It certainly isn’t over yet

As it comes towards the end of January the National League title race is turning into a mad sprint to the finish. With so many games postponed in the last six weeks there is such an imbalance in games played that the lead and positions underneath top spot are changing on such a regular basis.

I’ve long tipped Chesterfield to win it, the goals of Kabongo Tshimanga vital to the charge and with the addition this week of Joe Quigley from Yeovil alongside the return from injury of Akwasi Asante there is enough firepower there. Having dealt with an injury crisis that at one stage numbered 12 first team players, the only concern is turning draws into wins, indeed they are the draw specialists in the division so far this year but are on top of the tree on goal difference.

That tip is under big threat from no less than six teams, that’s how tight the league is this year as clubs clamour to get out of non-league and into the Football League before the salary cap hits next season.

Question is who do you fancy? Halifax Town are really putting the cat amongst the pigeons. No disrespect to the Yorkshire outfit but they weren’t at all mentioned in the pre-season predictions and I remember Pete Wild the Town boss bemoaning the amount of money in some clubs that his couldn’t compete with, but he’s almost swallowed his own words and shown they can mix it.

Maidenhead managed to account for losses for the top two sides inside the last seven days showing this league isn’t as easy as sometimes thought to escape from.

Having watched Stockport not really get out of second gear to get past Dagenham in the evening kick off on Saturday, they are serious contenders. Seven wins in a row and Dave Challinor has County purring, they are really putting the heat on others now and clearly shows they were right to dispense with the services of Simon Rusk and lure last season’s play-off winning manager back into non-league.

Bromley like Halifax have gone a little under the radar but are still in the thick of things despite an unsettling week with interest from Gillingham in boss Andy Woodman. It’s no secret he expects to be managing in the Football League sooner rather than later but can he do it with the Ravens instead of the Gills? There is a possibility they could face each other in League Two next season, lots would need to come together for that to happen.

Boreham Wood are nine games unbeaten and haven’t lost a league game since mid-October, they have most to gain with games in hand in the top seven. Like Chesterfield, Wood need to convert more draws into wins and if those two games in hand are won Wood will sit top of the table.

Wrexham have hauled themselves back into contention and it’s maybe a surprise they haven’t made good use of the transfer window although eight or nine days left to still strengthen. Their home form has to be stronger in order to keep up their challenge, winning on the road seems to come easy.

Notts County occupy the final play-off spot at present and with games in hand as well. A five match unbeaten run has kept them in touch with the play-off pack and like the others winning those games can put them at the summit it really is that tight at the moment.

There are two or three clubs just outside at the moment that will still feel they have a chance of getting in there but the remainder beyond that will need a Stockport type of run and in effect longer than seven games won or a massive drop in form for about four or five clubs.

Whilst the Daggers looked out of sorts against Stockport they’re not out of the picture by any means the only thing going against them at the moment is having played more games than the top seven bar Halifax. If Solihull Moors can find some consistency again then they can challenge for a spot while Grimsby somehow need to turn their form back to the early months of the season or they will be looking at a mid-table finish at best.

There are a few tasty games coming up over the next three weeks alone, Halifax vs Boreham Wood, Bromley vs Notts County, Halifax vs Bromley and Stockport vs Chesterfield stick out, it’s certainly something you can’t take your eyes off for a minute.

Pressure starting to mount on Kewell and winless Bees

Every season when the fixtures come out there’s a list of ones I want to get to, be it Barnet, Worthing or random other clubs. Some are to meet up with mates who live further away, some are catching up with players and managers who’ve given their time for other blog pieces.

Chesterfield vs Barnet was on my list to do after the friendship struck up with Scott Loach during the ill-fated efforts of last season. We’ve kept in touch since and while it’s quite a trek from Littlehampton to the Technique Stadium on a Tuesday night I decided it was going to happen anyway!

Given the two sides respective starts to the season I definitely wasn’t expecting Barnet to come away with anything unless Loachy was going to have a mare and chuck a few in for us.

Fragile confidence inside a poor set of results so far meant it wouldn’t take much to knock the Bees over, games littered with red cards, goals conceded from needlessly given away free kicks and leads squandered so far.

The last time I saw these two sides play each other one was already relegated to the National League and other joined them 90 minutes later, neither has regained Football League membership since.

Straight from the off you could sense the Spireites were going to run at the Barnet back four and it really wasn’t a surprise when they opened the scoring just six minutes in, Kabongo Tshimanga tapping in at the far post after the ball found it’s way across the six yard box to the unmarked striker.

Now when you concede the next job is to keep it tight and get a foothold in the game, not so for the Bees. Just a minute or two later, Ben Richards-Everton was caught the wrong side of Stefan Payne and tripped the striker in the box, a yellow card for his troubles and Tshimanga giving Sam Sargeant no chance from the penalty spot for his and Chesterfield’s second.

The striker signed late on from Boreham Wood should have completed his hat-trick by the time ten minutes were on the clock, but flicked Calvin Miller’s cross over the bar.

The Bees first effort on target came five minutes later through the bright Kian Flanagan but straight down the throat of Loach. Worse again should have come Barnet’s way straight after, a lazy back pass didn’t reach Sargeant, Sadou Khan nipped in and rounded the keeper before shooting into the side netting instead of the open goal.

Pressure was only coming from the Spireites, the only outlet ball for the Bees was to David Sesay down the right flank who looked a little on a one man crusade to get the visitors back into the game.

Sargeant was again called into action ten minutes before half time with a superb double save from Tshimanga and Miller, a combination of the keeper’s smart stops and poor finishing preventing the home side racking up a cricket score by half time.

Then, out of nowhere came a mad five minutes before the half time whistle went. Serhat Tasdemir who hadn’t offered too much so far from the left hand side cut inside and saw his shot deflected in the net wrong footing Loach on the way in dead on 45 minutes.

Whilst unexpected it was a welcome way back into the game and three minutes into first half stoppage time the scoreline was undeservedly level. Sam Granville shot from distance and the deflection on this one also took the ball past Loach and into the net to give the Bees a 2-2 scoreline going into the break, something that wasn’t being contemplated amongst the 49 travelling Barnet faithful.

With an unexpected turn in the match you would have expected the Bees to have been told to come out and take the game to the hosts given the momentum was with them at the end of the half, but they failed to do so.

The home side went back in front just after the hour mark, Joe Widdowson giving away another sloppy penalty from the Barnet perspective and Tshimanga completed his hat-trick from the spot. The likelihood was coming that the home side would be the ones to notch more goals and Payne did have the ball in the net 17 minutes from time but ruled out for offside.

But it didn’t take long for the Spireites to score again, a needless free kick conceded outside the penalty area to Sargeant’s left and Calvin Gunning’s effort deflected off the wall and past the keeper to put the seal on another three points for the home side, substitute Ephron Mason-Clark forcing Loach into a save three minutes from time in what was the only on target effort for the visitors in the second half.

The ease in which the home side tore into the visitors defence proved the Bees back line is as porous as any time last season prior to the arrival of Simon Bassey in March, a clean sheet doesn’t seem to be in Harry Kewell’s armour but the midfield is not strong enough to keep creating enough chances to outscore teams.

The 4-4-2 set up in my opinion was wrong given the defensive frailties and to then take off the second striker after going 3-2 behind is slightly baffling. The other substitutions didn’t make a lot of sense either, can only think those coming off were either carrying small knocks or not match fit enough to do the full ninety.

Sesay did look good before running out of steam, Flanagan suffering from not having an experienced head alongside him, Sam Granville really not effective enough to make a difference. Great to catch up with Loachy too although we do speak occasionally on the phone as well, nice touch to clap and acknowledge the Bees fans before heading off to celebrate another win.

Kewell is running out of time to deliver for Barnet, granted the opening set of fixtures weren’t the kindest but that aren’t very many fixtures on the calendar you would expect to bank on three points, it needs to be worked on and delivered.

You can’t hide behind injuries forever, all teams suffer them and there is a squad of players to pick from, most of which are new this year.

Whilst reading currently a book on AFC Wimbledon at the moment, it of course documents well Bassey’s 17 years there and have just gotten to a point where Bass had his first caretaker role, remarking how simple he made things, went back to basics and got the players to believe in themselves again, sounds very similar to the 13 game spell at the end of last season’s disaster, I can’t help but think Tony Kleanthous made a huge, massive mistake in not tying that man to the club to continue what he started, time will tell, more likely sooner rather than later…….

Spireites down slow starting Bees

Chesterfield. Saturday afternoon at The Hive and the name of that team brings with it two memories quite recent. Going back to 2018, the great escape under Martin Allen was nearly completed with a 3-0 victory over the side who went down with us, results elsewhere determined that the Bees went down although before Allen’s arrival the club were so far adrift even the lifeboats wouldn’t touch us.

As per Barnet drama Allen then compiled the retained list for the Bees and them promptly signed a deal with the Spireites a few days later which ended in disaster and currently his last spell in football management.

More recently, it saw the end of the ill-fated spell of Peter Beadle as Barnet manager, shipping six goals at the Technique Stadium on a December afternoon was enough for Tony Kleanthous to hand the former striker his P45.

This weekend the turn of Paul Fairclough to continue the small resurgence that he has started to build upon in his first two games in charge. A decision to leave out replacement skipper Liam Daly was much debated on Twitter before the game, described by Fairclough as a ‘tactical’ decision in his post-match interview, some believing there is more to the situation that meets the eye. That meant Harry Taylor took the captain’s armband, three games, three different skippers!

Beyond that Barnet lined up as per midweek at Stockport, but from their own kick off they were the slowest out the blocks they had been all season. With 11 seconds on the clock, they should have been a goal behind, Adi Yussif blazing widely to the left of the goal.

That should have sparked a wake up call, but the Bees could and possibly should have been 3-0 down inside the first five minutes, giving the ball away in sloppy areas and not looking to be anything like the previous two games.

It was no surprise when the visitors did finally take the lead on 11 minutes, Tom Whelan coolly slotting past Aymen Azaze and the Bees deservedly behind.

James Rowe has certainly changed the club around having come in from Gloucester City and led a charge up the table for the Spireites even towards play-off contention and they had the measure of Fairclough’s Bees all across the pitch, no time on the ball nor the chance to create anything in the final third of the pitch.

With very little possession Barnet struggled to both contain the visitors and to create anything for themselves, Muhammadu Faal with a weak shot saved by Grant Smith the closest they came in the first half, a team talk some hoped would get the Bees on the front foot.

If that talk happened it stayed in the changing room as the Spireites put the game to bed just two minutes into the second half. A poor free kick given away was spilt by Azaze right in front of Yussif and the striker made no mistake. Harsh on the young keeper who once again was a steady pair of hands deputising for the injured Scott Loach, the impressive part being that mistake did not affect the rest of his performance one bit.

Despite a half time change of Antonis Vasiliou for Courtney Baker-Richardson and Faal pushing further forward neither the youngster nor the quiet Michael Petrasso saw enough of the ball to hurt the opposition defence.

Just before the hour mark with the Bees defending deeper, the visitors almost scored again striking the post having been carved open with ease. Azaze made a couple of timely interceptions as the game ticked on, the final chance of the game fell to Ephron Mason-Clark in the last minute, an overhead kick flying over the bar summed up the afternoon for the men in black and amber.

There was still enough time for Barnet to pick up a customary red card, Ben Richards-Everton sent off for a kick out on a visiting player in stoppage time and will miss next Saturday’s trip to Yeovil Town.

I do agree with Fairclough’s post-match assessment that Chesterfield are a good side, but then so were both our previous two opponents. There seemed to be a lack of a plan B to try to counter what the visitors produced although the slow start is now what I expect week on week, I’ve lost count the number of times we could have been behind in the first few minutes before we actually do concede, it’s never the other way round.

Previously I believed that this would be Fairclough’s third and final match in charge, with the Maidenhead game postponed midweek a clear 7 days until the Bees are next in actions but that could see a number of things happen.

A new manager could be appointed, more players could be heading to furlough, Fairclough I’ve believe has done his bit, after all it’s a dead rubber as far as it goes, players are playing for a new contract and pride.

It was interesting to note though also in that post match interview that the 71 year old also thinks he’s getting as much out of these players as he can, quality definitely isn’t there and that’s no disrespect to the players that take the field but some are not up to this level.

Just another week in the life of Barnet FC………