Fairclough adds a little bit of optimism

On the back of a good point gained at Bromley on Saturday, Barnet headed north for their Tuesday night faire to take on another side with play-off aspirations. Such has been the season it’s difficult to know which kind of performance you will get in black and amber.

With Paul Fairclough only arriving in the building late last week he hasn’t had much time to spend with the players to impress on them he wants and demands, well so you would think.

Having seen the hosts shell out a substantial fee reported to be around £250,000 for Paddy Madden the night before matchday there was every reason to think that knowing the frailty of the Bees defence the new striker would have probably been licking his lips at what he would be facing on Tuesday evening.

The two expected changes that came for the Bees saw Aymen Azaze step in for the injured Scott Loach and Muhammadu Faal in for the suspended skipper James Dunne. On Monday it was revealed both Loach and Dunne have both played their last game for Barnet FC, furloughed until the end of the season, the chance of either appearing in black and amber again would be a minor miracle.

Given the investment in the hosts ranks and the desire for promotion this season it was another case of not expecting too much from the game or would the small shoots of recovery from the weekend continue to grow?

On a poor patchy pitch, the Bees wanted to pass along the deck again, that’s two in a row now and started confidently. Indeed the first chance fell to Courtney Baker-Richardson in behind the defence but unable to get his shot on target.

County were nearly in front two minutes later, Azaze beaten but the post came to the rescue from Harry Cardwell’s header. Minutes later Azaze was in action again to tip the ball round the post, but from the resultant corner the home side were in front.

A point blank save from the young Belgian wasn’t enough and Liam Hogan smashed home the loose ball, continuing the story of the Bees defence unable to defend set pieces into the box, after initially clearing the corner the cross wasn’t stopped or dealt with inside the six yard box.

At this point, 1-0 down after 10 minutes, it has been game on game how many can Barnet keep the scoreline down to. It doesn’t sound ideal but that is how it’s been viewed because of how many times the team just capitulates and goals are shipped.

Inside a few days, Fairclough seems to be getting his message across, play our game and make the opposition play harder to get the ball if they want to win the three points. The fact this was the second game inside four days whereby it looked like Barnet wouldn’t crumble is quite remarkable, you do have to tip your hat to the wily 71 year old.

In fact they took the game to the hosts, as the half wore on, Ephron Mason-Clark the first to test Ben Hinchcliffe in the Stockport goal whilst Michael Petrasso was only stopped getting a shot away from a last ditch challenge.

Both sides had chances in the remainder of the first half as the game swung from end to end, the most attacking Barnet have been this season and with more purpose too.

The Bees had chances at the beginning of the second half too, an Alexander McQueen free kick was saved by Hinchcliffe while Petrasso shot wide from distance. On the hour mark the new man should have made it a goal scoring debut, Madden heading down and over the bar when easier to score while moments later Liam Daly cleared off the line with Azaze beaten, two lucky escapes when the scoreline could have read something different although it did a minute later.

A floated ball from Daly just over the defender’s head saw McQueen bring the ball down exquisitely and slot past Hinchcliffe to bring the Bees level with around half an hour to play.

Maybe the beauty of the situation where relegation isn’t on the table is allowing Fairclough to ask the players to be more expressive, after all pride is now the only thing on the table and contracts to play for.

Just after scoring, Azaze saved well from Madden and again the game switched end to end with both sides wanting a winner. That didn’t arrive until seven minutes from time, Jerome Binnom-Williams losing the ball out on the County right hand side and with the help of a deflection off Harry Taylor the ball ended up in the net.

The Bees did put pressure on the County back line for the remainder of the game and despite a constant barrage of crosses into the box Barnet couldn’t find a way through and left Edgeley Park empty handed.

Another decent performance on the back of a point at Bromley, a game that maybe deserved a little more. Its encouraging that there are signs some of these players are starting to get some confidence back and are being allowed to express themselves more than before, that much is evident.

A solid performance from Azaze in goal and hopefully over the coming weeks there is more work going into defending our box better whether it be from crosses or set pieces, neither Beadle nor Flowers managed to work successfully on it, that’s a work in progress ongoing.

Harry Taylor is starting to excel again, two performances of the like he was constantly producing last season and no coincidence he’s being asked to play a role he can play with consummate ease, even McQueen looked more the part last night.

There is likely to be more players heading towards the furlough scheme in the next few days and speculation will continue towards a new managerial appointment.

As far as I am aware Dean Brennan has applied once again, Martin Allen I’m led to believe would like one last crack at management, but Harry Kewell is in the driving seat so it appears, so make of that what you will.

From the three Brennan would be my choice, he knows the level and the players needed, I like the way his Wealdstone team set up, players knew their job and looked structured, whether the chairman will hand him a second chance I don’t know.

Allen also knows the level but is also the reason why the club goes round in a constant circle, and if memory serves me correctly, just before he left for Eastleigh supporters were getting tired of the football being played, what do we want?

Kewell’s lack of non-league knowledge is the only thing I think for me goes against, to get out of this league you need the players who know what it takes to get promoted alongside a little bit of quality, I don’t doubt he’ll find the latter part in players, but you need that steel as well, that might cost, will Tony Kleanthous dip his hand in the wallet to find exactly what he wants? So many questions to be answered.

It remains to be seen whether Fairclough is handed things until the season finishes in ten weeks’ time or an appointment is made with a view to assessing the players currently at the club in good time for next season.

And let’s not get too far in front of ourselves, while Fairclough has started us on the road to better things cautious optimism is the name of the game, but it’s nice to see people wanting to watch the side again, many were slowly losing the plot……

We go again

On Saturday afternoon Barnet head north to Notts County in the National League play-off semi-final with a trip to Wembley Stadium a week on Sunday the reward.

Darren Currie’s squad eliminated Yeovil Town last weekend down in the West Country courtesy of goals from Paul McCallum and long-serving Mauro Vilhete, but it’s fair to say the hosts on another day with shooting boots and less blocking from Barnet defenders would have won the game, but it’s the Bees who make the journey to Nottingham having already won the league fixture earlier in the season.

Goals from Callum Reynolds and Simeon Akinola gave Barnet a 2-1 win and an opening six points from two games back in August. County soon found their form until lockdown intervened and were sitting 3rd in the table with hopes of catching both Harrogate Town and Barrow.

It’s not often one let alone both previous Football League relegated sides make it into the play-offs at the first attempt, just ask Chesterfield and Barnet of the previous season.

Form now counts for nothing; County were on a run of two defeats in their last ten league games whilst Currie’s men suffered just one loss in their previous 17 games. Barnet have the slight advantage of 90 minutes game time in the tank and a week of analysing what was good and what can be improved on after the Yeovil win.

But all of that still may not count for anything and the result back in August has no bearing on what will take place in 90 minutes on Saturday. Barnet defended in numbers from front to back against the Glovers and will need more of the same to reach the final.

In Neal Ardley, County have a particularly good young manager who worked hard to pull the team around from the mess of last season into a side capable of winning promotion in a truly short space of time. To show the strength of the club they released around 12 players before the play-offs leaving them with a strong squad still of 24 players whilst Currie lost three of his starting back five.

You can expect strong performances from the likes of Kristian Dennis, Enzio Boldewijn and Richard Brindley to name a few, County are strong going forward but as showed last week, Ricardo Santos, Harry Taylor and Elliott Johnson proved you’ve got to work very, very hard to get past them and onto Scott Loach.

Currie, I know will be expecting more from his players this weekend, to keep possession better and hurt the opposition, passing with a purpose. With Akinola expected to be fit for selection, doubt still remains as to whether Wes Fonguck and Shaq Coulthirst will be available, once again it could well come down to individual mistakes to win the game and with plenty of firepower available to the Bees it gives them the smallest of edges in what should be a very tight encounter.

Will that tenner still be intact for a trip to Wembley and yet another trip to The Hive after this weekend? Time will tell…………

One step closer

National League football for the first time since March, that pretty complete performance away to Woking the last time Barnet took to the pitch. Points per game ensured the Bees took their place in the play-offs at the expense of Stockport County.

The route to the final is away from The Hive, for all three games and the first hurdle to negotiate was a trip to the West Country and Yeovil Town, ironically the final game Barnet should have faced before lockdown.

With the opportunity of watching the game shown on screens in Legends Bar at the ground, it had to be done. Ninety minutes surrounded by fellow Bees fans seemed liked a good idea, a tenner including curry and a drink.

Being that we effectively snuck into the end of season party, I can’t say there was any nervous feeling for me, more just happy there was a small sense of normality returning and the chance to watch the team in action again.

As I stated in Friday’s preview it was going to be interesting to see how Darren Currie’s team coped with the loss of Dan Sweeney, Callum Reynolds and Cheye Alexander from their back line and whether Harry Taylor/Charlee Adams would line up at centre half or central midfield, either or for both.

As it was Taylor slotted in alongside Ricardo Santos and Elliott Johnson in a back three with long serving Mauro Vilhete taking Alexander’s wing back spot, a squad though that were missing Simeon Akinola, Wes Fonguck and Shaq Coulthirst with varying muscle strains.

The first half, very sketchy, a lack of penetrating runs and chances created although Town certainly had the better of the efforts with ex-Bees target Rhys Murphy finding his way often blocked by the impressive Taylor.

The hosts began the second half as they did the first, on the front foot forcing early corners, an effort from which hit the crossbar, whilst blocked tackles were coming in from all angles to halt Yeovil’s progression.

It was however soon after this the Bees took the lead, Ephron Mason-Clark setting Paul McCallum away on the edge of the box, turned back inside and sent Town keeper Stuart Nelson the wrong way.

Despite taking the lead it was Yeovil still creating the better chances after going behind, once again though the Bees were equal to everything, blocking from David Tutonda, Taylor heading out from under his own bar and Johnson playing a neat one-two off the post.

The hosts thought they were going to equalise just six minutes from time when Taylor once again got in the way of a shot that was destined for the bottom corner. Vilhete however sent The Hive into raptures wrapping up the win just two minutes later after the ball bobbled off players and a post to set up a trip to face Notts County next Saturday evening.

Despite this being a cold start for all the teams involved, Currie had expected his side to hold onto the ball better and create more chances, there is room for improvement and progress with another week’s training and some to analyse what was good and what can be done better.

Some great performances stand out from Santos and Taylor, the latter just shading MOTM for me and some crucial saves from Scott Loach to keep the score-line blank for the hosts.

With Akinola expected to be fit to return next week the boss will also have a selection dilemma as to whether he retains the same eleven or restores his top scorer to the starting line-up, whatever happens though I’m off to The Hive!