described by a Barry Town spokesman as popular, approachable and a keen student of the game, Sandra would also appear on stage as the club was named BBC Wales’ Team of the Year for 1996.