BARROW AFC 1 (Harrison 5pen) TRANMERE ROVERS 1 (Norwood 90)

WHAT is it with matches between Barrow AFC and Tranmere Rovers?

Every year, there seems to be a late goal to make a difference and add spectacular drama to encounters between the two sides.

Two years ago, Barrow led 3-1 with minutes left and somehow lost 4-3; earlier this year, James Norwood scored the only goal at Prenton Park in injury-time; and now this.

It was Norwood again who broke Barrow’s hearts after they had taken the lead when Byron Harrison converted a penalty won by Grant Holt.

Norwood had endured an afternoon to forget, spurning several chances and seeing Barrow keeper Joel Dixon deny him with a string of quality saves, and yet in the 93rd minute, up he popped again.

It was a goal with some controversy about it, as Dixon had kicked the ball out to allow captain Asa Hall to receive treatment, and Rovers decided to keep it rather than give it back. Tranmere could point to an earlier incident when Dan Jones had kept playing when Adam Buxton was down injured as justification, but it still left a slightly sour taste.

The visitors played the ball to the back post and Norwood was there to poke home and beat Dixon – with far from his easiest chance of the day.

And so Barrow had to settle for a draw after one of their best home displays and one of the most entertaining afternoons on this turf in some time.

The big question ahead of kick-off was who would replace departed loanee Jimmy Dunne alongside Moussa Diarra in the middle of the AFC defence.

Thierry Audel was given the nod ahead of Paul Bignot and Tony Diagne, as one of four changes from the side who drew 3-3 at Wrexham on New Year’s Day.

Up front, Harrison and Holt regained their places at the expense of Adi Yussuf and Jordan White, with Bedsente Gomis taking the midfield berth of young Frenchman Donovan Makoma.

The decision to field Holt seemed to be a direct response to the presence of Steve McNulty in the heart of the Rovers defence, a man who has dominated numerous AFC forwards in the years since he departed Holker Street himself. Certainly, both parties seemed to enjoy the battle.

And it was clear from the start it was a good move, with the veteran front-man upsetting the experienced centre-half, and just four minutes in – after strong calls for handball in the area were waved away – it paid dividends.

Holt went down in a tangle of McNulty’s legs on the edge of the area, and even the most ardent of Rovers supporters would have found it hard to argue it was not a penalty.

After referee Matthew Dicicco pointed to the spot, Harrison claimed the ball, put it on the spot and slid it into the corner, with keeper Rhys Taylor – his signing announced little more than an hour before kick-off – going the wrong way.

There was an opening for a quick second as Dan Jones fooled Tranmere by taking a short throw and then delivering a cross instead, which Taylor flapped at, but no-one along the edge of the box could connect and it was cleared.

Tranmere now had a spell where, if not in the ascendancy, they had the better chances – several of them clear-cut and begging to be put away.

A quick break down the left from Eddy Clarke saw the ball played across to Ollie Norburn at the back post, and he put it on a plate for Norwood, but Diarra put himself in the way as he went up, the only shock being a corner was not awarded.

Similarly at the other end, Harry Panayiotou had an effort which was blocked behind, but again a goal-kick was awarded to the bafflement of all concerned.

Rovers were playing well on the break, and Norwood was through one-on-one with Dixon with the perfect chance to equalise, but he blasted goalward and found the Barrow keeper stood tall in his way to block.

Back came the Bluebirds to force two quick corners, Taylor just about managing to punch the first one back out again, and Audel blazing over from close range after a scramble in the area, with legs everywhere.

Jay Harris tried his luck from 30 yards, but hit his effort right at Dixon, before Norburn played in Norwood once more and he again fired at the near post, where Dixon got behind it and held well.

Larnell Cole had a fine opening when he was played through into space, but pressure from Jack Barthram saw him hit his effort far off target.

Harrison showed his skills to get to the byline, lift the ball over McNulty and then try to scoop it past Taylor, but the keeper was in his face to block.

The chances had been going all one way, yet on the stroke of half-time there were two near-misses for the Bluebirds.

Firstly, Calum Macdonald tried his luck from 20 yards, and a deflection took his effort inches past the post. Panayiotou’s corner came in and fell to Gomis 20 yards out. He took control and hit a looping effort with his in-step to beat Taylor and smack the face of the bar.

It was all Rovers after half-time, Norwood curling an effort round the far post from the edge of the area before Dixon made a superb double save.

Norwood must have thought his luck was finally in when he was played in on the right of the box, but his shot was superbly parried away. It looped up and came to Andy Cook, but the former Bluebird’s effort was stopped by his old team-mate, as Dixon moved into the perfect position to block.

Diarra then showed his defensive skills with a superb tackle to dispossess the dangerous Norwood, with the resulting corner headed wide of the near post by Ritchie Sutton.

Barrow still had occasional openings, and the game should have been put to bed when Holt did well on the left and put in a cross that beat everyone and found Panayiotou in space at the far post. With the goal gaping, he snatched at his chance and swiped wide.

More good footwork from Holt found Jones in the area, but Buxton came across to him just in time.

Buxton flashed a free-kick across the face of goal at the other end, but his afternoon was over as he fell heavily on his head going for an aerial ball in his own half. Though in the tunnel after the game he was talking with team-mates and saying it was nothing worse than ‘a headache’, the injury held up the game for eight minutes as he was treated by medical staff before he was taken off on a stretcher.

The hold-up disrupted the flow of the game, with Barrow losing any impetus they had gained.

Rovers piled on more and more pressure, with nine minutes of stoppage-time to be negotiated and the visitors the side looking more and more likely.

When Norwood struck, it was despair among the home fans who had started to hope it was going to be their day.

As those nine minutes dragged on, both sides had chances – with Taylor spilling a Bradley Bauress free-kick, and the ball lying on the ground in the area for an eternity before the keeper eventually got to it before anyone else.

Then, Connor Jennings shot just wide from inside the Barrow area – ensuring AFC fans did not have to endure a repeat of 2016 and a defeat from the jaws of victory.

The draw was the fair result, no matter what Tranmere’s manager Micky Mellon had to say later about this being a totally one-sided game – conveniently discounting those AFC chances to seal all three points.


Barrow AFC (4-4-2): Joel Dixon 9, Jack Barthram 8, Calum Macdonald 7, Thierry Audel 8, Moussa Diarra 8, Harry Panayiotou 7, Asa Hall 8 (Tony Diagne 90), Bedsente Gomis 8, Grant Holt 7 (Jordan White 89), Byron Harrison 7, Dan Jones 8 (Bradley Bauress 88).

Substitutes Not Used: Adi Yussuf, Donovan Makoma.

Yellow Cards: Hall (42), Jones (55).

Tranmere Rovers: Rhys Taylor, Adam Buxton (Liam Ridehalgh 77), Ritchie Sutton, Steve McNulty, Eddy Clarke, Jay Harris (Jeff Hughes 59), Connor Jennings, Ollie Norburn, Larnell Cole (Jake Kirby 65), Andy Cook, James Norwood.

Substitutes Not Used: Luke Pilling, Evan Gumbs.

Yellow Cards: Norburn (34), Hughes (79).

Referee: Matthew Dicicco.

Attendance: 1,470 (368 from Tranmere).

Next Game: Brackley Town v Barrow AFC, FA Trophy, Saturday, 3pm.


Joel Dixon: He saved Barrow numerous times in the first half, with several top-drawer stops. Looked confident throughout.