Hornets lack sting as Wanderers claim the points

Wednesday night football this week gave me a couple of opportunities for something a bit different and the chance to meet up with former Bromley boss Neil Smith.

With living down the road from the Hayes Lane ground Cray Wanderers share with Bromley it was an ideal time to catch up with Neil having worked out it’s been 18 months since we last got together so it was well overdue.

It was also going to be his first visit back to the ground and club where he spent 10 years before being sacked in March last year, probably better it was Cray to watch and not the Ravens.

Horsham were the visitors in town on the back of six straight wins and now looking up at the play-off’s instead of those below them. Having watched them eight days earlier at home dispatching Wingate & Finchley 2-0 it’s not often I watch the same side two games in a row but the chance to grab a game with Neil was an easy choice to make.

Cray are certainly in a transitional period under new boss Danny Kedwell, a man with a great reputation through the non-league game and whilst he runs Ebbsfleet Utd’s academy this is his time to cut his managerial teeth.

Results and performances have been hit and miss but looking at his squad there is a wealth of experience that should see them find their way to a decent run of form.

Both sides traded early half chances without threatening either goalkeeper, but with Cray starting to win the midfield battle with on loan former Bee Sam Skeffington pulling the strings alongside Cameron Brodie, another loanee from Dartford.

And it was Cray who opened the scoring on 16 minutes, a ball across the box wasn’t quite collected by Jamie Yila but fell kindly for debutant Kyel Reid whose left foot shot found its way past Sam Howes in the Hornets goal.

Yila thought he had doubled the lead just after the half hour mark but his free kick found the wrong side of the net. Horsham looked to work their best chances through Lucas Rodrigues but the winger was unable to provide the needed spark and with Rob O’Toole and Charlie Hester-Cook well marshalled by the Cray backline the home side went into the break with the lead.

As expected at the beginning of the second half the Hornets cranked up the pressure and for a good 10 minutes or so Cray struggled to both retain possession and get out of their own half.

Cray were close to a second on the hour, Reid’s left wing cross headed straight at Howes by Chris Dickson as the home side began to get a footing back in the game.

With Reid not pushing his full back towards his own goal Kedwell brought on Anthony Cook, just as the Hornets own substitute Lee Harding danced his way through the home backline and his rasping effort wasn’t far past Jack Turner’s post.

Just as it could have been 1-1, moments later the scoreline did change. Skeffington broke forward and fed Yila whose shot was saved by Howes; Dickson however was on hand to double the home side’s lead.

 With Cook providing pressure on the Hornets midfield, the loose ball was picked up by Brodie who slid an inch perfect ball into the path of Yila who made no mistake to put the game beyond the visitors with eight minutes to play.

Just as Cray seemed set to claim a clean sheet to go with the three points Eddie D’Sane was fouled in the box and Charlie Harris claimed a consolation goal with a thumping penalty past Turner, but that couldn’t take the shine off a decent home performance.

A few around me were surprised at how there wasn’t more from Horsham given their current form, but with so much Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday over the last few weeks quite conceivable that the legs finally caught up with them, that’s also to take nothing away from Kedwell’s team who put together an impressive performance and one that hopefully starts off a good run for the side.

Great performance from young Brodie in the Cray midfield, reminded me very much of a younger Harry Taylor whilst Skeffers energy I know all about from his time at Barnet last season, as Neil pointed out too Kedwell made his substitutions at the right time, Freddie Barton also stood out well at right back.

Neil picked out Harding who tried hard to get things going for the Hornets when he came on, but the game was getting away from them as he entered the fray.

Great to catch up briefly after the game with Dicko, someone we’ve featured on our PNLP podcast a couple of times, and with Neil knowing everyone there were conversations with Dartford boss Steve King, Keds after the game and some great people at Cray, Gary Hillman the chairman and Sam Wright the CEO.

Got to also mention Charlie Bradford who puts together some fantastic reports from all the games he attends and nice to meet a couple of fellow Twitterati, Colin Head and Victor Klarfeld, an evening well worth the late night drive home………..

Bassey’s Bees end on a high

Image courtesy of Ben Fullylove (@BenFullylove)

The finale. The crescendo of the end. For what has seemed like a season that as gone on for an eternity, finally arrived at its conclusion and with it a second and final time heading to The Hive within a week.

The ramblings, rights and wrongs of a full season will be for another blog this coming week but Saturday was all about the champions coming to town, Sutton Utd’s final game in non-league football for the time being as they headed for the Football League, Barnet the furthest from the promised land in the National League.

Tuesday night was a lonesome trip but Saturday was an eye-opener in terms of facilities for three of my fellow PNLP podcast chaps, James Easton, Jonny Kenworthy and Pete Vale. If you haven’t had a listen we ramble on about non-league football which is some feat considering we’ve had very little since November, one more episode to record after the NL play-off final in June, available on all platforms.

Having released the superb Michael Petrasso on Friday to return home to Canada ahead of their domestic season beginning, Simon Bassey was forced into a change on the bench with fellow loanee Courtney Baker-Richardson replacing the Canadian, Petrasso’s contribution when fit cannot be under-estimated.

Changes galore for the visitors were expected but still a strong outfit faced the Bees on the pitch. On a sun-drenched afternoon both sides looked a little on the beach in the first half, for all the possession Sutton had in the opening forty-five minutes there was little to show for it, Ben Nugent and Ben Richards-Everton equal to everything thrown and crossed their way, Adam Parkes with little to do.

Ephron Mason-Clark had Barnet’s best effort mid-way through the half, his mazy run and final shot stung the palms of U’s keeper Dean Bouzanis whilst Parkes had to deal with his only shot at him, a reflex save two minutes before the break as the half time scoreline read level and the game needing an injection of quality.

As per Tuesday night against Maidenhead, Barnet came out stronger in the second half and just after the hour mark the Bees went in front in the strangest of circumstances.

An effort from Harry Taylor seemed to strike a post and into the hands of Bouzanis but the assistant referee on the far side away from the ball seem convinced it was over the line and the young midfielder was credited with his second goal in as many games after going 150 matches without one!

And while that had the error of comedy about it, there was nothing to laugh about seven minutes later when Mason-Clark’s mazy run took him across the edge of the penalty area and unleashed a fierce drive which cannoned back off the crossbar but would have been a great contender for goal of the season had it hit the back of the net.

Sutton thought they had restored parity on 73 minutes, Parkes caught slightly off his line but the ball again striking the crossbar and the home side still in front.

The points however were wrapped up in stoppage time as Josh Walker unleashed a powerful shot past Bouzanis into the roof of the net, Sam Skeffington providing a second assist of the afternoon and the Bees finishing with a three match unbeaten run taking points off the top two in the process.

Despite the changes made by the visitors a deserved win to finish the season and only goal difference kept the Bees at the bottom of the table which given the situation when Bassey and Dave Anderson arrived it’s nothing short of remarkable.

Given that the pair only added Skeffington, Sam Beard and Adam Parkes to the group, they achieved far more in less time than the previous two incumbents in the manager’s chair.

Very quickly the attention turns to pre-season with the players back at The Hive in less than five weeks but not before picking out the best of the day’s performers.

Skeffington once again turned in a man of the match performance and must be near the top of the summer shopping list, a big fan of his drive and energy over the course of his loan spell. Beard is another who must be enticed to stay, regular football at this level will do him no harm as the last few weeks have shown.

Mason-Clark should he stay will be a driving forced behind any improvement we see next season, very simply as Bassey has done with him, give him the ball and let him create havoc.

Praise again for the two Bens’, Nugent and Richards-Everton, no change given for either of the Sutton front pairing and when you think of how the former was mistake-ridden all through this season, maybe a player is in there somewhere?

The ball is now in the chairman’s court to back up his interview of a few months ago, failure to act quickly and decisively inside the next eight weeks will see the enthusiasm and pride regained over the past thirteen or so games ebb away and the bottom three will be where this club will reside in front of crowds like the 686 here to witness the final game , over to you now Tony the clock is ticking………..

Bees give fans something to cheer

Image courtesy of @BenFullyLove

For the first time since March 2020 the chance to watch Barnet FC live and in the flesh was waiting. Granted I could have been there in December to watch on a Tuesday night but the club’s reluctance to allow general sale tickets until too late meant I had made other plans and stuck to them.

Whilst this was yet another dead rubber within this strange, weird and sometimes dull season this was all about the fans. People excited at a piece of normality returning and for me meeting up with some of the people I’ve grown to know via social media over the past 14 months (if I missed any of you last night I’ll be there again on Saturday, please come and say hello) and also those who I already knew but haven’t seen for months.

One change for Simon Bassey saw Antony Wordsworth back into the midfield after his four match ban with Michael Petrasso dropping to the bench, meaning five substitutes for the first time in a while.

The first half as might be expected was a very cagey non-descript affair, Maidenhead happy to soak up anything coming their way whilst Barnet eager to try and engineer something in front of the home fans.

The Bees should have had the lead after 18 minutes, Themis Kefalas with a free header sent the wrong side of the post when he should have scored. Ephron Mason-Clark had a couple of efforts blocked by the visitors defence and Adam Parkes was only called into action once to save from the Magpies front men, chances very much at a premium for both sides as they went in goal-less at the break.

The Bees noticeably turned up the tempo in the second half, Bassey wanting more from his troops and they were rewarded just before the hour mark when Harry Taylor found the net for the first time in 151 appearances in black and amber, striking home from inside the area across Magpies keeper James Holden to give the Bees the lead.

The other side of the hour mark saw the Bees increase their lead, Wordsworth slid in delightfully by the hard working Tomi Adeloye and finished with aplomb by the returning midfielder for a 2-0 lead and the points seemingly staying at The Hive.

The game should have been fully wrapped up in the final five minutes, Canadian Michael Petrasso on as a substitute for Wordsworth headed wide from just a few yards out when easier to score which really would have put the icing on the cake in front of the 562 home supporters, but the Bees saw out the game comfortably and await the visit of champions Sutton Utd at the weekend.

Despite Kings Lynn’s point against Solihull at the same time, Barnet can still climb off the bottom at the weekend, but a five goal swing is needed between themselves and The Linnets to make it happen.

An interesting stat that came to light after the game on Tuesday before Bassey arrived with Dave Anderson, Barnet had 13 points from 28 games and four clean sheets, since their arrival 15 points from 12 games and four clean sheets, that is not to be under-estimated the work the pair along with Gary Anderson have put in to such a short space of time with only two additions to the existing squad.

It’s also only the second time this season the Bees have failed to let a side score in both games against them, Weymouth being the other along with the Magpies.

Some superb performances came out of this game and the first to pick out is Ben Nugent. It’s very fair to say the centre-half has put in some of the worst performances seen in a Barnet shirt in recent memory, but he dealt brilliantly with everything, my only gripe is a left footed centre half on the right side of the two means a constant switch to his good foot, narrows the pitch down but credit to him for putting in that shift last night.

His centre half partner Ben Richards-Everton didn’t lose a header and will be a big player for us at both ends of the pitch next season, Lee Vaughan was constantly in good positions in either half of the pitch always providing an outlet.

Great to see Taylor finally get on the scoresheet, a long time coming but a strike worthy of his brother Jack’s right boot whilst Adeloye worked tirelessly up front with maybe not the best of service coming his way.

Man of the match was definitely Sam Skeffington, his energy, tackling, passing, constant probing is one that needs to be in black and amber next season it’s something that has lacked all year until his arrival in midfield and drives the team on week after week.

And as if like buses we get another game to watch this coming weekend as the champions roll into town at The Hive for a lunchtime Saturday kick off. A great season for Sutton Utd was crowned last weekend and this will be another good test for the home side despite nothing but pride riding on the game.

For me, a chance to see a couple of former Worthing FC players in Omar Bugiel and David Ajiboye in action once again and with some of my PNLP podcast boys joining me should be in for a decent day once again, whatever happens though, it’s great to be back…………

Bees put dent in Torquay’s title hopes

For the final time this season on Saturday afternoon I was sitting in front of a Barnet stream and I sincerely hope it’s the last I’m ever having to do that! A trip to title chasing Torquay in the final away game of the season wouldn’t have been the first choice of one of the last three games before the wasted season finally finished.

After two previous performances of huff and puff but no results, Simon Bassey changed things up again with Themis Kefalas back in the starting line-up with Courtney Baker-Richardson and Alex McQueen missing out completely whilst there was a surprise amongst the four named substitutes Josh Walker appearing for the first time this season.

With both sides playing in front of fans for the first time since December, and the home side needing to avoid defeat to keep their title hopes alive it was a surprise that the Bees started the better of the two sides, the Gulls looking extremely nervy from the kick off.

Tomi Adeloye was close to giving the Bees an early lead as Torquay started to grow into the game, Jake Andrews sending a free kick just wide of the post, then Adeloye setting up Michael Petrasso but the Canadian’s shot was deflected wide for a corner.

As it was the home side took the lead against the run of play on 13 minutes, Andrews settling the nerves slightly with a smart finish cutting in from the left hand side. Kefalas thought he had the equaliser just four minutes later only to see his header cleared off the line, moments before Adeloye had a sight of goal before a timely intervention.

Somehow the Gulls were two goals to the good after 23 minutes, Connor Lemonheigh-Evans benefitting from Ben Nugent beaten by a diagonal ball to round Adam Parkes leaving Barnet wondering why they were two goals behind and not in front. Not that this goal settled the nerves for the home side, they still looked capable of allowing Barnet back into the game.

Adeloye should have won himself a penalty after having his shirt tugged in the box, missed by both the referee and the short-sighted commentators who struggled with everything Barnet all afternoon. Kefalas should have halved the deficit just after the half hour sending a free header wide of the target.

The Bees didn’t have to wait long for their way back into the game, on 37 minutes Harry Taylor was needlessly fouled in the area and Petrasso stepped up to put the ball past ex-Worthing stopper Luca Covolan to reduce the arrears.

A superb save from Parkes kept the deficit at one on the stroke of half time, the home side going into the break in front but far from convincing.

Barnet again started strong and were level ten minutes into the half. A foul on Petrasso led to Sam Skeffington putting a free kick onto the head of Kefalas and this time the Greek youngster and made no mistake and the Bees had parity once again.

Both sides then opened up the game, Andrews putting a free kick the wrong side of Parkes’ post whilst Petrasso forced Covolan into a reflex save and chances continued to be traded, Taylor denied by Covolan whilst the Gulls missed a great chance at the far post which only needed a touch to end up in the back of the net.

The Bees did have to withstand a huge amount pressure in the final ten minutes but the home side couldn’t find a way through and in stoppage time the Bees had at least two very good chances to win the game but poor decision making in the final third meant the spoils were shared, Sutton Utd with the chance to win the title on Sunday afternoon before they visit The Hive on the final day next weekend.

This was probably the best performance of the season, some outstanding contributions along the way from Skeffington whose set pieces were a mark-up on McQueen, Ben Richards-Everton solid at the back whilst Kefalas deserved his goal and more, Petrasso, Mason-Clark and Beard providing good contributions.

Can’t let it pass without mentioning the commentators, now I appreciate they’re the home club etc, but having watched 27 consecutive Barnet streams bar Kings Lynn away these two were horrendous. Mistaking 6ft Nugent for 5ft something Lee Vaughan when taking throw in’s is something else, Skeffington’s corners they thought were taken by Petrasso, not difficult chaps when these guys have their own number on the back of their shirt, maybe a little more professionalism wouldn’t go amiss.

Two to go, both at The Hive including the visit of champions elect Sutton Utd next Saturday, Maidenhead to come on Tuesday evening. Tickets for both already in the wallet, that long five hour round trip I am actually looking forward to and seeing a lot of people who have been strangers for a year or so or Twitter buddies, Tuesday night under lights bring it on……………………