BARTON were unable to collect a third Owen Cup in four years after suffering defeat against Cannock in Saturday’s final.
After trailing 11-5 at the break, tries from Matt Bloxham and Jon Shum had put Barton the ascendency at Stoke RFC.
But Cannock’s dominance at the scrum proved crucial as the half progressed, paving the way for a brace of tries.
Barton piled on the pressure in the latter stages in a bid to force extra-time, but the Holland Sports Club outfit were unable to get over the line for a fourth time in the match.
Barton skipper Matt Bird said: “It was a match that all the Barton players should feel proud to have been a part of – after the heart and determination shown by each and every one of them.
“We would like to wish Cannock the very best for next season in the league – and look forward to some more tremendous battles in the future after what was a severely hard-fought match.
“Thanks must go to both sets of travelling support who created an electric atmosphere for the players.”
Barton travelled to Stoke in optimistic mood having beaten their fierce rivals twice in the past three years.
But after coming third in Midlands Four West (North) – the same position Barton finished in Midlands Four West (South) – Cannock were expected to put up a fierce fight.
The game started in ferocious fashion, with both teams getting hands on the ball and testing each other’s defence with some direct running.
Simon Till, Shaun Leek and Matt Bloxham led the charge straight from the whistle, with some lovely crash balls off fly-half Jamie Maxwell.
The fluid play could not be maintained though and came to a halt when Barton conceded three needless penalties in five minutes from the breakdown.
The infringements allowed Cannock to gain territory and slot over a well-kicked penalty.
Barton, for all their endeavour, continued to struggle to keep their discipline – allowing the Cannock 10 to slot over another penalty.
With a 6-0 deficit Barton suddenly kicked into gear. Rob Smith and Dave Rowe made inroads, allowing Matt Bayley, Gary Moule and Rich Plant to smash the rucks in the Cannock 22.
Quick ball was secured for scrum-half Jon Higgins to unleash the oncoming Barton backline and put Shum away in the corner for a well worked try.
Cannock hit back with a score of their own, scoring in the corner from an overlap following several phases – despite some ferocious tackling from Barton on their try-line.
Barton then came close to scoring a second, but some solid Cannock defending just managed to keep them out.
With an 11-5 deficit to make up, Barton exploded in the second half, creating quick ball and playing with a high intensity with which Cannock found it difficult to deal.
Barton began to punch holes in Cannock’s defence and Bloxham broke through a small gap before holding off two would-be tacklers to score under the posts.
Bird successfully converted to add the extras.
With Barton in the ascendency, the forwards continued to provide a solid platform for the backs – especially Dave Cleary, who made some scything runs through the Cannock defence.
Barton took advantage to score a superb try, finished off by Shum, who got round both his opposite number and the Cannock full-back to touch down.
With the conversion then knocked over, Barton suddenly enjoyed a modicum of breathing space.
Barton, who had rang the changes at the break, were in confident mood to push on and stamp their mark on the game.
However, the final then became a little stagnant and handling errors began to creep in.
Cannock – and their considerably larger pack – took full advantage of the increasing number of scrums and claimed a push-over try.
With the opposition sensing Barton’s vulnerability at the scrum, they again successfully wheeled another set piece.
Cannock’s No. 8 and flanker both broke off to help create a three-on-one opportunity, and their 10 took the inside pass to score.
A penalty was added not long after to leave Barton seven points adrift.
Knowing that a converted try would take the game into extra-time, Barton exerted some serious pressure, but clear-cut chances went begging as Cannock kept Barton at bay to lift the Owen Cup for the first time since 2004.