BARTON suffered their first defeat of the season after a spirited comeback at Atherstone fell narrowly short.
A converted try at the start of the second half left Barton trailing 33-12. Jon Shum kick-started the response but an Atherstone score inside the final 10 minutes ended Barton’s hopes.
“We got drawn into Atherstone’s style in the first half and credit where it’s due they made life very difficult for us,” said Barton skipper Matt Bird.
“We need to show a little bit more fight and passion when the chips are down – not just when it’s all going our way, but I’m proud of my team’s heart in the second half.
“It’s a long season and a few players came into the team from the seconds on Saturday and did us proud.
“The squad is stronger than ever and we will continue to work hard off the field.”
Barton started brightly but a clever kick to the corner from the Atherstone scrum-half saw a successful catch and drive for the opening try.
The extras were added to give the hosts an early 7-0 lead.
Atherston’s powerful pack posed Barton problems – and it was soon clear that the hosts would look to keep things tight in a bid to stifle Barton’s free-flowing style.
From Will Simpson’s excellent restart Giles Hadfield immediately turned possession over.
Simon Till then held off three would-be tacklers to power his way over the line and open the visitors’ account.
Matt Bird kicked the conversion to bring the scores level.
Barton’s free-flowing rugby and pace were suddenly too much for the home side to handle.
From a solid line-out deep in Atherstone territory the ball was effortlessly moved through the backs as Barton scored in the corner.
The ever-impressive Martin Woolston slid home to claim the unconverted try.
As the heavens opened tempers flared and Barton’s Jonathan Higgins was on the receiving end of some rough treatment – but with only a yellow card issued the home side had their tails up.
Tom Robinson was the next Barton player to be targeted, but the referee failed to award anything other than an Atherstone penalty.
The familiar catch and drive following the home side’s line-out then gave Atherstone a second converted try.
Barton’s restart was kicked straight back into the visitors’ half – and a costly mistake handed the Atherstone fly-half possession, who jinked his way through to score.
The kick was successful and Barton were staring down the barrel at 21-12 down.
Worse was to follow with Barton found defending their try-line.
A driving scrum and easy pick-up for the Atherstone scrum-half made it 26-12 at the break.
Barton suffered the worst possible start to the second half, with another catch and drive – and try – from the hosts.
At 33-12 down Barton clicked into gear. Shum collected a kick before cutting back inside, beating five defenders and crossing the line with an almighty hand -off on the Atherston full-back.
Bird added the conversion and Barton were up and running.
Improved Barton tackling then stopped the hosts in their tracks, and Shum was off again.
Shum powered through the middle of the park before being dragged down on the 22.
He cleverly popped the ball off the floor to Bird, who slid under the posts to reduce the deficit to 33-24.
Barton were in the ascendency and a successful Bird penalty gave Barton a further three points.
Barton had dominated for 20 minutes, but with the final 10 approaching the game became a little scrappier – suiting the hosts.
Atherstone’s scrum-half was also causing problems with his kicking game.
A clever kick to the corner saw the trademark Atherstone catch and drive.
The try, followed by the conversion, meant Barton were staring down the barrel at a first league defeat.
The visitors launched a furious assault on the Atherstone try-line in response, winning several penalties.
Shum was denied a certain try after being stopped by a shocking high tackle.
The referee only awarded another penalty and it took a further 10 phases of play to get Martin Woolston over in the opposite corner, in what proved the final act of the match.
Barton have a break from Midlands Four West (South) action this Saturday with a visit to Chesterfield Panthers in the second round of the Junior Vase, kick-off 3pm.