MATT Bloxham scored a last-gasp try as Barton clinched a narrow victory over high-flying Atherstone to keep their Midlands Four West (South) promotion ambitions alive.
Following the hard work of several senior players and supporters, Saturday’s game was Barton’s first game of 2014 in their true home and fortress, Holland Sports Club.
The game started brightly for the hosts, when after just 60 seconds Atherstone’s captain and scrummaging lynchpin was yellow carded for overuse of the boot on Barton’s pack leader Matthew Bayley.
Bayley had legally tackled a line-out jumper as his feet hit the floor to prevent the Atherstone forwards using their mauling weapon.
This effectively nullified the oppositions’ main tactic for the next 79 minutes, and allowed the Barton supporters to witness the fast-flowing rugby they have come to expect.
With the Atherstone skipper in the sinbin, Barton carried the game to the 14 men at the other end.
Had Barton been slightly more clinical and Atherstone less committed, the hosts could have been 14-plus points to the good, with strong carries from Dave Palin and Sam Murphy.
Even with Atherstone back up to their full compliment, Barton more than held their own in the scrum, with Gary Moule and Richard Plant pulling the strings up front.
Despite all this pressure and possession, the half finished 3-0 with one penalty from Jon Shum the difference.
The second half started much the same with Lee Coton and Ian Lancaster dictating the pace after Will Simpson was forced to leave the field with a groin strain.
Penalties started to mount against Atherstone and Barton perhaps should have taken the points – but elected to run, with the lure of seven points too much to resist.
In the end kicks were taken and missed in tricky conditions, with even returning skipper Matt Bird missing an attempt which he would normally bury.
Atherstone responded with a 10-minute purple patch and kicked two penalties, and Bloxham had to be quick-witted to hold up the crafty Atherstone number four, who pounced on a loose ball and almost crossed the whitewash.
With five minutes to go, despite dominating the bulk of the game, Barton were staring down the barrel of another undeserved loss.
Substitutes were made as Dave Cleary and Gareth Morgan entered the fray, and it was Cleary who made the telling break.
Good turnover ball from Knight fed Bird, who saw Cleary cut a great line to slice through the Atherstone defence, before popping to Dave Palin.
The lock drew the Atherstone winger before popping inside to Bloxham, and the dynamic number eight touched down for the only try of the game as the match finished 8-6 in Barton’s favour.