Not for the first time this season there was a new face in the Barnet dugout, well I say new face but a very familiar face would be a better description as former Conference winning boss Paul Fairclough made a return as caretaker manager following the departure of Tim Flowers during the week.
The last time the Bees went through many managers in a season they were relegated from the Football League, but after Friday’s decision by the FA’s Alliance Committee to reject the proposal for Step 2 to continue, relegation is now off the cards. Despite the proposal which had no relegation from Step 1 the FA Council still need to ratify the null and void vote made by clubs last month that appears a safe bet.
A free hit it appears for the club whose ‘gamble’ if you like has paid off and no drama for a few months, but this is Barnet Football Club after all and no doubt there will a few twists and turns.
When the Bees come up against any of the National League clubs whose manager I know and speak to, it adds a little bit of edge to it. I’ve known Neil Smith for just over a year and in fact it was just over twelve months ago I sat down with him at Hayes Lane and heard some tremendous stories, a beer is waiting the next time we can actually get together.
Of course we spoke during the week after Flowers left and I’m sure Smudger wasn’t sure what to expect from Wednesday to Saturday in terms of the Bees personnel and formation.
Unbeknown to most Darren Currie was in attendance as Smith’s guest at Hayes Lane which I think is the first time he’s seen the team live since his departure last summer.
As per most games this season I went into it hoping the score would be kept down, I did ask Smudger if he would be so kind during the week! Having the division’s top scorer in Michael Cheek in their ranks and able to sign Courtney Duffus from Yeovil earlier this year, our defence were likely to be in for a torrid time.
What didn’t surprise was Fairclough’s formation, 4-5-1 but without isolating the striker as JJ Hooper found under Flowers. What did surprise a little was the attempt to play a passing game, as Currie would put it, passing with a purpose.
And that was to be the pattern for the Bees throughout the game instead of playing off the second ball launched up the field, and it almost gave Barnet an early lead, Ephron Mason-Clark forcing former Bee Mark Cousins into a smart save. At the opposite end Scott Loach was also in action, Joe Kizzi testing the Bees stopper.
As so often has happened this season Barnet were behind and early on in the game, Cheek breaking through only to be denied twice by Loach before reacting quick enough to pick out Liam Trotter who smashed the ball into the net.
The Bees weren’t behind for very long, Courtney Baker-Richardson was put through on goal brought down by Kizzi, penalty awarded and Kizzi sent off. I don’t believe it was either a penalty or a red card, you can argue you can’t tackle from behind but I felt it was harsh.
Not that it fazed Baker-Richardson who got up and sent Cousins the wrong way from the spot for his first goal in black and amber. The frenetic mad start didn’t end there as Barnet were forced into an early substutition, Loach landing awkwardly after tipping the ball away and later known to have dislocated his elbow, Aymen Azaze coming on to take his place, all this in just the opening 15 minutes.
The Bees tried to make the extra man advantage work for them, evidently more passes were strung together over five minute periods than we’ve seen since ‘Currieball’ was the theme of The Hive, clearly some of those brought in by Flowers and even Beadle can play a pass, can keep it simple, was it just very taboo to play that way?
The Ravens had a good shout for a penalty turned down ten minutes before the break, James Dunne appeared to me to leave a foot in on a challenge but protests were waved away.
A minute later we had a second red card shown this one to Smith, deemed to have taken his protests over the non-awarded penalty too far and was sent to the main stand on the far side from the dug-out, the Bromley manager confirming afterwards he was sent off for foul and abusive language but failed to use any swear words when given the referee’s full performance I wouldn’t have blamed him, but we’ll come to him later.
Both sides had chances to be in front at the break, Mason-Clark hitting the side netting while Azaze’s flying save left honours even at half time.
The home side came out more on the front foot with Barnet struggling a little to get hold of the ball and make inroads into the final third despite the extra man advantage, the Ravens going in front on the hour mark.
The contentious handball rule came into play with the ball striking Liam Daly on the arm and Bromley with a penalty of their own despatched by Cheek past the diving Azaze.
Once again the lead lasted no time at all, in fact just three minutes as Mason-Clark stole away down the right hand side and crossed for Michael Petrasso who connected with a delicious volley past Cousins to bring parity once more.
The game seemed to tail off pretty much after that fourth goal although both sides had chances to grab a winner, but not before the Bees went down to ten man nine minutes from time.
Skipper James Dunne was given a yellow card for a foul, continued his protestations and received a second yellow card for his troubles, something you knew the referee was looking to even up.
Petrasso almost won it at the death for the visitors, his shot just missing the far post after good work from Harry Taylor while the closest the home side got to a winner in the final moments was a wild shot from Frankie Raymond lashed over the bar.
A very decent point for the Bees against a side who played us off the park back in November at The Hive and so good to see the players on social media afterwards saying they enjoyed the game they played in, makes you wonder what was going in the dressing room and on the training pitch to suck the enjoyment out of doing their job.
Dunney was doing for the first time this season what he does best, breaking up play and keeping it simple, he won’t need telling how silly the cards were and what will interest me is if we miss the first bit of that paragraph because we don’t have that other midfielder in the squad to do that job.
Great to see the players wanting to knock the ball around and looking comfortable doing it, Fairclough definitely took the shackles off and it showed, Lee Vaughan again looked pretty good, Taylor a performance we know he can provide and even Muhammadu Faal had more purpose in 20 minutes coming on than most times he’s stepped onto the pitch this season.
I don’t think I have mentioned referee’s all season but yesterday was clear to see there are some who think the game is about them. Both managers agreed after the game he was poor, that is being polite which they have to be, but shocking instead. Five yellow cards and three reds suggest a poor, dirty game which was far from the truth here, his whole body language at half time and full time showed to me quite pompous in his demeanour but seeing some stats last night on Twitter he’s card happy and all about me.
Onto Stockport away on Tuesday night, another tough game against a side chasing promotion and a chance to build on a good performance this weekend, Azaze will have a chance between the sticks for a couple of weeks at least and barring any knocks and unless Dunne’s suspension kicks in I would expect to see the same ten outfield players hopefully the same response as well, we’ll see which Barnet turns up in midweek……