By Ashley Cox

AS jumper-clad revellers across the country prepare to converge for their annual Christmas parties, Barry Town travel to play Aberystwyth this Friday night (20th December) at Park Avenue, looking to stop the rot of results that has left them fighting for their seat at the JD Cymru Premier’s top table.

With Wales’ national division set to split in half next month, Barry’s 4-1 loss to defending champions The New Saints means there is still work to be done to secure a spot in the six-team Championship Conference, with the Jenner Park outfit suffering a sixth defeat in seven winter outings last Friday.

Though still within four points of second-placed Connah’s Quay Nomads and the second automatic European place, Town now find themselves looking over their shoulder at both Cefn Druids and Newtown, who have each won three of their last four Cymru Premier fixtures.

Meanwhile, the out-of-form Cardiff Metropolitan University could yet pose a threat to Barry’s Championship Conference aspirations, should the Archers be able to rouse themselves for the neighbouring sides’ double-header at Jenner Park and Cyncoed Campus over the festive period.

For the third successive season, Barry will host their local rivals on Boxing Day (2.30pm kick-off), before making the short hop to the leafy Cardiff suburbs on Monday 30th December (7.45pm).

Should Barry remain in the league’s top six by the January 18th split, Town will then play the other five top-ranking teams at home and away in the Championship Conference, with a place in the end-of-season European play-offs guaranteed and both the title and automatic qualification still up for grabs.

In contrast, by dropping out of the top six, Barry would have to vie for the one remaining play-off place, something that was achieved in the team’s 2017-18 campaign, yet which ultimately left them faced with an unfavourable route and early elimination; at the hands of a ruthless Met side, no less.

After back-to-back borefests with Newtown at Jenner Park, the frantic opening to Friday’s Barry against TNS encounter made for a welcome surprise, with supporters braving the torrential rain rewarded by three goals in the first 12 minutes.

Unfortunately, two of them would go the way of the free-scoring Saints, who arrived in Barry having hauled some 24 goals from their previous four fixtures, including a 12-0 mauling of promoted Airbus.

With four minutes played in the televised match, there were ominous signs for the hosts, with midfield mainstay Aaron Edwards racing away from his man and slotting past the Barry goalkeeper George Ratcliffe to put TNS ahead.

However, Town were in no mood to go the way of Airbus and, with eight minutes on the clock, they found an abnormal amount of space down the TNS right flank, providing the route to their equaliser.

Though Saints captain Paul Harrison made sufficient contact with Jonathan Hood’s initial effort, the goalkeeper could do nothing to prevent Kayne McLaggon’s follow-up and Barry were back on terms.

Then, in the 12th minute, the champions found themselves on top again; presented with a cast-iron penalty for a trip inside the area, Ryan Brobbel would make no mistake in tucking away their second.

For almost an hour of football, Barry represented themselves well, rising to the challenge of their full-time opposition and competing with a hunger that would please manager Gavin Chesterfield.

While Brobbel almost doubled his personal tally by hitting the Barry crossbar, Chris Hugh almost clinched a second equaliser at the opposite end, forcing Harrison into a sharp, close-range save.

Nevertheless, the Saints are champions for a reason and, having weathered Barry’s best efforts on the evening, the visitors secured some welcome breathing space with a somewhat-soft third goal.

Rising to meet a corner in the 71st minute, it was Irishman Dean Ebbe who proved the difference-maker; Barry’s set-piece frailty returning to their cost and beginning to etch the writing on the wall.

Then, substitute Jamie Mullan sealed the victory with a superlative strike from long range on 86 minutes, the forward winging his way into space before firing into Ratcliffe’s top left-hand corner.

Another victory for the Saints now puts them four points ahead at the top of the JD Cymru Premier, eight clear of Barry, as their challenge for a ninth successive league title continues on at rapid pace.

Barry’s trip to Aberystwyth will be one of a hat-trick of fixtures this Friday night, with TNS home to Met and Connah’s Quay hosting Bala Town, who will hope to creep into the top three with a victory.