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Thursday, 21 August 2014

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MIDFIELD terrier James Owen could make his long-awaited return to the Barrow AFC starting XI as the club prepares for arguably its biggest game in three years.

Not since the 2009/10 season have the Bluebirds reached the third round of the FA Cup, but tonight they have the chance to do just that and land a mouthwatering home tie against Championship table-toppers Cardiff City.

Standing in Barrow’s way is Blue Square Bet Premier rivals Macclesfield Town, who will enter Holker Street as the bookmakers’ favourites to progress past the second round stage (kick-off 7.45pm).

The Bluebirds, however, have a proud recent history at this stage of the competition, beating Brentford and Oxford United in 2008 and 2009 respectively, both at home on midweek nights under the floodlights, to set up third round away days at Middlesbrough and Sunderland.

With central midfielder Garry Hunter set to serve a one-match suspension after totting up five yellow cards this season, 21-year-old Owen, who has featured only once as a substitute since having a heart scare two-and-a-half months ago, could be set for a return.

Barrow assistant manager Ashley Hoskin said: “It’s frustrating to lose Garry.

“We have watched Macclesfield so we know what they are all about and it will probably be the type of game that would have suited Garry and all the hard work he does off the ball.

“Then again, we have got young James Owen sat there. He has been very patient. He has been given the all-clear so maybe we’ll be looking for Jay Owen to come back, definitely on the bench, he probably might even start.”

Barrow could also be without first-choice keeper Danny Hurst tonight after he suffered a dislocated finger in the 2-0 home league loss against Hereford United on Friday. The 32-year-old has started all 26 games so far this season.

Should he fail to maintain his ever-present record, Hurst will likely be replaced by Shaun Pearson.

Elsewhere, former Macclesfield defender Sean Hessey could be moved from left-back to centre-half and Gavin Skelton recalled, while striker Joe Jackson and attacking midfielder Sean McConville are pushing for starts.

On-loan teenage centre-half Neill Byrne is cup-tied having already played for Rochdale in this season’s competition.

Winger Danny Rowe, who broke his toe seven games ago, is unlikely to feature.

Hoskin said: “Danny did a little bit in training on Friday and said he still felt it (his injury) a bit when he was striking the ball.

“It was unfortunate because he was playing really well when he got injured. I don’t think he’s going to be quite right for the FA Cup game.”

Barrow and Macclesfield were supposed to play their tie 10 days ago, but the game was controversially postponed when referee Eddie Ilderton deemed the pitch partly frozen less than two hours before kick-off.

And with another hard frost forecast for last night, both clubs were keeping their fingers crossed that the match would go ahead at the second time of asking.

As well as a home tie against Cardiff in the third round, at stake tonight is £27,000 in prize money.

For the Bluebirds, it is also a chance stretch their winning run in home cup matches this season to four games, following victories over Tamworth and Guiseley in the FA Cup and Hyde in the FA Trophy.

That is in stark contrast to relegation-battling Barrow’s league form at Holker Street, which has heralded just one win this term.

Hoskin, whose side lost 2-0 at Macclesfield in the league three-and-a-half months ago, said: “It’s a massive game.

“The fans will come in their droves because they are top-drawer.

“I don’t blame any supporters for their boos at the end of the Hereford game last Friday. They pay their money, and it’s hard earned money in this neck of the woods, as it is all over the country, and they had every right to make their feelings known.

“I hope we can get them cheering again with another FA Cup win.”

Barrow (from): S Pearson, Flynn, Skelton, M Pearson, Hessey, Owen, Harvey, Baker, Almond, Boyes, Jackson, Hurst, Anderson, Rutherford, McConville.

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