Whelan fires Eastleigh to a much needed win

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to get to the Silverlake Stadium, home of Eastleigh FC, two years in fact Google Maps reminded me as I checked out how long the journey was going to take.

Despite Barnet having a home game against Wrexham but with limited time these days to make games elsewhere and having managed to take in three Bees games so far, it was time to head west courtesy of a complimentary ticket from the Spitfires boss Ben Strevens, an offer that was made the last time I spent time in the ex-Bees front man’s company.

It’s fair to say the Spitfires have not got going yet this season, a two game struggle past Isthmian League Folkestone Invicta in the FA Cup preceded this National League game, also fair to point out Strevens has missed key players through injury already this season but most are either now in contention or on their way back.

The Robins arrived in Hampshire in very good form that has propelled them into the play-off positions, last season saw them finish a creditable 17th in their first season back in the National League top division, my last viewing of them was a 3-2 home defeat by Barnet after squandering a two goal lead towards the end of the season.

A win for the home side would be much needed whilst the Robins were hoping to keep themselves in amongst the division’s top guns. It was the visitors who struck the first blow, just five minutes into the game centre half Jake Moult opened the scoring to groans all around me from home supporters, fearing another half where the Spitfires needed to wait for the opposition to score before they got going.

It took a good ten minutes for the home side to settle and begin to play their football, the Robins however looking dangerous when coming forward. Eastleigh thought they were level on 20 minutes, a melee in the box from a set piece saw Jake Hesketh strike the underside of the bar but not over the line.

Chances did start to come for the home side, notably Tyrone Barnett firing over and having another blocked, but keeper Matty Gould wasn’t called upon to make a save as the visitors went into the break with a one goal lead, Spitfires frustrated but not out of it.

Whatever Strevens said at half time had the desired effect as his side started the second half very strongly from the off and the pressure told just six minutes in.

A corner from the impressive Tom Whelan eventually found the head of substitute Danny Hollands at the far post and the ball was headed back past Gould for the equaliser.

With their tails up the Spitfires nearly made it two minutes later, Ben House’s smart shot was tipped round the post by Gould. As it was, there wasn’t long to wait for a second goal for the home side, a free kick superbly curled home by Whelan from all of twenty-five yards out, Gould given no chance from the moment it left the midfielder’s boot.

The goal certainly seemed to jolt the visitors a little, unsure whether to sit back and defend for a time or take the game forward in the hunt for an equaliser, in the end doing neither nor for a period of the second half.

The home side seemed to lose some momentum when Barnett was substituted and House withdrawn into a more right sided midfield role for the remainder of the game which gave the visitors the impetus to attack and try as they might weren’t able to break through the stout defending from the home side and the three points stayed in Hampshire, a result that puts the Robins just outside the play-off places and lifted Eastleigh up one place above Torquay.

A much needed win for the home side who have yet to find their consistency this season, impressive performances from Whelan and Vincent Harper who at right back grew into the game well and kept Matty Kosylo quiet in the second half. Ben House despite not being on the scoresheet put in the kind of performance that makes me see why scouts constantly have him on their radar while Whelan and Hesketh were both constantly probing and wanting the ball.

Kosylo was the best outlet for the Robins, but faded in the second half as the visitors struggled to get into the game straight after half time and with Eastleigh dealing better with the Altrincham front line than the previous forty-five, they struggled to get back into the game.

Made a nice change to head to a National League match, indeed a match where being a complete neutral almost makes for a different kind of watching if you follow what I mean, more relaxed I guess, but not for those in the dug-out’s……………..

The beautiful game looks about as ugly as it ever has been

So then. The last 24 hours or so, read lots, spoken to a number of people, answered lots of messages, here we go then the National League ladies and gentlemen!

A warning this might be a long blog, there’s a lot to get through, reactions from those inside the clubs, my own thoughts and what I see as stumbling blocks going forward from today, it won’t be pretty, you might not agree, but above all it’s an opinion nothing more, it’s neither right nor wrong.

Before we get to the main points though as a Barnet fan I’m embarrassed we’ll stay up through default. On the face of it, it looks like Tony Kleanthous made the correct decision in the summer not to spend, to severely undercut the football operation and six months later he’s looking good.

We should have been doing it on the pitch for the next four months or so to get out of the mess we created for ourselves which is what I would have preferred to happen, sink or swim by your decisions, not of others. But, for all intents and purpose it is what it is and Barnet have the opportunity to put a proper club in place under Tim Flowers over the remaining months of the season, a silver lining if you must but a hollow one at that.

Onto the main meal then and once again here we are in the midst of controversy. Whatever this final outcome was to be there was never an option to please absolutely everyone and there will be ramifications to come for days and the next few weeks.

I don’t believe there was ever a doubt in outcome of the vote, heavily weighted towards the top division and with the EFL relationship at the forefront of that it won’t have come as a surprise, but it’s been more how the situation has been dealt with.

A real lack of transparency and leadership is evident which you can trace back to the play-offs last season and continued into this. Commendation maybe for ensuring we had play-offs eventually completed for all three divisions last year but a lack of foresight when attempting to get this season worked has been forgettable.

Funding of course has been the full issue in where we have gotten to now, we are all aware the National League have no minutes of the meeting with the DCMS over what was on offer for the full course of the season is at best incompetent. I’ve served on league and club committees throughout my lifetime, to not have something so simple but vital can’t suggest anything more than a cover up of mismanagement and hanging all 66 clubs out to dry, effectively what they have done.

Two days ago I was informed players and staff in the South and North divisions were told, not via official communications, that no testing was to be carried out ‘a waste of tax payers’ money’ which in effect said null and void was coming. Excuse me, what about some of the £11 million pounds of lottery money than has now been poured down the drain?

While I write this now, I see across social media fans, clubs and chairmen attacking each other because opinion is so divided on what should have happened.

My opinion, well every club of those 66 is vital, vital to someone, vital to its players, vital to its staff and mostly importantly vital to its supporters and its community. The same applies for Steps 3-6 as well and every club has quite rightly looked after its own house but should they have been left to fend for themselves while the league banner they play under seem to not want to get involved.

Last night I spoke to various people around the situation to gauge a bit of reaction:

David Blackmore, chairman of Eastbourne Borough was ‘absolutely gutted’. He said ‘We have been cut adrift by the National League. A majority across all three divisions wanted to continue, majority in the South wanted to continue, yet we don’t continue.’

David’s manager at Priory Lane Danny Bloor is frustrated the season has now ended, ‘Our club just wanted to keep playing; at the conclusion of this we sit 3rd in the league a position we’re very proud of and I hope we can regroup and replicate that again next year.’

Steve McKimm, manager at Tonbridge Angels who had to furlough their players this week in order to protect the club, was gutted at the outcome ‘I don’t think the process was fair, how can the National League have it’s members vote against each other but not in equal amounts.’

Ben Strevens, manager at Eastleigh, is unsure what the future holds for the top division ‘seven teams voted for null and void, what exactly is that going to mean after this weekend for our teams?’

Andy Hessenthaler, manager of Dover Athletic who seem most at risk of not seeing out the season, said ‘I think the mess is just going to continue because as you said nothing has changed, still no money. Seven clubs voted to null and void so will be interesting with what’s going to happen now’.

Kevin Watson who recently returned to the game at Billericay Town like most wasn’t shocked at the decision, ‘No surprise at all to be honest, just really disappointing.’

Adam Hinshelwood whose Worthing side have twice been in pole position for promotion to the National League South questioned the timing of the announcement, ‘It seems strange with the government telling us on Monday the plan for the country and for the National League to not follow suit and also not to stay in line with each other.’

‘I feel for Marc at Dorking who invested in a great team at that level and to see it null and voided again seems wrong on the face of it. It does seem likely Steps 3-6 will follow; we will be ready for whatever decisions are made for our club.’

An increase once again to the furlough scheme as the North and South clubs put their players and staff on leave once again from this morning and attention turns now to the can which is just getting kicked down the road.

Already we see legal action from clubs going in today which if they feel is the right thing to do for themselves so be it, I’m not here to judge the rights and wrongs of what each club feels is its chosen path. Whether they can get any joy or a reversal of decision remains to be seen.

Then we have the seven who voted in the top division to null and void, the next can of worms. What now if those seven, and I’m led to believe Barnet were NOT one of the seven, decide with no further funding their club would go under and quite rightly want to preserve their future? Do we play on with 16 teams expunging all results of those not playing as there is no relegation? Do those seven get asked to furlough the first team and play weakened sides in order to complete the season? Do the National League push Sport England to help these seven clubs as soon as possible? So many questions but when do we get the answers? And these are just the beginning.

To read this morning though that two clubs in the top division didn’t bother replying at all beggar’s belief! Now either they’ve got deep pockets so it makes no odds to them or purely ignorant, surely out of respect to the other clubs in your division you would have abstained?

In all likelihood Steps 3-6 will now also null and void with no chance of Step 3 promotion to the National League North and South bringing another premature end to the season for a second year in a row. The hope now will be for the FA to see sense and take the time to implement their restructure of the perfect pyramid and with it some movement for teams upwards which is deserving, the benefit to playing exactly the same teams for the third year running, not one I can see.

And for the second season running it appears as if the National League and South will run with a team less once again, granted it’s difficult to now work out who would take the missing spot in each division but a lack of contingency plans is as well not their finest hour.

Just a sidenote to this as well, the FA Trophy and Vase. One continues, one suspended and last year’s finals still be played with one of the four participants an EFL club, go figure!

The beautiful game as it’s often referred to looks about as ugly as it ever has done in non-league circles, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a vote of no confidence in both the National League and the FA in the coming months, not a chance this is all going to go away easily…..

Strevens: We are quite happy with where we are squad wise for now

My final interview this week comes from Eastleigh FC boss Ben Strevens reflecting on the start to the season for the Hampshire club:

TK: An excellent start to the season after seven games, are you placed where you expected to be so far?

BS: I honestly didn’t know what to expect at the start of the season as pre-season seemed a strange time. We are happy with our points total, but we realise it’s early days. Hopefully, we will keep on improving as the season progresses.

TK: Summer recruitment seems to have gone well, how have the new players settled in?

BS: Yeah, they have settled in really well, we purposely recruited more youthful players with the hope of helping them improve themselves. They have added to the players we managed to keep and that was just as important as the new guys coming in.

TK: Although it is still very early in the season in terms of games played, are there one or two sides that have surprised you with their results?

BS: Wealdstone have started really well after their promotion from the National South. I am surprised by some of the teams towards the lower part of the table, but as you say it’s still really early to judge those teams.

TK: Do you think that the stop start scenario for some teams has played a part in where they are in the current table?

BS: I certainly don’t think it helps, but it will be the case for all of us over the course of the season, quite sure of that. We now go two weeks without a competitive game which isn’t ideal either.

TK: How challenging has it been to get the players in the right frame of mind for playing in empty stadiums?

BS: That’s been fine to be honest, I have a good group that are hungry to win and do well. We would all love fans back in the grounds but the games still matter and points are there to be won.

I am really hoping like everyone else that in the new year the fans will be back watching us live.

TK: Although the club have received grants and the Lottery bail-out to help with no income, was there any effect if any on your playing budget?

BS: Yes, we reduced things to make sure we were ready for all circumstances. But at the same time that also fitted with the profile of the player we were trying to attract to the club.

TK: If for example you felt you needed an extra player or two to keep momentum going, would these current circumstances restrict that happening or be favourable to you?

BS: We are quite happy with where we are squad wise for now. We managed to add Ryan Hill from Hampton & Richmond and Tom Blair from Dorchester a few weeks back, but if I really needed someone or had an injury to a key player I’m sure the club would back me.

TK: Finally, we touched on it earlier, how important is it that we see fans back in stadiums in 2021?

BS: I really hope they are the fans are the lifeblood of every football club. Every team is missing them being there to see the action, hopefully in the new year they will be back in and I really can’t wait for that!

Thanks for the memories

July 2019. Darren Currie and I, you don’t ask you don’t get and Darren duly obliged with an interview the first National League manager I had ever sat down with. Fast forward 13 months and now my phone contacts list looks like a who’s who of great people who have hit the highest level of non-league management.

That month set this bog on the way to the figures I’m now getting today, it went nuts for views and visitors wanting to hear what he had to say, some insights you normally wouldn’t hear, exactly as I have tried to do with all managers and ex players I’ve interviewed and had live on video. I owe some thanks for that to DC and I know he’d be the first to say ‘it’s not me but the way you wrote the words’.

Today, Wednesday, the Barnet love affair is over for Darren with contract negotiations ending earlier this week for both himself and Junior Lewis. Very randomly Darren phoned me on Sunday evening, no need to but wanted get some bits out I guess about Southend and his own situation. I value the things all these guys tell me and I hope that I release the right things and keep some things close to me as I feel they should be, its hard because sometimes you want to tell everyone exactly what’s going on.

Whether you believe it or not, Southend was all paper speculation, looked to me like giving their fans some hope that an up and coming manager was the answer to their prayers. Some wondered why Darren didn’t take to Twitter and quash the speculation, I don’t blame him for having a couple of weeks off after the play-off loss and then seeing that team disintegrate before his eyes, but knowing that was going to be the case if promotion wasn’t achieved. I knew then also that Barnet had yet to offer him and Junior new contracts, a good two weeks passed since the Notts County defeat and not a word of contact from the chairman, does that sound like someone trying hard to keep hold of someone?

Darren wanted to stay, the chance to build his team, maybe on a much reduced budget but nonetheless an opportunity. I messaged him on Tuesday afternoon, Monday ‘didn’t go well’. That was my confirmation his time was up, never wanted to admit that to myself but it is what it is. I’ve had a blast being close to these guys all season, we’ve kept in touch through lockdown and hopefully I’ve got a few extra friends for life including Darren.

So now we move on again, but have we missed a trick? Despite whats going on around the world and here of course, could we have found some way to get some continuity at Barnet FC? Could everything have been communicated better? Yes and yes, the latter being the biggest reason this club has a divided fanbase because in my opinion they aren’t treated well. Not many people know this but a couple of fellow fans felt I should offer my services to the club, PR wise, to help things get better so I did.

I did get advised I probably wouldn’t get a reply, needless to say I haven’t and I’m not expecting one either, I’ll happily carry on what I’m doing now. Wednesday’s later statement I thought was a huge kick in the teeth for the supporters of the club, everything was ok with it until money was mentioned. Having ripped the soul out of the team, albeit the right thing to do with parachute payments gone and income scarce, but then unable to give your head coach and his staff contracts to continue their good work, we’d like to take your money for a season ticket despite the fact we have no management team nor 11 players to field, please part with your cash.

Why was that not split into two separate statements with the season ticket info coming later this week? So far by Wednesday, I think I’ve seen two positive reactions to that statement in contrast to more swear words than you’d hear from Danny Dyer’s mouth, an utter kick in the teeth in my opinion and another opening of the divide between the club and fans that Darren had being bridging with great success.

So then, attention turns to who is next in the hot seat at The Hive. Speculation will grow aplenty over the next few weeks and I have my own ideas on who might be in the frame and one or two who might not be.

Luke Gerrard at Boreham Wood will be top of a lot of lists, worked wonderfully well up the road from us and two great seasons for them out of the last three, but nice secure job currently why swop it?

Graham Stack would be welcomed back to The Hive should this be his first chance in permanent charge after assisting Hayden Mullins at Watford but also unless the Hornets dispense with his services then hard to see why he’d take the move.

I expect to see Ben Strevens’ name mentioned, also Neil Smith, people being impressed with both during my video interview when they joined Darren, however again both in secure jobs and unlikely to walk away from what they can achieve where they currently are.

My real outside choice is Kevin Watson, formerly of Ebbsfleet. When you look at his coaching CV it’s pretty impressive and I don’t doubt that had the season continued the Kent side would have not been relegated such was the good form they were in and he knows how to deal with reduced budgets, he’s one that might appeal.

There are also one or two more that stand out in the Isthmian League, lower wages are also an appeal here if thats the route Barnet are going down.

My personal choice would be Ian Hendon, Andy Hessenthaler and Lee Harrison as a trio but not sure the budget would allow for that to happen! Two who know the ethos of the club inside out and a third with unbridled passion and a future unknown at Dover Athletic, something that might appease people but they would have to hit the ground running.

For now though, thank you Darren Currie, been a pleasure to sponsor you for the past two seasons and setting this blog on its way to smashing its own records on a monthly basis, once a Bee always a Bee………….