When I picked my 5 games for the £50 membership I got for Xmas, on paper they looked impressive for watching the visitors given the fixtures I’d selected for the first 3 games. Swindon, Lincoln, Notts County, all at the right end of the table and expectation of decent games.
But, given Barnet’s position maybe not the best chances of seeing a home win or even the ball in the net! It’s been a tough season for Bees fans, the early season promise has long disappeared and comfortably marooned at the foot of the table looking extremely likely for a return to the National League for a third time. With a third manager of the season sitting in the dug-out, the season has been nothing short of a disaster and Graham Westley’s appointment is certainly the last throw of the dice. One friend of mine remarked ‘In my mind I gave Westley 4 games to see if there is any turn around in fortunes, this is game 4, let’s see where we’re at.’
County arrived at The Hive on the back of an 8-1 drubbing from Premier League Swansea in the midweek FA Cup replay, shell-shocked possibly, but given their league position in the top 7 for a majority of the season, surely just a surprising blip, one of those games where everything one side hits on target goes in. The Bees were on the back of a disappointing 3-1 defeat at Mansfield, granted they are on course for promotion with wonderful financial backing to do so (although Barnet have the 10th highest budget in the division), by all accounts Westley’s men were very poor and didn’t build upon the previous two 1-1 draws.
Westley lined his side up in a 4-4-2 formation, but changing personnel to move Alex Nicholls up front alongside John Akinde with a first start for Jordan Nicholson, the deadline day signing from Peterborough. The Bees started bright enough, County maybe suffering a bit from that heavy defeat and Akinde could have given the Bees the lead firing narrowly over from 20 yards. The first half was very much a tepid affair, both sides probing more than looking likely to land a killer blow.
The second half proved to be more of an encounter, County certainly came out with the intention to be more assertive and Kevin Nolan had obviously put the onus on his players to give him more than they had during the first 45 minutes, putting a fair bit of pressure onto the Bees back line for the first 10 minutes or so (Nolan conceded afterwards ‘his side hadn’t passed the ball at all well’). Westley made a change at the break with Simeon Akinola replacing Ruben Bover down the left flank and within a few second half minutes, Akinola had out-paced his full back twice and that looked to be the route for the Bees to take the points.
As time ticked on, it looked more and more likely the sides would share the points, good enough maybe for County but Barnet desperately needed the three points to close the gap at the bottom and take advantage of the two sides above them having their games postponed, taking a point off a top side should at the very least be viewed as a good point, but Barnet can’t afford to be thinking that.
And so, into stoppage time we went. 3 minutes for Barnet to conjure up something, to potentially save their season and give hope to the masses. And that they did! Very much route one, but did anyone care! Keeper Craig Ross in the final minute of the added on time launched his kick downfield, on the end of it was Nicholls. Having gotten himself in-between the two centre halves, Nicholls composed himself, controlled the ball and sent a looping half volley past Adam Collin to create scenes at the bottom of the West Stand not seen in months.
County had time to just kick off before the referee blew the whistle for three very, very valuable points for the Bees and bring them to within two points of Chesterfield right above them and suddenly a glimmer of hope has appeared on the horizon.
Back to that friend, the remark after the game was ‘a feeling of being invigorated once again to want to come to games, we may just do this’.
So, 4 games in now with one win, two draws and one defeat. Westley seems to have got the team into a more motivated state, able to stay calm and play for each other, something lacking in abundance throughout the course of this season. While one result hasn’t cured everything it’s a big stepping stone and must continue away to Yeovil on Tuesday night, win that one and suddenly it’ll be the other teams watching and worrying that the Bees ‘are on their way’.