Barnton vs Bacup Borough, North West Counties Football League Division One Play Off Final, 14/05/16, Townfield, Match 38
I have to say that I’ve never really enjoyed the play-offs, but that’s due to the fact that in the last three play-off finals I’ve seen Shrewsbury Town in, we’ve only won one, and that was back in the 2003 to 2004 season, where we narrowly overcame Aldershot Town to regain our place in the Football League. Recently there has been Chorley’s defeat in the play-offs, as Guiseley came back from behind in the 2014 to 2015 season play-offs to book a place in the National League. So I was looking forward to taking in a play-off final as a neutral, with nothing to lose.
This was proving to be a popular fixture on twitter with plenty of people tweeting that they would be in attendance, and the people in charge of Barnton must have been rubbing their hands together in glee at the thought of the payday that this fixture would provide. I must say that Barnton did a fantastic job of advertising this fixture, especially with the short notice they had, as the semi-finals only took place on Monday.
In the semi-finals on Monday evening, Barnton who finished the season in 3rd position in the league, faced Cheadle Town, who finished the season in 6th. Barnton had to come from behind to take the game to extra time, where Kevin Towey finished his hat-trick, and Matthew Rigby assured them of a place in the final, with the game ending 4-1 to Barnton. The 4-1 scoreline doesn’t really show the drama of the game, as Towey came on as a sub at half time, before scoring the equalizer in the 78th minute, the game then went to extra time, and Towey netted twice more, in the 97th and 99th minute, before Rigby netted in the 117th to make it 4-1. Bacup Borough finished the season in 5th place, and went to 4th placed Stockport Town, Bacup had an easier semi-final as they took the lead in the 11th minute through Matthew Bell, before Adrian Bellamy doubled the score in the 36th minute, and 2-0 it finished, setting up today’s final.
I arrived at Barnton’s Townfield ground at 14.25pm, and after parking my car on the road outside, being mindful as to where I parked I must add, I headed to the turnstiles, which took the shape of what looked to be a garden shed, and paid £5 for entry and a further £1.50 for a programme. As I mentioned in the last blog, I will be writing a season review, and I feel that Barnton may have produced the programme of the season, as this was a belter of a programme, and was well worth the £1.50 I paid for it.
Townfield has a lot of room to grow into, and for a ground that up until 2014 was hosting Cheshire League football, there has been a lot of work completed, and Barnton do have a good ground to call home. The facilities are well-maintained, and I was impressed by what I found. On all four sides of the ground is hard-standing, with the refreshment hut/bar and the changing rooms standing in the corner nearest to the turnstiles. On the touchline closest to the changing rooms stand the dugouts, and a small covered stand which provides the only seats in the ground. On the opposite touchline stands a small covered stand. As I have already mentioned there is plenty of room for Barnton to grow into, and I can only imagine that more ground improvements are to come. One last thing about Townfield is that there is a noticeable slope from the turnstile end down to the other goal, it’s probably comparable to Barnet’s Underhill stadium, or Atherton Colleries’ Alder House.
Barnton were formed in 1946, and two years later they became founder members of the Mid-Cheshire League, with this league being renamed the Cheshire Association Football League in 2007. Barnton have won the Mid-Cheshire League on 11 occasions, with seven of those coming consecutively between the 1996 to 1997 season and the 2002 to 2003 season, which is impressive at any level. Barnton were to also win the Cheshire League Division Two in the 2012 to 2013 season. As well as being successful in the league, the club have won the Mid-Cheshire League Challenge Cup on 14 occasions with the latest being in the 2003 to 2004 season, Barnton have also been successful in the Cheshire Amateur Cup, 4 occasions, the Cheshire Senior Cup, once, the Mid-Cheshire Saturday Challenge Cup, once. More recently the club have won the Reusch First Division Cup this season, in a game that ended 5-4 on penalties, with Hanley Town being the defeated side.
Bacup Borough were formed in 1875 as Bacup Baldies, and when Barrow resigned from the Lancashire League in November 1893, Bacup replaced them and took over their fixtures for the 1893-1894 season. Bacup were founder members of the Lancashire Combination in the 1903 to 1904 season, playing in Division Two. The club were promoted in the 1910 to 1911 season, after finishing 6th in the league. The club left the league in 1915, but re-joined in 1920, and changed their name to Bacup Borough in the process. Bacup were to be founder members of the North West Counties League in 1982, and joined Division Three, and in 1987, Division Three was absorbed by Division Two. Bacup have played in Division One of the NWCFL since winning Division Two in the 2002-2003, and were awarded a reprieve in the 2013 to 2014 season, as no teams were relegated.
Once in the ground, I spotted a few people with cans of beer, and worked out that they were getting them from the bar, in the wooden refreshment hut. I decided to treat myself, and began to hope that they had a good cider available. Instead I had to settle for Strongbow, and parted with £2.50 for the can. For the first half I stood opposite the dugouts, and I found a good place to stand, and watch the warm-ups whilst I drank my can of Strongbow. I didn’t have long to enjoy the can, as it was soon knocked out of my hand by a ball. It’s my own fault, as I was too busy posting on Instagram (follow me: My Instagram) about the can of Strongbow, when a ball was miss-hit and it bounced into me, luckily not a lot of the can was spilt, and I’d guess that I enjoyed about half a can.
Bacup Borough were to start the game kicking up the slope, with Barnton attacking downhill. I did wonder how much difference the slope would make to the proceedings, as surely it would tire the players out, having to run up and down it?
It didn’t take long for me to be bemused by one of the referee’s decisions, as around the 6th minute, the Bacup keeper, Joshua Harris, came a long way out of his goal, to deal with the loose ball. However despite his team-mate’s warnings, he dithered on the ball, and was caught out by Barnton’s number 9 Chris Smith, who nicked the ball off of Harris, now if Smith had turned and shot, then I am pretty sure Barnton would have been 1-0 up, however as it happened, Harris booted Smith in the back of the leg, bringing the Barnton player down. The ref blew his whistle, and I fully expected the keeper to receive his marching orders, however the ref awarded a free-kick to Bacup, a decision I have been unable to work out. Harris then went down injured a couple of minutes later, clearly still feeling the result of booting Smith in the back of the leg.
The first half was mainly dominated by Barnton attacks, with the Bacup defence having to be awake to the threat that Barnton were posing when going forward, I have to say that I was impressed by the Bacup number 5, Gareth Wager, who was doing an excellent job in the centre of defence.
Half time: Barnton 0-0 Bacup Borough
Barnton should have been in front, for all their domination, but a combination of poor finishing and good defending, meant that the first half ended all square. I decided to take my normal walk around the ground, and made the decision to go and get another can of Strongbow to make up for the other can. For the second half I decided to stand by the dugouts, and for the rest of the break I watched the Barnton management deliver their team-talk on the pitch.
The second half resumed where the first half had left off, with Barnton pushing forward, and Bacup defending well. Bacup did pose a threat when they went forward, but mainly it was Barnton getting furthest forward.
Barnton were to make the first change of the game in the 61st minute, as number 9 Chris Smith came off to be replaced by number 16, Ryan Malone. Smith had put a good shift in, but the management obviously felt a fresh pair of legs might unlock the Bacup defence.
There was something interesting about standing near the bench, and that was seeing the Barnton manager, Danny Meadowcroft, making his decisions. He was clearly unimpressed with something that the Barnton number 2, Jordan Stafford, did, and in the 76th minute Stafford was taken off, to be replaced by number 17 Callum Richards. Richards looks to be a good player, and I’m not sure why he didn’t start the game, as he provided good support down the right wing.
With the game nearing the end of normal time, the tannoy announcer declared that if the game ended level then it would go to extra time, with two halves of fifteen minutes and then penalties. Neither side would have wanted this game to go to extra time, but with neither side looking likely to score, it was inevitable.
End of normal time: Barnton 0-0 Bacup Borough
So it was to go to extra time, a winner couldn’t be found in normal time, and to be honest I felt that Barnton should have won this game during normal time, as they were the more dominant side. Bacup were playing well, but they were playing well in defence, and were doing a great job of keeping Barnton’s attack at bay.
There was a short break, before extra time kicked off, with Barnton electing to kick up hill for the first fifteen minutes. During this break Bacup made a change with their number 10, Kyle Hendley, being replaced by their number 14, Jordan Rutter.
The opening goal of the game came in the 101st minute of the game, or the 11th minute of the first half of extra time. The ball was delivered in from the right wing by Barnton’s number 10, Daniel Laverty, and Jason McShane, Barnton’s number 8, found himself unmarked and in plenty of space in the area, and he made no mistake with his header, as he powered the ball past Joshua Harris in the Bacup goal.
Bacup made a change in the 105th minute, as they bought their number 7, Michael Gervin off, to be replaced by their number 12, Joshua Walne.
End of First Half of Extra Time: Barnton 1-0 Bacup Borough (McShane 101)
There was a quick drinks break, and the two sides changed halves, with Barnton now kicking downhill.
Barnton made their final change in the 113th minute, as their number 7, Kevin Towey, was replaced by number 14, Callum Scott.
The goal seemed to wake Bacup up, and now they were pushing forward, and even as a neutral, my heart was in my mouth every time Bacup went forward, and I wouldn’t like to imagine how the Barnton fans and management felt.
Barnton were saved by their keeper, Richard Mottram, who pulled off an absolute world class save in the 119th minute, as he denied a powerful drive to keep Barnton in the lead. Mottram had had a quiet game, but it just shows how good a keeper he is, as he reflexively got his fingers to the ball to divert away a shot which looked destined for the top corner.
The game was to hold one more goal, but it came for Barnton, in the 120th minute, as they secured the win. With Bacup committing more players forward to try and find an equalizer, they were leaving gaps at the back, and Barnton capitalized that. With some good work down the left wing, the ball ended up at the feet of Barnton’s number 16, Ryan Malone, who fired past the onrushing keeper, his shot hit the left hand post, and agonizingly slowly trickled along the goal line, before finally ending up in the back of the net.
Full Time: Barnton 2-0 Bacup Borough (McShane 101, Malone 120)
Following the final whistle, the Barnton players and management celebrated wildly, and who can blame them? They had narrowly missed out on automatic promotion, but had now secured it through the play-offs. Now Barnton will play in the NWCFL Premier Division, and will face the likes of Atherton Colleries, Runcorn Linnets and AFC Darwen to name but a few.
There was a short trophy presentation, with the referee and his linesmen picking up medals for their participation in the match. The ref did make a couple of odd decisions, such as his decision in the first half to give a free kick to the Bacup keeper, when the keeper committed the foul (in my opinion). But to the referee’s credit, he did attempt to allow the game to play, and I’d have to say he had an alright game. Once the referee and his assistants had picked up their medals, it was time for Bacup to collect theirs, not that I can imagine the Bacup players cared much about the medals, as they will serve as a reminder of the time they lost a match, I’m not sure why medals are given to the runners up, but still it’s a memento of the game for them. Barnton were then presented with the trophy for winning the play-off finals, as well as being represented with the Reusch First Division Cup. Even after I had left the ground and walked back to my car, I could still hear the Barnton players celebrating, and I am sure there will be some sore heads tomorrow morning, but they’ve worked hard for this so they deserve to celebrate.
Bacup Borough played well in this match, and to be fair they could have taken this game to penalties. Hopefully they’ll use this game as motivation for next season, and come back stronger, in watching Barnton lift the trophy, they have seen what they could have won, like the contestants on Bullseye, “And here’s what you could have won.” I was impressed by the Bacup defence, as they dealt well with Barnton’s attacking threat, and I’d say if Bacup manage to keep the same players in defence, and the same defensive discipline then they’ll have a good base to build off.
Barnton will now have the opportunity to test themselves at a higher level, and it will be interesting to see what they do next season, whether they’ll flourish or flounder is anyone’s guess. They do have a good manager in Danny Meadowcroft, and clearly have a good squad of players, so maybe they’ll find their feet at a higher level and will continue to push forwards.
Good luck to both clubs in the future.
Hat-tricks seen so far: 3 (Once more, next hat-trick I see I will donate £5 to charity)
Next game: Not sure yet, I’m sure the Non-League Paper will reveal an interesting fixture. I’m not ready for this season to end yet!
Barnton’s twitter: https://twitter.com/barntonfc
Bacup Borough’s twitter: https://twitter.com/BacupBoro