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Monday, 14 August 2017 08:43

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SUNDAY 13th AUGUST. Jenner Park, warm and dry.
BARRY TOWN UNITED 1 ABERYSTWYTH TOWN 1 (JD WELSH PREMIER LEAGUE)

A lot has happened since Jenner Park last hosted a Welsh Premier game, especially for the home club: nearly a decade of decline and despair, then crisis and finally a four year phoenix-like rise. Today is the culmination of that rise and the efforts that have made it possible. Fittingly, the S4C team are here to broadcast Barry's big day on live TV, but 902 spectators are here too [later confirmed as Barry's 5th largest ever attendance in the national league]. An impressive number, bearing in mind it's holiday season'; the match is being televised; the odd Sunday tea-time kick-off time deterring long-distance travellers; and the competing attractions of Man United and World athletics on television.

Now the hard work really starts for Barry's squad. After a pretty low-key pre-season schedule, it's time to assess their credentials for survival (and more?) in the Welsh Premier. Not forgetting that visitors Aber are entering a new era too, under recently appointed boss Nev Powell. The opening exchanges aren't inspiring for either set of fans: Barry, nervy and eager, commit a series of clumsy challenges, all resulting in free-kicks that Aber waste spectacularly.

Thankfully the game settles into a better pattern than that after ten minutes: now it's clear that Aber are playing the more controlled football, but Barry are breaking to good effect. Their long-balls hoisted towards the front line are bringing little reward, but when the ball is fed to wingers Drew Fahiya and Tyrrell Webbe they start to cause real problems for the Seasiders' defence, who concede several corners - all comfortably dealt with without Barry getting a shot at Mullock's goal.

Then, just short of half an hour into the game, the breakthrough: new Barry striker Kayne McLaggon takes the ball forward, forcing Mullock into a save; the ball runs free and Ryan Newman steers it into the net. Aber go in search of an equaliser and pressure builds on Mike Lewis's goal. Just before half-time he makes a spectacular save, diving to his right to palm away a deflected shot that was creeping inside his post. Barry go in one-nil up, and among the fans I speak to at half time, the consensus is that all that matters is the score-line, whether or not it reflects the game.

The second half starts rather flat: Aber are virtually monopolising possession in Barry's half, but failing to break down the home defence, whose hurried clearances only relieve the pressure momentarily before the next attack. As the game enters its closing stages, Aber commit more resources to attack and the game opens up - Barry cross the halfway line a bit more and have a few chances to seal the win - but Mullock in the visitors' goal is untroubled.

Then, with eight minutes remaining, comes the incident everyone will remember from this game. One of a series of Aber corners is whipped in towards the goal-mouth, there's a scramble, Lewis falling on the ball by the near post. From te other end of the ground, I can't see what's happened, until referee Markham-Jones signals a goal, clearly advised by his assistant that the ball has crossed the line. Aber celebrate, but even without a clear view, it feels controversial. We're all keen to see the television replays. The reaction of the Barry fans is quite restrained: maybe because they couldn't see clearly either, maybe because they know a goal has been on the cards, maybe because two hours ago they'd have gladly settled for a point.

Both sides look for a winner in the remaining minutes, but settle for a point. The Sgorio social media team soon post the footage of the equalising goal online, and I suspect Barry fans will curse Mr Markham-Jones and especially his assistant when they see it, for it only looks more dubious on close examination. Nevertheless, the controversy can't detract completely from the day: Barry are back, and they're off the mark.

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