By Ashley Cox

AFTER an 11-week hiatus, the JD Cymru Premier is up and running again, with Barry Town finding themselves on either end of a pair of 1-0 affairs.

With the Welsh Government restoring the league's Elite status, matches were played across the nation at the weekend and midweek, though continued Covid-19 restrictions meant the stands remained largely empty, leaving fans reliant on Sgorio coverage for their matchday fix.

On Saturday afternoon, David Cotterill's penalty after 43 minutes gave Barry a 1-0 win over Cefn Druids at The Rock, the former Wales international midfielder converting from the spot after teammate Nathaniel Jarvis hit the deck under pressure from an Ancients defender.

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Jamie Bird returned to Jenner Park on Tuesday in Barry's 1-0 defeat to Penybont 

With striker Rhys Kavanagh making his Town debut, Barry saw a handful of other efforts chalked off, but would settle for the narrow victory, after previously beating Bruno Lopes' side 4-1 at Jenner Park in both clubs' last competitive fixture on Saturday 19th December.

While missing mainstays Kayne McLaggon, Chris Hugh and Luke Cummings, manager Gavin Chesterfield gave minutes to a recovered Robbie Patten for the first time since August, while Jamie Bird was another late replacement, on what was his first outing for the Town since a well-received stint on loan from Cardiff City in the 2015-16 season.

Poignantly, Saturday marked a full year without fans for Barry, who had been well-supported in a 2-2 televised draw at then-champions The New Saints on 6th March 2020 before the nationwide shutdown kicked in a fortnight later, changing the entire landscape.

On Tuesday night, fan-free football returned to Jenner Park, with Rhys Griffiths' Penybont the visitors in a clash broadcast live on YouTube, Facebook and S4C Clic platforms.

Fan-free and, inevitably, fanfare-free, an uneventful first half eventually made way for improved second half fare, with Bird replacing Patten to bolster the home team's attack.

After 64 minutes, Clayton Green put in a challenge that led to a straight red card and though TV replays suggested an error by referee Iwan Griffith, Barry were left to see out the game with ten men, with boss Chesterfield picking up a booking for his protests.

Then, with eleven minutes remaining, former Barry striker Sam Snaith emerged to haunt his former teammates, carrying the ball forward and unleashing an impressive drive into the roof of the Gladstone Road net that left Town goalkeeper Mike Lewis rooted to the spot.

It was a goal worthy of winning a six-pointer and a personal triumph for Snaith, who was unable to cement a starting place up front during his fleeting spell at Jenner Park in 2019.

Tuesday's result sees the Bridgend outfit leapfrog Barry into fourth, with a matching tally of 27 points, but a superior goal difference and one game in hand, Barry having now played 18.

Champions Connah's Quay Nomads lead the title race with 47 points from their 18 games, with TNS (45 from 18) on their tail and Bala Town (36 from 17) making up the top three.

Town close out their 22-game Phase One itinerary with rescheduled matches against struggling Aberystwyth Town at Jenner Park (Saturday 13th March), Penybont again at the SDM Glass Stadium (Tuesday 16th March), championship-chasing Bala Town at Jenner Park (Saturday 27th March) and inconsistent Cardiff Met at Cyncoed Campus (Friday 2nd April).

While remaining publicly coy on the matter, it appears the league will forge ahead with its planned Phase Two programme, meaning Barry will add a further ten fixtures after all this, in either the top six Championship Conference or the bottom six Play-Off/Relegation group.

However, with teams below the JD Cymru Premier still banned from playing, the 2020-21 Nathaniel MG Cup tournament has been scrapped, while there is no news on the fate of the Welsh Cup, which had proposed a streamlined, 44-team competition to culminate in June.

Ultimately, the Government's refusal to grant Elite status to the second-tier Cymru North and South divisions could make any further cup football in Wales this campaign untenable.

With most outside the 12-club JD Cymru Premier and nine-team Orchard Welsh Premier Women's League prevented from playing at all for a full 12 months, it appears the frustration felt across the Welsh domestic game might have taken a high-profile victim.

Following a vote of no confidence, the impending departure of Football Association of Wales' chief executive Jonathan Ford was confirmed on Tuesday, effective 31st March.

Though the grievances against his leadership are said to have been multiple, the FAW's handling of the pandemic has evoked particular dissatisfaction below Welsh football's highest tier.

The announcement of Ford's departure came seven years and seven months after his FAW legal team were defeated in their attempt to keep the Barry team out of the Welsh League.