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Tuesday, 07 July 2015

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Wembley dream dies as woodwork and weak defending cost Barrow AFC dear

BARROW AFC’s Wembley dream was extinguished in Lincolnshire as they slumped to a 2-0 defeat at Conference North high-flyers Gainsborough Trinity in last night’s FA Trophy quarter-final clash.

The Bluebirds’ Achilles heel once again proved to be their inability to defend set-pieces, with central midfielder Michael Leary and centre-back Luke Waterfall scoring from first-half free-kicks to book Gainsborough a semi-final date with Wrexham.

Barrow suffered a huge blow prior to kick-off as their number one goalkeeper Danny Hurst was ruled out with a heavily bruised shoulder – an injury he sustained in Saturday’s 1-0 home win over Luton Town.

While Shaun Pearson deputised for Hurst between the sticks, Bluebirds boss Dave Bayliss was only able to name three substitutes as his threadbare squad was missing new signings Lee McEvilly and Danny L Rowe who were both cup-tied.

Centre-back Danny O’Donnell was also cup-tied, although he is also sidelined with a dislocated shoulder.

Blue Square Bet Premier side Barrow may compete in the league above Trinity, but just seven places separate the rivals in the football pyramid – and there was no obvious gulf in class.

In fact, the first half offered Barrow a sobering glimpse of how difficult life could be in the Conference North should they drop through the league trapdoor. The hosts displayed far more energy and cohesion in the opening period as the Bluebirds took time to get in their stride.

But Barrow still engineered enough chances to win the tie and can count themselves a little unfortunate after twice hitting the post and easily winning the territorial battle in the second half.

Barrow’s light blue away kit clashed with the royal blue of Gainsborough, which meant Dave Bayliss’s men were forced to wear the hosts’ yellow away strip. And they looked far from comfortable in their new attire during the early stages as Gainsborough – led from the touchline by Steve Housham, plus his assistant and former Bluebirds team-mate Lee Warren – pressed forward.

Keeper Pearson would have been pleased to warm his hands on a cool evening as he collected Craig Nelthorpe’s weak fourth-minute header, following a cross from striker Darryn Stamp.

The Bluebirds stopper was called into action again two minutes later when Michael Leary aimed a header straight down his throat. Barrow were struggling to get a foothold in proceedings, although leading marksman Adam Boyes showed his attacking intent when he fired over on 10 minutes.

Gainsborough went back on the front foot though, with midfielder Jamie Yates collecting one-time AFC loan man Nelthorpe’s pinpoint diagonal long pass, before over-cooking his left-flank cross which flew to safety.

Barrow almost broke the deadlock, soon after, when recalled midfielder Sean McConville met a cross to power a header on goal. With the ball heading towards the right-hand corner, Trinity keeper Jan Budtz stretched out his left hand to palm the ball to safety.

But that chance proved to be a rare positive of a largely disappointing first-half as Gainsborough pushed forward in a bid to capitalise on their superior possession.

Simon Russell went close when he whistled a 16-yard shot just wide.

And Housham’s outfit finally had something to show for their pressure on 21 minutes when they took the lead from Terry Hawkridge’s set-piece.

The midfielder’s delivery to the far right-hand post was met by Stamp who showed a good touch to pass the ball across goal, giving Leary the simple task of converting from a few yards out.

The goal seemed to unnerve Bluebirds keeper Pearson who spilled a cross on 24 minutes. The resulting corner fell to Leary who couldn’t add to his personal tally as he fired over from the edge of the box.

However, Gainsborough did double their advantage on 28 minutes from another Hawkridge set-piece. This time, he lifted the ball into the heart of the box and Waterfall, who was afforded far too much space, headed the ball into the left-hand corner.

Hessey did well to block Stamp’s drive on 32 minutes, and moments later, Matt Flynn offered brief respite when he headed over the bar before Budtz beat away Boyes’s drive at the other end.

A sweeping Gainsborough move saw Nelthorpe receive the ball on the left-hand side before his dangerous cross was well cleared by Bluebirds defender Gavin Skelton. Pearson comfortably saved Stamp’s header before Richie Baker aimed his shot straight at Budtz.

Despite being second best for most of the first half, Barrow still created a few decent chances – with their best of the period arriving on 44 minutes.

On this occasion, Boyes got on the end of a right-hand cross but his cute side-footed shot, from around 10 yards, agonizingly rolled onto the right-hand post before the danger was cleared.

Gainsborough went back on the attack after the re-start with Hawkridge firing a 20-yard drive into the arms of Pearson.

Bayliss threw on attacker Danny Rowe at the expense of Sean McConville on 50 minutes. Barrow continued to pose an attacking threat and hit the woodwork for a second time from Skelton’s 52nd-minute free kick. Flynn once again rose well to plant his stinging header against the bar before the ball was cleared.

Nelthorpe cleared the bar with a speculative effort before Skelton found space on the left before he unleashed a rasping low shot which was turned around the right-hand post by Budtz.

The visitors had well and truly warmed to their task in trying to keep the tie alive, as Flynn and midfielder Paul Rutherford both missed the target from distance.

Barrow continued to go in search of a goal but their admirable industry was not matched by their finishing, with midfielder Richie Baker arrowing an angled effort just wide of the post.

To make their task harder, Gainsborough were defending in a resolute fashion, none more so than when they blocked strikes from Baker and Rutherford in quick succession.

Flynn failed to threaten the home side’s goal with a further effort as their three-match winning run came to an abrupt end, and so too did their Trophy campaign.

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