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Friday, 01 August 2014

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Familiar failings see AFC’s cup dream die

BARROW AFC’s defensive frailties cost them a game opposition manager Steve King believes is worth a whopping £100,000.

With £27,000 in prize money and a lucrative third round home tie against Championship leaders Cardiff City up for grabs, the Bluebirds missed out – big time.

That’s not to say the Barrow players didn’t give their all in Saturday’s second round replay at a sodden Moss Rose, because they did.

But such blood and sweat can only go so far in getting a result, especially when a team, already lacking in confidence, continues to leak goals in the manner Dave Bayliss’s side does.

The first moment of vulnerability came on just seven minutes when Macclesfield right-back Ryan Jackson was gifted the space to waltz towards the byline and pull the ball back for one-time Barrow triallist John Paul Kissock – who the Cheshire club have deemed the ‘non-league Messi’ – to rifle a volley into the roof of the net.

And it got even worse nine minutes later when, following a miss-kick by centre-half Sean Hessey, Silkmen striker Chris Holroyd side-footed an 18-yard shot down the middle of the goal that Barrow keeper Danny Hurst watched squirm under his body and over the line. It was as if the Bluebirds, who would have deservedly won the first meeting at Holker Street were it not for some wasteful finishing in front of goal, had pressed the self-destruct button.

But among the dismay and head-shaking came hope less than 60 seconds later when winger Paul Rutherford fed top-scorer Adam Boyes, who from 14 yards out expertly guided a toe-poke into the bottom corner to grab his 11th goal of the season. Suddenly it was game-on again.

Five minutes later Barrow, missing 10-goal midfielder Richie Baker through a badly bruised foot, should have equalised when striker Boyes teed-up an unmarked Sean McConville, but the winger fired his shot straight at Lance Cronin when anything either side of the home keeper would have surely rippled the net.

Louis Almond then crashed a shot over the bar, before Hessey fizzed a ferocious 30-yard free-kick just past the upright.

At the other end, striker Matthew Barnes-Homer, who scored twice when Macclesfield beat Barrow 2-0 in a league meeting at the same venue four months ago, blazed an effort over the top after Hurst had failed to deal with a high ball into the box.

On a rain-soaked pitch that survived three morning inspections, slide tackles continued to pour in, with AFC’s tenacious midfield pair of James Owen and Alex-Ray Harvey dishing out their fair share.

Although not of the sliding variety, one such strong challenge by Macclesfield centre-half Carl Martin on Boyes inside the box brought screams for a penalty from the Barrow players. Referee Phil Gibbs, however, was quick to wave play-on.

A pulsating first half came to an end soon after, but not before former AFC team-mates Jack Mackreth and Gavin Skelton had squared up, with the former, now a Macclesfield winger, thrusting a forearm into the chest of the experienced Barrow left-back.

Similar tensions could be felt off the field too, following an allegation that a Barrow supporter directed racial abuse towards Macclesfield skipper Nat Brown in the first meeting at Holker Street 11 days earlier.

McConville and Kissock wasted chances for their respective teams early in the second half, before, on 57 minutes, midfielder Kieran Murtagh skewed an excellent opportunity over the bar for the hosts.

The tie was on a knife-edge and Barrow were still bang in it, until, on 66 minutes, the visitors conceded yet another soft goal to their Blue Square Bet Premier rivals.

This time it came from a ball over the top that allowed Barnes-Homer to out-muscle AFC centre-half Mike Pearson, round Hurst and slot a third goal into an unguarded net.

Any hopes the Bluebirds had of a comeback were well and truly distinguished three minutes later when, following a cross by Mackreth, a shot into the turf by Holroyd bounced up and over Hurst to make it 4-1 to the Silkmen.

Bayliss, who had already introduced winger Danny Rowe off the bench, threw on another striker in the shape of Joe Jackson but by then the game was done and dusted.

Beaten by the better team on the day, Barrow, whose squad needs a heavy injection of experience and quality in January, must now shift their attention to league matters and an impending relegation battle.

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