Stones draw first blood

Saturday featured my third Barnet awayday of the season compared to one visit to The Hive this season. Wealdstone away was one on the calendar for a few Bees fans, for the home side they had been waiting for this one for a long time.

As stated in my preview on Friday evening there is a lot of bad blood between the clubs and managers, but it was three points on offer during the afternoon, no more or no less and of course early season bragging rights.

Both sides went into the game at opposite ends of the form table, Barnet under Dean Brennan one defeat in seven whilst Stuart Maynard had presided over one win in seven.

A record attendance for the Stones on the afternoon of 2662 including what must have been close to the 800 allocated for Barnet fans in the away end, saw more than a few comments about the state and size of the ground.

Barnet comfortably settled the quicker on the decent playing surface and with Aston Oxborough in command of his box early on the Bees fans expected much but as with most local derbies plenty of passion and commitment but very little showing in the end product.

Adam Marriott had a good chance to open the scoring on 16 minutes, forcing Stones keeper George Wickens into a fine save. The dual wing combo of Rob Hall and Ephron Mason-Clark was looking to be the route into the game for the Bees, but resolute Stones defending sent away any dangerous ball into the box.

Mason-Clark thought he had given the Bees the lead just before the half hour mark after rounding Wickens but the ball skewed off the outside of the post to keep the scores level.

Despite the Bees again enjoying more of the possession and getting balls into the box, neither side did enough in the first half and the scores were level at half time.

Both sides traded chances early in the second half but neither managing to cause either keeper too much trouble and despite both managers making substitutions to try and get something going in the game it still looked to have 0-0 written all over it.

Wes Fonguck looked bright when he came on for Hall and did look as if he might spark something in the final third for the Bees, certainly more urgency was injected.

Sam Beard’s fierce effort on 74 minutes was deflected away when looking likely to give the visitors the lead and as the game looked like it was drifting away towards the 0-0 draw, the inevitable happened.

As Oxborough came racing out from his goal and clashed with Beard, Rhys Browne nipped in on the loose ball and gave the home side a priceless lead with 12 minutes to play.

The visitors did start to play with a bit more intensity needing to find an equaliser and thought they had it with a minute to play. A goalmouth scramble saw the ball end up in the back of the net but the referee with a view from a few yards away sought the advice of his assistant some 15 yards the other way and promptly ruled the goal out.

Jamie Turley and Mason-Clark had chances in stoppage time to rescue a point but the Stones held out and picked up a valuable three points to lord it over their visitors until the return at The Hive.

I wouldn’t say either side deserved to win, moments of quality were few and far between and with the winner coming from a defensive mix up it wasn’t a surprise.

The Bees should have really taken the game by the scruff of the neck in that first half but failure to be more clinical once again in the final third is becoming an achilles heel. For all the good work Mason-Clark does down the flank, the end product is lacking severely and work needs to be done to just get the ball in the box.

Good to see Turley finally on the pitch and no surprise he was blowing after about an hour, Sam Woods had his best game yet which is no surprise as his fitness levels are picking up.

Great to see a lot of new friends there and lots of others I’ve known for a long, long time as well, too many mention or I’ll be here all night!

Whilst criticising the officials might sound like sour grapes and up to you if you read it like that, the amount of blatant shirt pulling was beyond belief. It’s not the first time, seeing both Beard and Mason-Clark with ripped shirts after the Aldershot game suggests the National League should be picking up on this, but then we’re not likely to see the chairman at a game on a Saturday to point some fingers at what’s going on, too busy elsewhere for that……….

Make the right appointment

Well, where do you start? Without a doubt this has been the strangest of seasons for many reasons and now it’s finished, is it time to pinch myself to find out if it really happened?

It’s been weird, it’s been bizarre, it’s been downright awful but it’s also been redeemed slightly on the pitch over the last 13 games. If we go all the way back to October when the season began, or should I say a season in which the chairman failed to see coming whilst the rest of his fellow board members had their clubs signing players and were ready to go, Barnet were caught on the back foot, but why?

A gamble if you ask me and one that only paid off in February when the North and South divisions were declared null and void and the Bees were spared a relegation that would have been much deserved in my opinion for the lacklustre response to starting the season.

Peter Beadle was out of his depth, not only in managing a National League side but attracting a decent National League player to come to The Hive and some of that was down to the timing of the appointment, way too late. Whilst the early signs were ok and no better than ok, they soon showed when coming up against sides who had prepared properly in pre-season we were not good enough and it was no surprise to see results get worse and Beadle given his P45.

Would it have been any better had Tim Flowers been appointed in the summer if as rumoured he interviewed but Beadle was chosen instead? Now Flowers might only have managed Solihull at this level but that was one up on Beadle so you work out why the former came in and the latter finally arrived in December.

Money somehow found its way into the budget for nine more players over the course of Flowers reign, some on long contracts and a squad size of 36 players! How the hell do you keep that many players happy??? In most cases the arrivals were no better than the players already at the club, ‘minging’ goals and performances were the name of the game and a measly one win in thirteen games meant the club was actually in a worse position than when Beadle was sent on his merry way back to the South West.

Both managers working off of one song sheet when it came to formations proved ultimately their downfall and again no surprise to see the club mutually part ways with the former Blackburn Rovers keeper.

The appointment of Simon Bassey and Dave Anderson took a while to come, both Paul Fairclough and Gary Anderson having short spells where they got something and then nothing out of the players, the story of the season which wouldn’t be a bestseller.

Just before they arrived after months of hearing nothing from the top office, the pen was let loose and almost destroyed the supporting side of the club in one full statement whilst burying the news of the latest person to try out the manager’s chair.

Some will say TK won’t recover much face from that despite a retraction which is probably the best way of putting it a couple of days later, it wasn’t an apology.

Now Bassey and Anderson seemed to understand what needed to be done and how to do it. A free hit for them with no relegation and one eye on next season, almost a thirteen game pre-season with players playing for new contracts in a lot of cases.

A clean sheet in the very first game was unheard of, an organised display at Maidenhead, the first time we hadn’t conceded in a game since early December. That was followed up by a first win since January, another clean sheet and a come-from-behind win at Altrincham, unbeaten in four games the best run of the season coming in April, yes April!

Then running Sutton close in a 1-0 loss but finding out a week later how far we were behind when you play the form teams, Dagenham completely outplaying the Bees at The Hive. One win in four looked to have seen the players revert to pre-Bassey days, but then a flourish to finish the season, ending Torquay’s title hopes in a game the Bees should have won followed by consecutive 2-0 wins over Maidenhead and champions Sutton Utd to finish the season level on points with Kings Lynn and only two behind Woking.

A great stat on Twitter a few days ago, Barnet had 13 points from 28 games and four clean sheets before Bassey and Anderson arrived, from their 13 games the pair picked up 18 points and four clean sheets, just goes to show what a bit of organisation can do.

As someone else put it about their record, ‘You two have not only raised the Titanic but you’ve sailed off with the band still playing.’

Simple is the easiest way of putting it. Players knew their jobs and did them, and surprise, surprise, we got results with the same set of players as the other managers used. Three arrivals only in Sam Skeffington, Sam Beard and Adam Parkes were the difference, the rest were already here.

A change of position for someone like Themis Kefalas into a defensive midfielder was a revelation and worked, getting Ephron Mason-Clark on the ball and running at defenders is what he does and again simple but it’s been very effective.

Tomi Adeloye looked like another player who had a purpose the fitter he got, the only one who needed to continue what he was doing was Michael Petrasso. One of the stranger loan signings however it came about was most welcome given the Canadian Magician’s goals and general wing play.

Talking of loan signings, regardless of whether we were paying them all or not having six at any time, which we managed twice, when only five can get into the matchday squad is bloody absurd and just goes to show how silly things got despite including that lot we had 36 players as mentioned to choose from. Don’t get me started on the furlough, we’ve done that one to death.

Don’t expect the retained list to arrive too early either, there are conversations to be had this week, no bigger ones than with Bassey and Anderson along with Gary Anderson, I am led to believe that none of the three have contracts for next season which quite honestly is scandalous given what has taken place over managerial appointments since last July, have we really not learnt anything?

Bear in mind also the players will be back in pre-season training in around 35 days’ time, that’s very, very close and we still aren’t sorted in the main role ready to plan for the start, that really does beggar belief. Recruitment should have started weeks ago so in my mind we’re already behind in preparation, doesn’t bode well at all.

The budget and quality of signings this summer will comfortably dictate where this club will finish, scrimp and save again and you’ll be lucky to stay out of the bottom three again, sub 600 crowds will be the norm at The Hive.

There’s been a restoration of pride over the last 13 games, would be silly to throw it all away because of a lack of organisation repeating itself 12 months later.

Now call it coincidence but the chairman missing the only two games the supporters could attend since December? I don’t agree with those attacking his passion and love for the club, but that was an ideal opportunity to make himself available for comments both positive and negative, huge PR opportunity missed there.

It’s never been dull being a Barnet supporter but some things are starting to wear a little thin. I took three of my podcast recording mates with me on Saturday, they were in awe of the facilities and everything we have there, it’s about time we got it right on the pitch and sustained it too, the excuses are running a little thin………

Ten man Bees gain three valuable points

A trip south to Weymouth awaited the Bees on Bank Holiday Monday as they looked to put in a better performance than the weekend defeat to Dagenham at The Hive where they were comprehensively outplayed.

Simon Bassey rung the changes to his starting line-up, conscious of those who aren’t long returned from injury and those who haven’t got 90 minutes in them which he alluded to post match on Saturday.

That meant a return to the starting line-up for Ben Nugent, Tomi Adeloye, Sam Skeffington and Antony Wordsworth whilst Matt Preston and Michael Petrasso dropped to the bench, Sam Beard out through injury and Liam Daly missing altogether for the second game running. With Beard out Alex McQueen slotted into the left back role, one of the problem positions all season.

On a blustery afternoon both sides struggled to put together a decent set of passes in a game that was being played for not much more than pride, one of the few times Barnet were looking to complete the double over opponents this season.

Indeed there was very little to shout about for the first twenty minutes, Barnet set up nicely and the hosts struggling to break them down. The Bees first effort of the game didn’t come until the 22nd minute when Ephron Mason-Clark tested Ethan Ross in the home goal but shot straight at the stopper.

Just a minute later the Bees winger tested Ross once again, this time the fierce shot from Mason-Clark needed to be tipped over the bar as the Bees began to find a little bit of momentum going forward.

And it was the visitors who opened the scoring not long after the half hour mark. A corner from the left was headed back across goal from Nugent for fellow centre half Ben Richards-Everton to prod home for his first goal in Barnet colours.

The Terras should have equalised two minutes after the goal, Calvin Brooks with a great chance but couldn’t find a way past Bees keeper Adam Parkes. The remainder of the game until half time was a scrappy affair, neither side able to create many chances and the home side slightly stunned to be behind.

Weymouth knew they needed to come out for the second half with more intent on breaking down the visitors compact defending, but it was the Bees who nearly increased their lead just four minutes into the second half, Adeloye shooting straight at Ross.

The balance of the game looked like it was going to change in the 54th minute when Wordsworth was sent off for a dangerous challenge, his second red card of the season likely to earn him a four match ban and a potential last appearance in a Bees shirt, lack of fitness and indiscipline might cost him a place in next season’s squad despite a wand of a left foot.

As it was the Bees dug in and kept a really good shape which the home side were struggling to break through, the visitors left to play on the counter attack with the pace of Mason-Clark and Adeloye.

On 68 minutes McQueen saw his free kick tipped over the bar by Ross in one of the rare opportunities the Bees had a chance to score from, but 13 minutes from time Barnet made sure of the points as from a Terra’s corner, Adeloye was set free from inside his own half, sprinted clear and finished with aplomb past Ross for his third goal of the season.

Mason-Clark should have made doubly sure of the points three minutes later after a mazy run but his effort couldn’t beat Ross. Weymouth pushed and probed for a way back into the game but the Bees held firm and a third win in seven for Bassey now sees Barnet five points behind Kings Lynn with six to play.

This was certainly a better performance than against Dagenham but granted Weymouth did not pop the ball around as well as the East Londoners. The energy of Skeffington around the pitch was much needed while Mason-Clark and Adeloye gave the Terras defence no end of problems all afternoon and always looked likely to create something.

Mason-Clark has certainly seen something of a revival under Bassey and looks much more the player who has been told to play, take on defenders and worry players with his pace, that’s his game and not difficult to get him to play it.

Mention again for Themis Kefalas who picked up what is turning into a customary yellow card just before half time, defended sensibly once again for the remainder of the game compared to his midfield colleague who didn’t complete the 90 minutes.

Still six more games to play as we head through May, some tough, some where we could pick up enough points to hit a meagre thirty for the season, at least we have seen some pride return in these past few weeks and whilst I’m enjoying the fact we’re competitive in the most part, like most others I can’t wait for this sorry excuse of a season to end……………………

Bees snatch it at the death

Blogging becomes a little easier when your team is winning, or even stringing along an unbeaten run, but every game is a new test which is certainly a better way of looking at it rather than a Barnet thumping every week.

Whilst there is very little football going on that you can watch at a ground and while it’s nice to blog about your favourite team I can’t wait to get things more diverse which is what this is all about.

The Bees headed north to Altrincham on a three match unbeaten run, the longest they have enjoyed this season in the National League and showing a very different side to their play under Simon Bassey. The home side hadn’t scored in three matches and on paper looked to be a slightly more even clash than you would have anticipated.

I was quite impressed with the Robins when they visited The Hive earlier in the season, the side were flying high in the table but found themselves in the mid to lower reaches of the table as the Bees arrived.

Bassey made one change to the starting line-up, Courtney Baker-Richardson back in after suspension at the expense of the unfortunate Tomi Adeloye whilst Michael Petrasso made a welcome return to the bench.

As per the last few games Barnet started the opening minutes in bright fashion, but unlike the previous three games they conceded early and almost looked to be like back to the days of old. Despite an attack breaking down, the Robins recycled the ball across the box and when the ball fell to Ryan Colclough he sent the ball fizzing past Aymen Azaze with just four minutes on the clock.

Having not gone behind in the last three outings it was a little bit of new territory with things having gone to plan so far. The play after the goal was sluggish and Barnet failed to retain the ball when they did dispossess Altrincham, passes going astray and unlike what we’ve seen since Bassey arrived.

It got worse on 15 minutes, Azaze pushing out a free kick to his right only for the Robins to return it into the danger area and Alistair Smith heading past the Bees keeper to put the home side firmly in control.

The Bees still couldn’t get going in as the hosts didn’t need to push the game forward comfortable with a two goal lead. Harry Taylor was close to dispossessing the hosts keeper after not clearing his lines but Ephron Mason-Clark couldn’t finish off Alex McQueen’s cross as a result.

The hosts looked to be finishing the half strong as Azaze tipped a shot round the post whilst Dan Mooney shot wide when well placed, but the Bees managed to find a way back into the game in first half stoppage time.

Mason-Clark’s long clearance from just outside his own box saw a Robins defender and keeper Tony Thompson fail to communicate, the ball headed over the on-rushing custodian and Courtney Baker-Richardson was on hand to put the ball into the empty net and the visitors back into the game.

A change at half time saw Sam Skeffington off with injury replaced by Petrasso, Skeffington I felt did struggle to get hold of the game while the change brought McQueen back into the middle of midfield.

The change of formation did look as if it was going to pay dividends in the second half, the next goal in the game was going to be crucial. The Bees had their fair share of set pieces but unable to find the head of a fellow player in black and amber.

They came close just after the hour mark when Mason-Clark’s deflected shot forced Thompson into a smart save whilst Baker-Richardson and McQueen couldn’t quite hit the target soon after.

The final twenty minutes saw the game open up as the Bees gambled on getting the equaliser whilst the Robins wanted to put the game to bed, Barnet adding Adeloye up front at the expense of Themis Kefalas to go 4-4-2 for the final seven minutes.

Four minutes after the change the Bees were level, a loose ball picked up by Mason-Clark saw the winger stride into the box and slot the ball past Thompson for the equaliser.

Barnet however weren’t done there as they sent on central defender Ben Richards-Everton for Baker-Richardson, extra height as they pushed for the winner and just a minute later they had it.

The hosts couldn’t clear the ball from around their own penalty area and a cross from Mason-Clark found Adeloye in the six yard box who poked the ball past Thompson for his second goal from the bench on successive Saturday’s.

The Bees negotiated stoppage time without too much drama and when a final cross into the box was plucked out the air by Azaze, the game was done for the hosts.

So four games unbeaten for Bassey and Dave Anderson although the result looked very unlikely from the first 15 minutes and most of the first half. I thought the change at half time despite Bassey saying it was down to injury actually balanced us a lot better as while Mason-Clark was again a nuisance down the left wing McQueen looked lost on the other flank, neither attacking well nor giving Lee Vaughan much protection.

The second half performance looked a lot more like what we saw over the past three games although the first half showed the lack of consistency that we’ve seen so often over the course of the season.

This unbeaten run is the best so far in the National League for Barnet this season although it hasn’t been hard to achieve that, a very stern test awaits at Sutton Utd on Tuesday evening, another side going through a dip in form and whilst four or five weeks ago they would have been expecting an easy three points.

One last thing to reflect on, Bassey’s won more games already than Tim Flowers managed in around three months whilst also equalising the amount of league wins Peter Beadle achieved in his time in charge, it’s either not rocket science or there are some managers out of their depth or lacking in playing style to suit what they have, I’ll leave you to make your mind up on that one………

Bassey has Bees buzzing

I’ve said it a few times this season that seven days is long time in football and for a lot of clubs up and down the country the chance to actually spend a full week training instead of playing Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday has something of a rarity.

New Barnet First Team Coach Simon Bassey was afforded that honour this week giving him and Dave Anderson the chance to put some more ideas across to the players ahead of the visit from Aldershot Town to The Hive.

With the first clean sheet in months achieved last weekend at Maidenhead, the first foundation stone was laid and not surprisingly Bassey named an unchanged team, something again that hasn’t been forthcoming too often this season either, Ben Richards-Everton making his return from suspension for a place on the bench.

For the second week running Barnet started brightly, making a huge change from expecting to be a goal behind inside ten minutes which has set the tone for the season, the Bees even having the first chance of the game, JJ Hooper with the shot but one Mitch Walker in the Shots goal didn’t have to work too hard to gather.

Ephron Mason-Clark was finding a lot of joy down the left hand side and even had an effort pushed away by Walker on the half hour mark as the Bees looked the more likely to open the scoring.

As it was Barnet were in front two minutes later, Mason-Clark feeding the once again impressive Lee Vaughan whose delicious cross was perfectly placed onto the head of Hooper whose guided header was beyond Walker for his 8th goal of the season.

The lead however lasted just five minutes as Aymen Azaze came for a corner, looked to be fouled as the ball slipped from his grasp and into an unguarded net, one of the rare moments the Bees didn’t deal with a ball into the box. Rather than sit back or heads dropped, Barnet went on the attack forcing a flurry of corners but unable to find the head of skipper Liam Daly in the opposition penalty area leaving the sides to go in level at half time.

The second half was as open as the first, both sides looking to score and not settling for a point each. Bassey said after the game that the half time talk was about not sulking but to go out and prove a point, we certainly got the latter. Sam Skeffington was first to try his luck but way over the bar whilst the Shots tried to create down the flanks, but Vaughan and fellow full back Sam Beard were equal to the challenge, Beard given a good match up against Joel Nouble in the first half but the winger less creative through the second period.

The next goal was likely to be crucial especially when the Bees are used to conceding and then collapsing like a deck of cards, but not this time around. Mason-Clark who was a constant threat down that left flank all afternoon weaved his way into the penalty area and was brought down by George Fowler.

The winger then stepped up and calmy slotted the penalty past Walker to put the home side back in front, two goals at home for the first time since 16th February but still 20 minutes to play to hold out for a vital win.

The Shots brought on Ricky Miller to try and get an equaliser but with a lack of service into the front man and the Barnet defence managing to get themselves in front of everything despite the odd heart in mouth moment, the Bees looked to be seeing out the game in good time management style, a double substitution saw Tomi Adeloye and Richards-Everton replace the hardworking Hooper and tireless Harry Taylor with three minutes remaining.

With four minutes of added time to come, it was going to be a ‘backs to the wall’ effort to keep the three points, but in the fourth of those four minutes, Adeloye had other ideas as he ignored the cries from the home bench to head for the corner flag to weave his way past a couple of half challenges to be one on one with Walker and slotted past the keeper with consummate ease for his first goal in Bees colours and ensuring the three points were not leaving The Hive.

The win was Barnet’s first in two months, Tim Flowers only win in charge against Halifax after six attempts but something that took Bassey just two games. Now this doesn’t mean Barnet have finally cracked it nor does it mean the hard work stops but it has shown there are some performances in these players.

Daly and Matt Preston are starting to form a good understanding at the heart of the defence, Vaughan is Mr Consistency and the incoming Beard gives the balance on the opposite flank, more protection for Azaze is very much evident.

Mason-Clark has started to look more like the player who wants to take on full backs and deliver balls into the box, Hooper who I’ve said in the past isn’t quite doing what I’d expect a lone striker to do is also showing signs what’s being asked of him now is blossoming.

To blog on a win for the first time since February is a nice feeling, feel good has been few and far between for Bees fans since the season began and whilst it’s only two games into a new era, it does show some of these players if they deliver consistently over the next 10 games they might find a contract for next season, although the previous 30 odd games are still going to be taken into account no doubt.

On a weekend when there is talk of a European Super League and social media is awash with distain and disgust for the top level of the game, Saturday lunchtime was a little breath of fresh air, I might just revel in that a bit more, well until Tuesday evening when we go again……….