The FA Cup has not been the kindest to Barrow down the years. Back in 1972 they lost their Football League status to Hereford, thanks in no small measure to the Southern Leaguers' famous third-round replay victory against Newcastle and that long-range wonder goal by Ronnie Radford.
Seeking a measure of overdue amends on Teesside yesterday, and a place in the fourth round of the competition for the first time in their history, the club from the south-west corner of Cumbria were beaten by a couple of prosaic finishes by Boro's boy from Brazil, Afonso Alves.
They were bog-standard efforts – a 22nd-minute shot and a 62nd-minute header – but still something of collector's items, Middlesbrough's £12.7m record signing having found the back of the opposition net on just three previous occasions this season.
Middlesbrough needed both of his goals yesterday. After dominating for 80 minutes and squandering a succession of chances to put the third-round tie beyond the reach of their Blue Square Premier opponents, the Premier League hosts were obliged to endure a nervy finale when striker Jason Walker halved the deficit and gave Barrow and their massive band of supporters the sniff of an upset.
Sadly for the minnows, who had struck the woodwork in the first half, it was not to be. Still, at least they managed to go down with a fight, roared on by a feisty following of 7,000 fans – among them one Graham Spencer, an exiled Barrovian who had made a 5,500-mile round trip from his adopted home in Nova Scotia.
"We put on a great show for them," said Darren Sheridan, Barrow's joint player-manager and an unused substitute yesterday. "I hope they've gone home happy."
The Cumbrians might have struck the first scoring blow had Walker summoned greater composure when Matt Henney cut back an inviting ball to him on the edge of the home penalty area in the 14th minute. Unfortunately for the underdogs, Walker miscued his shot and they were obliged to dig deep thereafter to stop Middlesbrough sweeping them aside before half-time.
Indeed, Barrow were indebted to Alan Martin, their loanee goalkeeper from Leeds. The Scotland under-21 international made a succession of smart saves but was beaten in the 22nd minute when Stewart Downing released Alves through the middle and, after checking that the linesman's flag was down, the Brazilian buried a low shot.
For 25 minutes, it was one-way traffic but then, five minutes before the interval, Barrow came within a whisker of an equaliser. Brad Jones, Middlesbrough's Australian keeper, failed to hold on to a cross and, from the edge of the home penalty area, Mike Pearson despatched a low drive that clipped the legs of Robert Huth, struck the base of the right-hand post, and went wide for a corner.
Just before that close call, Jérémie Aliadière had been stretchered from the pitch after coming off the worst in a challenge with Barrow centre-half Steve McNulty. And four minutes into the second half, play was held up for several minutes after Pearson was felled by Marvin Emnes, Aliadière's replacement. The right-back was taken to hospital suffering from a double fracture of the right leg.
The odds on an upset lengthened in the 62nd minute when Downing clipped a cross from the right touchline and Alves applied a scoring touch with his head at the far post.
It was only the Brazilian's fifth goal of the season but it could have easily been accompanied by five more yesterday. Time after time, he was denied by the brilliance of Martin, whose loan spell from Leeds was only extended to the season's end on Thursday.
The young keeper's most stunning save denied Emnes, while Downing missed a sitter before Barrow – the Bluebirds – struck out of the blue.
With 10 minutes of regulation time remaining, substitute Andy Bond hoisted a corner from the left, McNulty flicked it on and Walker headed the ball in from six yards.
The final whistle – when it came, after seven minutes of overtime – was greeted with a collective sigh of relief from the regulars at the Riverside.
Referee: M Dean
Man of the match: Martin
Match rating: 7/10Reuse content