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Sunday, 27 March 2016 20:16

Honours Even

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SATURDAY 26th MARCH: Jenner Park, wet & windy
BARRY TOWN UNITED 2 CARDIFF MET UNIVERSITY 2 (Nathaniel Cars Welsh League Div 1)
For a capital city, with a decent transport infrastructure, Cardiff is often a hard place to travel through on a Saturday: after weeks of disruption because of Six Nations rugby, our city is rugby-free at last. But it has managed to find an even more disruptive event to blight another Saturday - a "world" half-marathon that involves closing many city streets, disrupting public transport and predicted to bring gridlock.

It's tempting once again to avoid the centre of town, but Jenner Park is clearly the place to be this week, with a top of the table Welsh League fixture, so the cross-city journey must be made. I forsake the buses and travel by train leaving hours to get to Barry in time for kick off, but it's almost impossible to board my local train service - just room to squeeze onto the two carriages already crammed with a mixture of runners and spectators. It gets worse as we progress to Cardiff, particularly when a number of family groups decide to launch themselves and their buggies into the few inches of space at each door. The match had better be worth it after this.   (article continues - click on 'Read More')

The other problem today is likely to be the weather. There's a forecast of heavy rain and high winds this afternoon, and an hour before kick off the first signs of the approaching storm are felt at Jenner Park. The forecast doesn't seem to have affected the attendance too much - maybe a wet morning would have been worse - which is fortunate, as Barry have made an effort to rise to the occasion, with a particularly memorable match programme design and a visit from the Barry round Table's Easter Bunny, with chocolate eggs. Although no official attendance figure is given, it looks like somewhere approaching 300, which is a pretty impressive number for the Welsh League, and testament to the efforts this club has made over the last few years to engage fully with the town community. At most Welsh League venues, there's not a lot of evidence of a real desire to attract supporters, but Barry are a case study that demonstrates there is another way.

The match itself is of critical importance to both sides. Barry top the table, but Cardiff Met have games in hand and are clear favourites to secure the title, and promotion, that they were denied in questionable circumstances last year. To keep the title race alive, Barry really need to win today, although a draw will at least allow them to stay top for the time being.

2.30 brings kick off and a blast of stormy weather. A fierce wind is now blowing in from the south-west and plays havoc with the opening minutes of the match. Mets' Will Fuller sees his first goal-kick caught and swept out of play before it can reach the half-way line, while Barry's early attempts at through-balls all race beyond the strikers and out of play. Both sides struggle to adapt in the wind and driving rain, but the university side gradually start to look the more composed. When the storm abates just after the half-hour mark, they're on top and it's no surprise that they take the lead - Elliot Evans firing in a shot which takes a heavy deflection on its way past Bradley in the home goal. The half-time lead is deserved, but Barry have had their moments - notably one incident when a desperate goal-line clearance was needed to deny them.

At half time the clubhouse, high above the Barry Road end goal, is buzzing with refreshments and merchandise on sale - so good to see this again after the club's wilderness years under the previous owner, and the legacy that , until very recently, excluded the fans from this important part of the ground. Even with their team trailing, it's clear people are happy to be here supporting them.

The second half starts in calmer conditions, so the students don't have the same strength of wind at their backs as Barry had earlier. But they remain on top, neat passing movements giving them the edge in midfield, and when Barry are harshly penalised on the edge of their area, Evans curls a perfect low free-kick round the defensive wall and into the corner of Bradley's goal. 0-2, and it feels like game over.

Barry strive to gain a foothold in the game, and two promising attacks are halted by (incorrect) offside decisions. A sense of grievance is growing, and this seems to spur the home side onwards, though we shouldn't underplay the value of some tactical adjustment too. Whatever the cause, the balance of the game shifts in Barry's favour and they get their reward, paradoxically from a move that the hapless lineman mis-reads again - this time allowing an offside to go unflagged. From the resulting cross, Cardiff Met concede a penalty and Bobby Briers converts.

Now Barry have belief and the Mets are reeling under an onslaught. Sustained pressure finally brings an equaliser when James Dixon reacts fastest to a loose ball in the box and fires it into the roof of the net.

There's time for either side to win the game, and at this point Barry must be favourites to nick it in the remaining ten minutes. But again, in the closing stages, the balance shifts again and Cardiff Met, after being on the ropes, are suddenly creating chance after chance. It's Barry's turn to hang on. An inordinately long spell of stoppage time brings end-to-end action but no further score, which is probably right - after the entertainment these sides have served up, neither deserves to lose.

As I set off back for Cardiff, I reflect that the Welsh League title race remains just about alive, and though this result hasn't really changed anything, it's been a memorable afternoon, a fine advert for the Welsh League and well worth the discomfort of the journey earlier. The return is less unpleasantly over-crowded, despite the train filling up in Cardiff with plenty of foil-clad runners with just enough energy left to tell their competing stories of race times and pain. They'll continue well into the night, but I won't have to listen to them.

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