Barrow AFC 2-2 Stockport County

The Hatters began their festive programme with a Boxing Day trip to fellow top-three club Barrow, and returned from Cumbria with a hard-earned draw, following a pulsating two-goal comeback, that leaves them four points clear at the head of the table.

A pair of early Barrow strikes put the hosts well in control, before substitute Nick Powell’s second goal of the campaign threw County a lifeline on the stroke of half-time, and another new arrival, Akil Wright, got the Hatters back on level terms shortly after it.

The Hatters took to the field on a pleasantly bright holiday afternoon, and in front of Barrow’s largest league attendance for over 54 years, showing just one change from their starting line-up at Edgeley Park against Notts County four days earlier. Callum Camps was the player recalled, replacing Paddy Madden who was named among the substitutes – while Ryan Croasdale took the captain’s armband in Madden’s stead.

The in-form hosts, who had enjoyed seven straight wins in their previous seven L2 games and not suffered a league defeat for precisely 12 weeks, as well as remaining unbeaten at home, started with two former Hatters – namely, Elliot Newby and Ben Whitfield – who had featured in County’s National League title-winning campaign of 2021/22.

The ‘Bluebirds’ got off to the proverbial flyer by scoring with the contest’s first attack and only 67 seconds played. Kian Spence’s shot from 12 yards out was heading wide of the left post when it fell to Whitfield, who, despite having looked to be in an offside position, blasted home from close range for a second Barrow goal at the Hatters’ expense.

Eight minutes later, County created a half-chance as Ibby Touray’s cross from the left found Kyle Wootton, who, under pressure, headed wide of the near upright. And, just before the quarter-hour mark, Barrow earned the first corner of the day, after Ben Hinchliffe tipped around the right post another shot from Whitfield, who had been played through by Dom Telford.

Just after the first half’s mid-point, Whitfield and Spence combined again to score – albeit this time with the roles reversed, as the ex-Hatter delivered from the left by-line for the midfielder to turn in a second for the hosts.

Camps fired wide of the right post from distance, and the Hatters earned a couple of corners in quick succession – albeit without finding a way through their division’s meanest defence. And, having made an attacking double-substitution that introduced Powell and Jayden Richardson four minutes before half-time, they fashioned their first opportunity of real note, as Tanto Oalofe headed a Camps delivery beyond the right post.

Four minutes of added time were announced, and they witnessed, in their short duration, a distinctive shift of momentum – no more so than through Powell, whose low, left-footed drive fizzed into the net to halve the arrears. Camps then saw a strike deflected off home captain Niall Canavan beyond the left upright, and goalkeeper Paul Farman was forced to tip over the consequential, in-swinging corner by Kyle Knoyle.

HALF-TIME: Barrow 2 (Whitfield, 2; Spence, 23), County 1 (Powell, 45 + 2). 

County brought on another two substitutes together upon the resumption, as Madden and one-time Bluebird Wright began the second half – and, within five minutes of his introduction, Madden had flashed a shot high and wide to the right of goal.

Odin Bailey then went closer, courtesy of a thunderbolt from the edge of the area that Farman tipped on to the crossbar and over. And from the resulting, short corner, taken by Camps on the left, Bailey took the ball to the by-line and crossed for Wright to head home an equaliser against his former club.

Wootton was the next Hatter to test Farman – forcing Barrow’s Number One to parry past the near post an angled shot from the right, after being fed by Richardson. And Canavan threw himself in the way of a Bailey effort to block.

At the other end, Wootton helped out in defence to tremendous effect, as he cleared a goal-bound Spence shot; substitute Emile Acquah spurned a chance to score by mis-kicking into the waiting hands of Hinchliffe; Spence fired just beyond the right post from distance; and Hinchliffe made a stunning save to deny Acquah, who had connected with a Newby delivery from inside the box.

The hosts, through George Ray, did have the ball in the net half a dozen minutes from time – only to find that Referee Coy had already whistled for a foul by James Chester on Ethan Pye.

FULL-TIME: Barrow 2 (Whitfield, 2; Spence, 23), County 2 (Powell, 45 + 2; Wright, 54). 

Team (5-3-2): Hinchliffe; Knoyle (Wright, 46), Byrne (Powell, 41), Horsfall, Pye, Touray; Croasdale (Capt.) (Richardson, 41), Camps, Bailey; Wootton, Olaofe (Madden, 46).

Unused Subs: Smith, Cotterill, Johnson.

Booked: Madden, Horsfall, Wright, Wootton.

Attendance: 5,866 (577 away).

Reporter: Gareth Evans.

Photographer: Mike Petch.


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