By Ashley Cox

BARRY Town's 2020-21 JD Cymru Premier season began with a defeat on Saturday, as Gavin Chesterfield's team were beaten 3-0 by The New Saints, behind-closed-doors at Jenner Park.

A second-half brace from Adrian Cieslewicz and another from Leo Smith saw Scott Ruscoe's side emerge as comfortable winners, after the teams had nullified each other for the first 45 minutes.

Having battled at the National Stadium, Ninian Park, The Racecourse and beyond, this latest chapter in one of Welsh football's most evergreen rivalries may have been the most unusual.

Bathed in September sunshine, Jenner Park had been the setting for season openers for more than a century, though never before had supporters been banned from attending; the FAW and Welsh Government policymakers lending a distinctly odd atmosphere to Saturday's showdown.

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Theo Wharton and Evan Press take the knee prior to Saturday's kick-off

With Covid-19 protocols in place, attendees were limited to a handful of media representatives, joining a small number of stewards, ball retrievers and officials on hand to complete the fixture.

While several endeavoured to find a vantage point from the car park or clubhouse windows, Barry's 12th man had been muted, though the sounds and songs of previous matches piped into the near-empty stadium would raise a smile in the press block, as Town, in their famous yellow and blue strip, prepared to get a fourth successive Cymru Premier campaign underway.

Captaining the side for the first time, Kayne McLaggon might well have been Barry's best player and he was instrumental in the match's opening chance, teeing up the returning Curtis Hutson, only for the winger, who made some impact at Penybont in the 2019-20 campaign, to fire wide.

Though few were there to see it, the hosts had started quite sharply and, after TNS spurned an attacking free-kick, McLaggon would force the first of several corners, throwing down the gauntlet to newcomer Ryan Astles, the 6' 4'' summer arrival at the heart of Saints' defence.

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Barry will hope for better this Saturday against Caernarfon Town 

Sitting in a deep defensive role, former Cardiff City prospect Curtis McDonald impressed on his Barry bow and although a slightly-undercooked backpass would force goalkeeper Mike Lewis to come and clear, Town's own new recruit would soon settle in, diffusing a series of TNS attacks.

At the opposite end, a smart Clayton Green pass freed Chris Hugh on the left, but no-one in a yellow shirt could meet the full-back's cross. Then, after Theo Wharton charged down a Saints shot for a corner, a near-symmetrical moment saw the ball flash clean through the Barry area.

A decent sparring match, with 15 minutes played, Adrian Cieslewicz soon drew catcalls from the sidelines after taking out Hutson, before the industrious Green picked up a caution for a foul in the middle of the park, the midfielder's full-blooded game somewhat restrained as a result.

McLaggon though remained a source of encouragement and almost found a breakthrough in the 20th minute, surging onto a long ball, only for his low shot to be deflected into the arms of the long-serving TNS goalkeeper and his armband-wearing counterpart captain, Paul Harrison.

Then, it was the turn of Evan Press to pitch a quick free-kick over the top, allowing McLaggon to set up Hutson again, yet the cousin of Wales manager Ryan Giggs could not mark the start of his second stint at Jenner Park with an opening day opener, sidefooting wide of the TNS net.

With Barry unable to convert, the Saints began to find offensive inroads, teasing their way into the area and recycling attacks, before Irish forward Dean Ebbe tried his luck, albeit to no avail.

The tables would turn once more after Green was clattered clumsily by Jamie Mullan, with the Barry battler hauling himself from the floor to send some chaos into the visitors' own box.

With Green's flighted ball pinballing between players on both sides, the Saints would proceed gratefully unscathed, before McDonald powered past Ebbe to snuff out a subsequent attack.

After Ryan Brobbel's free-kick forced Lewis to punch clear, tempers would briefly flare, only for referee Dean John to quickly call time on what was a competitive and evenly-matched first half.

However, an astute double-switch by TNS manager Scott Ruscoe would change the game's complexion for the second period, leaving Barry with an uphill task from almost the get-go.

Introducing the fresh blood of Ben Clark and Keston Davies for centre-half Blaine Hudson and youthful debutant Josh Bailey, the switch in personnel coincided with a sharper performance, as the 13-time JD Cymru Premier champions asserted themselves, to Town's ultimate downfall.

Though McLaggon showed strength and leadership to dig the ball out, Barry's opening attack was unceremoniously curtailed and within moments, his team found themselves behind, with Cieslewicz cutting inside his man, before curling a delicious low effort into the bottom corner.

Upping the tempo, TNS sought a second in short order and though a speedy one-two would carry the Saints into the danger zone, Town goalkeeper Lewis smothered to stop the rot.

Fighting to stop the game from slipping from their grasp, Barry moved the ball to McLaggon at the back post, but the skipper conceded a free-kick, as the Town found chances to be limited.

Meanwhile, Ebbe continued his mission to score, ruthlessly robbing Press, but denied by Lewis.

On the hour, Lewis made a fine, one-handed save from Cieslewicz and though Mullan would tap home the rebound, the linesman's flag had shot up at lightspeed, keeping the scoreline at 1-0.

Nevertheless, by this stage, the gulf between the sides was showing, with the Saints pulling clear by the minute from a Town team looking for that pivotal moment to revive their hopes.

In an instant, it seemed the moment may have arrived, with John handing a second yellow card and the resultant red to Saints substitute Davies, after he had bashed over Barry's McLaggon.

However, there was one, significant issue. Davies had not been booked in the first place, something the officials realised and remedied, amongst animated protests from the Saints.

Rescinding the red and allowing TNS to continue with all eleven men, John's blushes were spared, while Barry lost their lifeline and a route back into a match that was drifting away.

Amidst some petty fouls and sniping from others involved, young Press would throw his frame in the way of a long-range effort, desperately attempting to keep his teammates in contention.

Barry though were being stretched and they paid the price on 65 minutes, as an irresistible TNS attacking move culminated in a powerful drive from Leo Smith, doubling

the Saints' advantage.

With Press and Hutson audibly frustrated as a failed forward surge fizzled out, Barry's growing grievances turned to whistleblower John, as a suggested corner was instead deemed a goal kick.

As TNS kept up the pace, Barry had to implement changes and the arrival of former Wales international David Cotterill and Michael George in place of Wharton and Luke Cummings offered much-needed support for McLaggon and Hutson in their battle for an elusive goal.

Saints though looked more likely to add to the scoresheet, smashing the side netting, before unveiling their own marquee substitute, the New Zealand striker Greg Draper, on for Mullan.

Mercifully, prolific goal-getter Draper saw his striking sprees kept to a minimum, but his long-time TNS teammate Cieslewicz was far from done for the day, rolling home his second and the Saints' third with ten minutes still remaining to conclusively rubber-stamp Saturday's victory.

Dissatisfied with three, nimble feet from Brobbel saw the former Middlesbrough man dance into the Barry box, where a brave save at the near post from Lewis would thwart him.

The closing minutes saw Cotterill's free-kick drift wide and George's deep cross float over after the two replacements had combined, while a TNS handball wrecked a last chance at a fourth.

Barry's third and final substitute, Callum Sainty, had no time to make an impact, with the ex-Hereford player, in his second stint at Jenner Park, taking over from Green in the 90th minute.

A decent warm-up ahead of their UEFA Europa League Second Qualifying Round tie in Torshavn this week, TNS bosses will be delighted by their latest visit to Barry, taking home what proved to be a comfortable three points as they begin their challenge to regain the Cymru Premier trophy.

While Town manager Gavin Chesterfield has previously asserted his team's fortunes would not be defined by their meetings with the full-time professionals, Barry have still failed to claim as much as a draw against TNS from six encounters at Jenner Park over the past three seasons.

Taking in a couple of cup clashes, Barry are winless on Welsh soil in their last ten meetings, a run that extends right back to 2002, taking in a number of different managers and chairmen.

Curiously, Chesterfield's squad have fared much better at Park Hall, where the two teams will reconvene on Saturday 14 November, collecting two wins and two draws from their five visits.

Next though for Barry is a second successive home game, with Caernarfon Town making the long journey from the Gwynedd coast for another behind-closed-doors affair, this Saturday.

With games poised to continue behind-closed-doors for the immediate future, the thought of Barry entertaining Caernarfon with an official attendance of zero is an especially ironic one, given the two clubs contested the league's all-time highest attended fixture in January 1997.

Nevertheless, with the Canaries held by Penybont at a near-empty Oval on the weekend, both teams will be focused on securing the result that kickstarts this most unorthodox of campaigns.