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………..

Bassey tastes defeat for the first time

It’s a strange feeling going into games now not expecting Barnet to come away with a four or five goal thumping such has been the progress in just a few games under the stewardship of Simon Bassey and Dave Anderson.

A trip to Gander Green Lane to face a Sutton Utd side who were seen as champions-elect only a few weeks ago with a mammoth number of games in hand was seen as a very big test of how far this side had become despite the fact the hosts hadn’t been in the best of form recently.

Bassey made one change to Saturday’s victorious eleven, Ben Richards-Everton back in at centre half at the expense of skipper Liam Daly possibly to counter the pace threat of former Worthing winger David Ajiboye should Sam Beard need the cover.

As expected the hosts started the brighter, the need for the three points probably emphasised emphatically by Sutton boss Matt Grey to his players to keep up their title challenge, but despite a lot of early possession and pressure they didn’t test Bees keeper Aymen Azaze.

The game looked very similar to last Tuesday, hosts make all the running whilst Barnet looked to soak up the pressure and break on the counter in order to get something from the game. An early booking for Themis Kefalas didn’t give the youngster much scope for error for the remaining 81 minutes but sensible play from the QPR loanee ensured the Bees kept a full compliment on the pitch for the fifth game running.

Ephron Mason-Clark was at the centre of anything likely to happen for Barnet and indeed had the first Bees effort of the night after 14 minutes, but saw his shot blocked by the Sutton defence.

Neither side were making the most of their set pieces, Barnet defending well once again whilst Alex McQueen’s delivery into the opposing box lacked quality throughout the game.

The game for the Bees became a little irrelevant in first half stoppage time as Azaze raced out from his goal only to be clipped in the face as he denied the on-rushing Sutton forward, the young Belgian goalkeeper stretched off as 16 year old James Callan came on for his first team debut, news on Azaze still awaited at the time of writing although believed to be a fractured eye socket and cheekbone.

After going into the break level, the home side knew they needed to up the ante in the second half especially with a young untested goalkeeper and started the same way as the first half, Callan called into early action but comfortably claiming the ball from a Sutton head following a corner.

Moments later Callan was in the action again saving from Harry Beautyman whilst the Bees Lee Vaughan managed to get Courtney Baker-Richardson in behind the U’s defence, but the striker was unable to keep the ball goal bound after rounding the keeper.

The game was broken up a little over the following ten minutes, a raft of bookings as the game started to drift a little until a golden chance for substitute Tomi Adeloye on 67 minutes saw the striker unable to toe poke the ball past Sutton keeper Dean Bouzanis.

Two minutes later the home side finally had their goal, corner in from their right hand side was pushed out well by Callan only for the ball to fall at the feet of striker Omar Bugiel and the former Worthing front man lashed the ball into the roof of the net.

Whilst the goal knocked a bit of stuffing out of the Bees, there was still time to grab an equaliser and with Michael Petrasso on for the industrious Sam Skeffington there was every chance for Barnet to create something but the home side defended well to stop the Bees getting the ball down the flanks and into the box.

Little goalmouth action followed in the remaining ten minutes and Bassey tasted defeat for the first time since arriving at The Hive, but no disgrace in losing to a good Sutton side who have been in the title race for the best part of the season.

Plenty of positives last night, Matt Preston looking stronger game by game after returning from injury, Beard not allowing Ajiboye much of a kick all evening, the energy of Skeffington across midfield whilst Callan at such a young age coped well with anything that came his way.

Best wishes to Aymen Azaze and now it remains to be seen before the weekend which route the club go down, Scott Loach to return from furlough, Callan to continue until Azaze is fit with no sub keeper or an emergency loan from the EFL or NLS, the former I believe out of the question so it’s between the other two options in my opinion, long term Barnet’s goalkeeping department looks in good hands……..

Title race very much alive and kicking

As the season enters the final six weeks of what seems to have been the longest eight months on record, there is a fantastic title race at the top of the National League for promotion into the Football League.

Had last season carried on I believe we would have seen a challenge to Barrow who were having a mini wobble at the time of the pandemic forcing all football to be suspended. As it was they took their place in League Two along with Harrogate Town for the 2020-21 season.

This season for a majority of the first few months it looked a one horse race as Torquay Utd won game after game and on Boxing Day last year after thumping local rivals Yeovil Town 6-1 the Gulls were nine points clear of their closest challengers despite having played two games more.

A stuttering January and February where only one win was gained in each month saw the chasing pack catch and overtake Torquay but the Gulls have managed to compose themselves and remain firmly in the hunt for automatic promotion.

The biggest advantage takers from Torquay’s blip have been Sutton Utd, quietly going about their business and stealing a march whilst the Gulls faltered. Of course every team goes through at least one sticky patch in a season and the Gander Green Lane outfit have been no different although more in the form of draws than defeats.

The basis of their title charge this side of Xmas has been a current 14 match unbeaten run which stretches back to the beginning of February and despite a few more draws in the last five weeks or so they too remain fully in contention.

With no game at the weekend they relinquished top spot to Hartlepool but trail the North East side by just a single point with a massive four games in hand whilst being three points in front of Torquay with a game in hand on them.

This Tuesday night see the Gulls heading to Gander Green Lane in search of three big points. Whilst the hosts can afford to draw in terms of their games in hand on both chasing clubs the visitors really need the win to keep the pressure on Sutton and Hartlepool as we head towards the season climax.

As well as Sutton’s great run Hartlepool are themselves 14 games unbeaten and their season comes to a climax a week earlier than everyone else due to Dover’s demise this season and it couldn’t have been written any better, a trip to Sutton in what potentially could a title decider depending on how results fair for both clubs in the next four weeks.

Having watched all three sides either on BT Sport or streamed against Barnet you can make a case for all three to be champions. Sutton are well organised at the back, strikers who can poses a threat up front and the goals from midfield of Harry Beautyman a real bonus.

Pools are free-flowing, also strong defensively and goals across the team, like Sutton they know if they keep their run going it’s going to become a two horse race.

Torquay though now they are over a raft of injuries to key players will feel the race is far from done even if they suffer defeat on Tuesday night, the wily Gary Johnson will try to ensure his team are competitive till the end. With Saturday Tuesday Saturday football for Sutton to contend with over the next four weeks more than the other two sides there is likely to be a lot more twists and turns before the curtain comes down on a difficult season.

Underneath these three clubs those currently in the play-off’s positions are very much in control. Three defeats in a row for Wrexham and for Eastleigh just recently has made the job a little harder whilst four draws in the last five for Boreham Wood might have given them a little too much to do.

Sandwiched in between those three clubs are Bromley who seem to have come to terms with the departure of Neil Smith and unbeaten in three games under Andy Woodman, but like those around them it might be an ask to get inside those top seven places and stay there.

Ten games to go for most clubs does mean there is time to turn things around but those games will pass by very quickly and then the margin for error becomes smaller and smaller, its going to be a great race to the finish, just a shame we are unlikely to witness any of it live bar the final game of the season, although spare a thought for Hartlepool fans who as mentioned above finish a week earlier than anyone else, could be champions and not one celebration inside their Victoria Park Ground.