A bump in the road for National League big guns

The midweek National League results have shown that despite most teams having played 12 or 13 games the division is showing no signs of settling down yet.

Just when you think a team is off and on a run, a defeat crops up and usually one that’s unexpected, not too handy if you’ve got an accumulator going on it’s a good job it’s only a pound each week!

At the beginning of the season I reckoned that around fourteen of the twenty-three teams felt they would have a chance of either a shot at the title or the play-off places. Around half of those teams would say they’ve under achieved so far but with time to turn things around with a mini-run of results.

Two of these who have spent a heck of a lot of money in Stockport and Wrexham suffered defeats midweek as did the league leaders Grimsby Town. County’s loss meant the end of the road for Simon Rusk, his record not the worst but having spent a fair bit of money to achieve promotion before the salary cap comes into effect next season and to be sitting with just eleven goals in 12 games and outside the top seven a change was inevitable.

Now most want to see Wrexham fail in their bid to get back to the National League. Dubbed ‘Hollywood FC’ with the investment from the film star pair of Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney some of the fees paid out so far are eye-watering and while fans of the Red Dragons will point to jealousy that it’s happening at their club and nowhere else it’s a cup final for everyone else in every game to beat them. Despite a game in hand they are off the pace massively behind the top two of Grimsby and Chesterfield and my thoughts are another defeat or two within the next three weeks or so would see the end of Phil Parkinson, this league is ruthless this year.

I don’t think many picked Wealdstone to turn over the league leaders Grimsby last Tuesday. A much needed win for the Stones and re-enforcing that no result is guaranteed before a ball is kicked, every three points has to be earnt. It might also have relieved a little bit of pressure on Wealdstone boss Stuart Maynard after a run of four games without a win, especially as both Barnet and Maidenhead around them have recently picked up a few points.

One side who has quietly gone about their business are Solihull Moors. Neal Ardley has taken his side into the play-off places with only two defeats in their thirteen games, I expected them to do well under the former Notts County boss whose previous club trail his new side by three points.

Bromley must get a mention too under Andy Woodman.One defeat in their last nine games has the Ravens looking upwards only and should they win both their games in hand then they could be sitting on the top of the National League, only a four goal swing would stop them in that quest.

Woodman has shown you can step in from the relative sidelines and improve a club, I was as surprised as any when Bromley sacked Neil Smith, not just because I know him but they were then heading in the right direction and the rest of his coaching staff didn’t follow him through the door.

Granted Woodman has made some of his own signings, but the majority were here before him and it hasn’t made an ounce of difference, when you consider their budget isn’t in the same bracket as the Wrexham’s and Stockport’s it’s down to managerial nous and getting the best out of his players, it does help when Michael Cheek leads your line though!

If Wrexham and Stockport do win their games in hand they are back in the mix but still a long way off the top spot and only three defeats between both Grimsby and Chesterfield it’s going to take some run with very little margin for error.

With all of the top five having completed thirteen games now and only four points separating them it promises to be another intriguing weekend of National League football culminating with my team the Bees taking on Aldershot at The Hive live on BT Sport, three points please chaps, sorry Shots fans!

Bees unable to break through Moors

A general view of the ground before the FA Women’s Super League match at The Hive, Barnet.

Tuesday night the 25 game streak of streaming Barnet games was over as I made my way to East Preston to actually watch a live game for the first time since mid-December.

Well, it was until a waterlogged pitch put paid to the Bees game at Solihull Moors and then hastily re-arranged for Wednesday evening with a 6pm ko which meant game 26 then!

Simon Bassey made two changes from Saturday’s defeat at Eastleigh with Michael Petrasso and Courtney Baker-Richardson coming into the team, Themis Kefalas missing out completely and Alex McQueen dropping down to the bench which for the second game running contained just four players, let’s not get started on around 15 furloughed players.

Lining up in a 4-4-2 formation meant more attacking intent and a more open game than some we’ve been used to this season. Both sides were attempting to play with the ball on the ground despite some blustery conditions, but pretty much only half chances were materialising for both teams.

The Bees were wasteful all game through with their set pieces and the usually reliable Lee Vaughan struggled to find his range when crossing into the box despite at least two targets to aim for.

An early booking for the Bees skipper left Vaughan walking a tightrope for just over 80 minutes of the game and at times the Moors stuck lively winger Alex Addai out to his side of the pitch to tempt the experienced full back into another bookable challenge but the full back wasn’t buying it.

Moors certainly had the best of the possession whilst as seems the norm Ephron Mason-Clark provided the best outlet for Barnet to get going with some strong and at times mazy runs but little end product into the box.

Two big chances arrived just before the half time whistle, one for either side. Addai’s strong run past Sam Beard saw his fierce shot cannon off the outside of Adam Parkes’ left hand post whilst at the other end Baker-Richardson looked clean through moments later only to be denied by keeper Ryan Boot, appeals for a penalty declined as the striker went down at the point of shooting, no replay though to see if it was the case and the sides went in goal-less at the break.

A similar sort of pattern was to follow for the second half, but Bassey’s half time talk was out the window within five minutes of the restart, James Ball firing home past Parkes to give the home side the lead.

Petrasso had a good chance just before the hour mark but didn’t wrap his foot round the ball enough and his effort sailed past the post. The same player was closest to finding an equaliser with 20 minutes to go, a header back across goal from Ben Richards-Everton found the Canadian but couldn’t make a good enough contact and the flag went up against him for offside.

The last nine minutes were a blur, or more a complete black out as for some bizarre reason Solihull decided the stream was going to finish at 7.45 for a 6pm kick off, but there we go, apparently I didn’t miss very much so they tweeted to me afterwards!

Slightly disappointing from a Bees point of view as I felt either side could have picked up the three points, game certainly lacked quality throughout and a very end of season dead rubber feel about it.

As Bassey said afterwards, you couldn’t fault the efforts of the players at all but another loss goes into the column. Richards-Everton put in one of his best performances so far, tempered by an off-colour Vaughan, the latter having been very consistent so far this season.

Mason-Clark once again was given license to be the player he is, to run and cause havoc but the service into both Baker-Richardson and Tomi Adeloye wasn’t at its best.

Onto Torquay this weekend for game 27 and hopefully the final one in front of a screen, tickets booked for both home games next week against Maidenhead and Sutton Utd, interesting to see the reaction towards the players and indeed the chairman for comments made earlier this year, no welcome back offer though, football without fans is what remember………….

Bees get lost amongst the Moors

The Easter Bank Holiday weekend is generally a time when dreams can be prolonged or smashed into a million pieces but with still 12 odd games to go for most National League clubs it hasn’t got the same appeal this year.

For Barnet, the season is really done, last week it looked like the side went through the motions at Yeovil after a mishmash of a week with no manager in place. Once again Head of Performance Gary Anderson was in charge with chairman Tony Kleanthous still undecided on his next appointment as manager and that is unlikely to change before Monday’s trip to local rivals Wealdstone.

Anderson recalled Antony Wordsworth to the starting line-up and was joined by Alexander McQueen returning from international action, Xander McBurnie and Tomi Adeloye dropping to the bench. The visitors arrived at The Hive with very little to play for themselves so an afternoon high on easter entertainment was likely to be in short supply.

The Bees began with a 3-5-2 formation, Lee Vaughan filling in at left wing back whilst McQueen looked to take up the right hand side position with Michael Petrasso and Ephron Mason-Clark tucked slightly more inside as a result.

The visitors controlled possession with Barnet unable to keep the ball when they did win it back, touch was lacking and some careless decisions. However, the early chances came the way of the home side, McQueen should have given the Bees the lead inside ten minutes, but indecision meant a wild volley sent into the terrace instead of a bulging net.

Mason-Clark was next to try his luck but his strong shot failed to dip back down under the bar. Barnet were forced into an early change when Petrasso left the pitch with what looked like a hamstring injury replaced by Antonis Vasiliou, a chance for the youngster to get more minutes under his belt at this level.

Moors should have been in front on the half hour mark, Aymen Azaze slightly fortunate the ball headed from a corner was straight at him and a reflex save kept the ball out.

Just as it looked like the Bees would see out the first 45 minutes, the visitors took the lead on the stroke of half time, Tyrone Williams with a free header six yards out made no mistake. Barnet could and should have levelled things before the half time whistle went, JJ Hooper with a fantastic chance to bring parity but a weak shot was easy for Ryan Boot to gather.

The second half had Barnet on the front foot and with a bit more purpose, Wordsworth trying to catch out Boot in the Moors goal from a free kick but the save was equal to the shot taken.

Mason-Clark’s deft back header hit a post although unlikely to end up in the net given the angle but the closest the Bees came to a goal during the afternoon. Anderson then decided to change shape as Barnet chased the game, Adeloye replacing Vaughan.

As it was just four minutes later the visitors scored a potentially controversial second goal, one open for much debate. A pass out from Azaze put his defender under pressure and the controversy came from whether the ball came back to Kyle Hudlin from either Harry Taylor or the pressing Moors midfielder which was ruled after by the officials as from Taylor, Hudlin rounding Azaze and putting the ball in the back of the net.

That goal certainly put the game beyond Barnet and as has been the case on a few occasions ill discipline took over and the Bees finished the game with ten men, young centre half Themis Kefalas picking up two yellow cards in the space of three minutes to leave the Bees minus two central defenders for the Easter Monday trip.

There was a chance for the visitors to score a third but Ward effort was well saved by Azaze as the Bees slumped to yet another league defeat.

One win in twenty-seven games is now the stat for the sorry state of affairs and with eight red cards so far this season there is every chance records will be set everywhere and none of them good.

It is by far the worst time supporting the Bees in my 23 years and I was around when Gary Phillips put together a rag-tag team of journeymen who tried, had pride, and rarely got smashed around the park. It’s no disrespect to the players out there now but quality is lacking and a reason why these guys have not pitched up elsewhere.

Whilst there is merit in spending a few more days in getting the right man in place it is starting to wear a little thin that we can’t be honest in communicating where we’re at, why we’re delaying and why we won’t see certain players again in a Barnet shirt, it’s not difficult to keep what little fanbase you have onside.

That in no way is a dig at our media man Adam Rowe, a top job done under difficult circumstances and the content that does come out is top drawer but in a day and age where social media is king powered by the rumour mill let’s clear some of that up and be more transparent, remember at some stage fans will be allowed back into The Hive but at the moment we might be lucky if we fill one stand let alone four……….