By Simon Gray
The FA Cup Second Round has begun and after an unsuccessful trip to Hartlepool with Stamford in the First Round where sadly, there was not an upset, I travelled down to Bristol to see if National League side Barrow could knock League One Bristol Rovers out of the FA Cup.
Rovers had been knocked out at the First Round stage last season to minnows Chesham United and Barrow had gone 21 league and cup matches unbeaten so an upset was certainly not out of the question.
Upon arriving at the Memorial Stadium on a very cold Sunday afternoon, I set out looking for Barrow fans to speak to ahead of the day’s game.
I spoke to a regular match day goer in the form of Steve Evans, who spoke about their chances of progression to the Third Round, a stage where Barrow had only reached 11 times in their 115-year history.
Steve also spoke of how although getting out of the National League was very important to the fans, a cup run would be great.
Reading up in the week about both teams’ style of play it would suggest that the way that Barrow play using their physicality would put the Rovers backline under pressure.
The match begun with a very slow start with neither side managing to get a foothold of the game until the 10th minute where Lee Brown’s shot smashed back off the post before Rory Gaffney tapped in Luke James’ rebound for the hosts.
Although the catalyst for their goal, Rovers’ passing play never really got going and just six minutes later a long ball up by Barrow keeper Tim Erlandsson was flicked on by Ryan Bennett and there was Byron Harrison to round Kelle Roos and make the scoreline 1-1, Harrison scoring his 18th goal of the season.
From the equaliser neither team really threatened the two keepers until the 39th minute where a mistake by Rovers captain Tom Lockyer led to Harrison bursting through, he was denied by Roos before his strike partner Bennett went down under the challenge from the Rovers keeper but he was booked by the referee for simulation.
Rovers then nearly took the lead once more after an Erlandsson clearance cannoned off of the back of Rovers midfielder Chris Lines but the ball trickled just wide of the post.
The half time whistle blew and nothing could really separate the two sides but the way the Barrow centre forwards were bullying the Rovers back three led to them having the better of the first half.
Speaking to a Rovers fan at half time, she told me “Rovers have not been great this half and will have to watch out in the second half as if they get complacent then they could be in trouble”.
Both sides re-emerged for the second half and it was Rovers who changed things up bringing on striker Ellis Harrison for defender James Clarke and switching to a 4-3-3 from their initial 3-5-2.
The change in personnel and formation seemed to help the home side who started the second half the better as Harrison proved an attacking threat helping the ball into Stuart Sinclair who had two attempts blocked by the Barrow backline.
A deflected Lee Brown cross then clipped the top of the crossbar but it was the away side Barrow who would take the lead as a Liam Hughes cross was turned in by Byron Harrison to make it 2-1 scoring his second of the game, it was also his 13th in 10 matches.
Rovers immediately switched things up again, bringing on wingers Billy Bodin and Cristian Montano for Luke James and Stuart Sinclair and going 4-4-2 as they tried to breach the two banks of four which soon became all 11 Barrow men behind the ball.
Rovers would hit the bar a second time as Gaffney raced through before smashing his effort off the woodwork when Erlandsson looked beaten.
Gaffney then had Rovers’ best chance to equalise as he somehow put his rebound wide after a stupendous save from Erlandsson to deny Lines.
Rovers would then have one final chance right at the death when right back Daniel Leadbitter blasted over under pressure from eight yards out.
The referee blew full time and magic had been made, Barrow are now 22 games unbeaten and will be in the Third Round of the FA Cup for the 12th time in their history. As for Rovers, they lose at home to non-league opposition for the second straight season.
The Barrow players would immediately run to their supporters who had been buoyant all game. A great win and a lovely trip home to Cumbria for the National League side.