Brackley Town’s title hopes took another blow on Tuesday evening with a 2-1 home defeat to AFC Barrow at a sodden St James Park.
With promotion rivals Hednesford Town and North Ferriby both winning on the same night, Saints were in desperate need of the three points to stay in touch at the top, but they found themselves up against an impressive and in-form Barrow side.
Niall Cowperthwaite gave the visitors the lead following a wonderful flowing move, which was cancelled out by Stefan Moore’s neat finish just after the break.
Barrow weren’t to be denied victory, though, and they sealed their third win in a row when Gareth Arnison headed into the corner five minutes from full time.
It condemns Brackley to a third defeat in five and leaves them sixth in the Conference North, seven points off leaders North Ferriby having played a game more.
As the rain teamed down at a cold and sparse St James Park, the two sides played out a relatively uneventful opening 10 minutes on an increasingly sodden pitch, with the first real sight of goal coming from Owen Story but his shot never threatened Tony McMillan’s goal.
Barrow quickly got on top, though, and their confidence on the ball belied their lowly league position as they put together a string of neat passing moves, although Billy Turley remained untested in the home goal.
However, that all changed midway through the half when the visitors opened the scoring thanks to a terrific team goal. Having worked the ball out from the back, Sam Sheridan picked it up in midfield and slipped a precise through ball to Cowperthwaite, who nipped past Eddie Nisevic and finished coolly over Turley.
Having already started well, the goal had given Barrow yet more confidence and they continued to dominate their hosts with Brackley struggling to string more than two passes together, and they almost found themselves two down but for Tom Sharpe’s block from Nick Rushton’s goal-bound effort.
Saints began to show signs of life as the first half drew to a close, first McMillan saved from Story’s volley before Izak Reid and Glenn Walker combined well to put the former in but again McMillan saved well.
Reid was then in action at the other end, blocking Rushton’s shot, before Tom Corner’s header from the resulting corner whistled just wide of Turley’s goal with the goalkeeper rooted.
Barrow kept their slender lead intact until half time, which forced Jon Brady into making a change with David Bridges coming on for Story as Saints altered their shape to 3-5-2.
And that alteration worked immediately as Brackley drew level within moments of the restart. The goal came through the ever-lively Moore, who played a one-two with Ben Mills and broke beyond the Barrow defence before sliding a neat finish past McMillan.
Despite seeing their lead wiped out, Barrow continued pushed forward with Liam Willis breaking down the left and shooting straight at Turley before Sheridan’s free-kick had to be palmed away by the home goalkeeper.
Barrow had responded well to the Brackley goal, although Saints remained dangerous with Bridges’ long-range effort having to be saved by McMillan.
The game turned slightly scrappy, which was no surprise given the lashing rain, but Barrow persisted with playing possession football and it nearly worked as slick link-up play set Ted Cribley through on goal but Turley rushed out to block.
Turley was called into action again moments later as Barrow broke and the ball fell to Sheridan, but the midfielder’s shot was brilliantly tipped wide by the Saints stopper.
In what had turned into an entertaining and end-to-end half, it was then McMillan’s turn to produce a stunning reaction save as the Barrow goalkeeper did superbly to claw away Moore’s header that had looked destined for the net.
Then came the decisive few minutes as, first, Brackley had the golden chance to take all three points when Eddie Nisevic’s inviting cross fell to Moore three yards out, but the striker somehow scooped over from three yards.
And that missed proved costly as Barrow nicked the winner five minutes from time when substitute Arnison’s flicked header from a harmless looking cross found the bottom corner.
Brackley pushed forward in hope of grabbing a draw, but the visitors saw out victory relatively comfortably to inflict a third defeat in five on Brackley.
Brackley: Turley, Reid, Austin (c), Sharpe, Nisevic, Story (Bridges 45), Towers (Mulligan 90), Solkhon, Walker, Moore, Mills (Diggin 53).
Subs not used: Cartwright, Odhiambo.
Barrow: McMillan, Cowperthwaite, Reynolds, Lacey, O’Donnell (c), Williams, Cribley, Sheridan (Harvery 83), Corner (Marsh 78), Rushton (Arnison 78), Willis.
Subs not used: Parkinson, Meechan.
Referee: Simon Barrow