Lowestoft Town 2 Barrow 3 - Visitors win Conference North title
- Credit: Nick Butcher
The final match of club legend Micky Chapman's reign finished in defeat for Lowestoft Town – but ended in high spirits after a late rally to give the visitors a real scare.
The game looked set to be a special occasion before a ball was even kicked, as the Trawlerboys prepared to say goodbye to Chapman.
The two teams formed a guard of honour to welcome the 53-year-old on to the pitch ahead of his final match before retiring.
It was Chapman's 1,178th match as manager, having initially played for the club as a striker – notching 193 goals in 480 appearances – including 53 as player-manager before picking up the reins permanently in 1997.
Three titles and three promotions followed, including four attempts at the Ryman North Premier play-offs, finally bringing victory and elevation to the Conference set-up last season.
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Chapman, alongside joint manager Ady Gallagher, had helped guide the Blues to safety in the first season in Conference North to tee up a comfortable afternoon.
There was still plenty up for grabs for the Cumbrian visitors though – who knew that victory would secure the title and promotion to Conference Premier.
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The Bluebirds went into the game two points clear of second-placed AFC Fylde – who themselves had lost 1-0 at Crown Meadow in August.
Lowestoft also went into the game unbeaten in 12 matches in all competitions, as well as their last 12 home games in all competitions, so Barrow knew they were in for a tough challenge.
The Trawlerboys' cause was not helped by the absence of 13-goal striker Jake Reed though, missing with a hip injury, who joined fellow striker Danny Crow (ankle) and midfielders Andrew Fisk (calf) and Rossi Jarvis (suspension) on the sidelines.
That meant defender Curtis Haynes-Brown was deployed in a holding role alongside Erkan Okay in central midfield, as Lowestoft tried to deploy a defensively strong starting line-up.
It was the league leaders who grabbed the initiative though as Lowestoft's defence struggled to deal with the movement of the visiting attackers.
Andy Cook nipped in between centre-back Sam Gaughran and goalkeeper Ashlee Jones in just the third minute to get on the end of a long ball and head just wide.
Gaughran's central defensive partner, on-loan Ipswich Town defender Omar Sowunmi, was then perhaps lucky not to give away a penalty.
The towering youngster barged into the back of Barrow striker Jason Walker when the ball was loose in the box but referee Alan Young waved away appeals from the Bluebirds.
The travelling support did not have to wait long for the goal they had travelled the length of the country for though, Barrow taking the lead in the 13th minute.
Skipper Simon Grand played a long ball forward which was headed down to Dan Pilkngton – the younger brother of former Norwich City midfielder Anthony – on the right of the box and he fired in a cross. Sowunmi looked set to clear the danger but hesitated and midfielder Sam Sheridan nicked the free ball and then lifted the ball over Jones into the top of the net for 1-0.
Barrow continued to pile forward, although Lowestoft striker Bradley Woods-Garness had a penalty appeal in the 22nd minute after Sheridan bumped him to the floor, but the referee deemed there had not been enough contact.
The visitors then doubled their lead in the 27th minute with a clever free-kick routine which seemed to deflate the Trawlerboys.
Sheridan set up to shoot from around 30 yards out but slipped a low pass to the unmarked Andy Haworth to the left of the Lowestoft penalty area, whose cross was stroked into the net by defender Niall Cowperthwaite from 10 yards for 2-0.
Jones comfortably held efforts from the edge of the area from both Pilkington and Haworth shortly after the goal as the Bluebirds looked to seal the title.
Walker then headed a Sheridan corner wide at the front post in the 36th minute as the hosts started to struggle.
That was summed up in the 43rd minute when skipper Gaughran accidentally headed the ball out for a corner and turned towards his own goal with a dejected look on his face.
Haworth's corner from the right was then met by Cook, unchallenged, at the back post but he looped his header back across goal and over the target.
It was a dominant first half which saw Barrow get one hand on the Conference North trophy – and it didn't take long after the break to make it both hands.
Haynes-Brown slid in to tackle Cook in the box in the 48th minute and was angered at the referee's soft decision, which Walker made sure to take full advantage of, firing down the middle for 3-0.
The game looked to be meandering to a close until the 70th minute, when Bammant went clean through and was brought down by Cowperthwaite.
It looked a soft decision, perhaps making up for the earlier penalty, but Jack Ainsley took full advantage with his 14th spot-kick of the season to make the score 3-1, with his 16th goal of the season. Not bad, for a right-back.
It still looked a huge ask for Lowestoft to get back into the game but further hope was fired in the 87th minute when the Trawlerboys pulled another goal back after a period of pressure.
Lee Smith's corner from the left was headed back across goal by Gaughran and eventually landed at the feet of Haynes-Brown, who fired home from close range to make the score 3-2 and set up a tense finish – with the title on the line, as AFC Fylde were on their way to a 6-4 win against Gloucester City
Chants of 'one Micky Chapman' from the home support saw Crown Meadow come alive as Lowestoft poured forward.
A Lee Smith free-kick from the right was headed goalwards by Haynes-Brown but Shaun Bammant just couldn't connect from close range.
Then in the dying moments a long kick from Jones was headed by Sowumni to Haynes-Brown on the edge of the box but his volley floated harmlessly over the bar.
It meant the Bluebirds had held on for their title win – sparking a pitch invasion from the travelling fans.
For more photos and full reaction from Chapman following his final Trawlerboys match, see Monday's Eastern Daily Press.
Lowestoft: Jones; Ainsley, Sowunmi, Gaughran (C), Adam Smith (Mason 53); Lee Smith, Haynes-Brown, Okay, Eagle (Marsden 85); Bammant, Woods-Garness (Henderson 53). Unused subs: Jessup (GK), Radomski.
Barrow: Taylor; Cowperthwaite, Burns, Grand (C), McWilliams; Haworth, Harvey, Sheridan (Reid 56), Pilkington (Carver 85); Cook, Walker (Guy 76). Unused subs: McMillan (GK), Williams.
Referee: Alan Young