Bluebirds Further Over The Horizon, As County Struggle To Push Barrow
Conference North football returned to Edgeley Park, after two round-trips, totalling almost three hundred miles, which had failed to yield either points or goals for the Hatters.
Unfortunately, home also proved to be without its comforts, as County were beaten by a single goal that saw the ‘Bluebirds' from Barrow extend their lead at the top of the League to four points.
Alan Lord rang some changes following the defeat against Worcester at Aggborough three days earlier – with Greg Wilkinson, Chris Churchman and Bobby Lofthouse coming in for Charlie Russell and Tunji Moses (both of whom were named among the substitutes),as well as for Nathan Woolfe. Additionally, Kyle Jacobs was ruled out courtesy of an aggravated groin problem, and was replaced in the right-back berth, as part of a 4-4-2 formation, by Matthew Todd.
Two ex-Hatters had made the trip from Cumbria – with Danny Pilkington featuring in the visitors' starting line-up, and Sam Sheridan taking a place on their bench. By coincidence, County's team included – in Danny Hurst and Richie Baker – a couple of former Bluebirds. And some hasty research on the night also revealed that Jack Ryan had been born a Barrovian!
An absorbing contest might have been anticipated between a top-of-the-table side and one, with strong home form, keen to get back to winning ways. In the event, though, it was to be rather less than that. In fact, for much of the first half, the teams primarily matched each other by way of losing, rather than enjoying, possession.
Threats in the final third of either end were at a premium – although, if anything, the Hatters had the slight edge there: Ryan burst into the Barrow area, before curling a shot wide; Danny Glover latched onto a Ryan header and unleashed a low drive that was slowed down by a deflection en route to ‘keeper, Aaran Taylor; Wilkinson had a piledriver deflected behind; and Todd, having beaten the offside trap, sent over an excellent cross from the right – albeit only to find defender, Danny Livesey, who had time in abundance to chest the ball into Taylor's arms.
As half-time approached, a brief flurry of excitement ensued when a Barrow corner appeared clearly to be met by the hand of a visiting player. Play was waved on, but, thankfully, came to nothing – as, indeed, it must be said, had the first forty-five minutes.
HALF-TIME: County 0, Barrow 0.
The Hatters enjoyed the first chance on offer following the break, when Lofthouse, from the edge of the Barrow area, played the ball back to Wilkinson. A resulting shot from the latter was, however, skied high into the Cheadle End.
Barrow had emerged for the second half with a seemingly greater sense of purpose, and began to apply some pressure in the direction of the County goal – in part, by forcing a succession of four corners over as many minutes. Hurst's first meaningful act of the game turned out to be a brave denial of the on-rushing Jason Walker, as the home ‘keeper threw himself to intercept a cross from the left by Andy Haworth. The visitors' leading scorer, Andy Cook, went close on two occasions shortly afterwards – shooting just wide from the edge of the box, and having another effort deflected behind. And Pilkington looked to haunt his former club with a shot that Hurst tipped over.
In what was an increasingly rare foray into the Barrow half, Glover, from just inside it, spotted Taylor off his line and tried his luck with a lobbed shot. Given the distance involved, however, the visiting ‘keeper was able to recover his position and intercept. This was to be the last contribution of the evening from Glover, as his place was taken by an initially lively Chris Sharp.
The match was still crying out for a moment of quality, when, with just over a quarter of an hour left on the clock, Barrow conjured one up. Pilkington, on the left flank, was the architect – delivering a pinpoint-perfect cross that substitute, Lewis Guy, met to fire home from close range.
The closing minutes saw Hurst having to work harder than any other Hatter, as he first dived to capture the ball from the feet of Cook, and then gathered a shot from Sheridan at the second attempt. But, by this time, the result – whatever the scoreline – was in little doubt – with County's run of three consecutive victories at EP going up in smoke and, as one might say, the way of the Furness.
FULL-TIME: County 0, Barrow 1 (Guy, 73).
Team: Hurst, Todd, Duxbury, Baker, Lees, O'Halloran, Wilkinson, Churchman, Ryan, Glover (Sharp, 68), Lofthouse.
Unused Subs: Ormson, Russell, Moses, Hancock.
Man of the Match: Churchman.
Attendance: 1,962 (143 away).