Bees get the better of local rivals

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Another Tuesday night and yet more midweek football, another game that I previously couldn’t make on it’s original date so rude not to take up the offer this time around.

The Hive and Barnet FC was the destination with Gareth Spinks for a local derby with Boreham Wood, the 4th meeting between the two sides this year, Wood on top in both cup games and 0-0 draw back in the New Year.

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Title races, play-off chases, relegation battles.

When you get to this time of year the result starts to become more important than the performance. The title races, play-off chases and relegation battles are heading into the final third of the season and there are some fantastic games still to come in all three National League divisions.

Stockport County are in the kind of form that almost brought Hartlepool the title last season under the same Dave Challinor. 11 wins from the last 12 games has been a phenomenal run of form and it’s beginning to look like the title is theirs to lose now. Boreham Wood fans would argue otherwise given their three games in hand and an unbeaten home record but you would say they have to put together this exact run of the form County are on and hope the Hatters lose a few, it’s a big ask for any club.

There are a clutch of chasing clubs in the play-off’s and I think again it would take a really excellent run from Dagenham downwards for any club to break into the top 7, Bromley and Grimsby just outside those places I feel the only ones who can do some damage to those currently occupying the promotion dream spots.

Dover we know are all but confirmed to go down, I think there is too much for Kings Lynn to do despite a couple of games in hand, those two wins would only draw them level with Weymouth directly above them, the South Coast club also need to string together a number of wins to give themselves a chance of survival meaning those just above shouldn’t need too many more wins to secure top division football next season.

The North has a three way race for the title although that does rely on games in hand being won as well. Gateshead hold the advantage with points in the bag but both Brackley and Kidderminster are still in with a good shout of automatic promotion, underneath those three the play-off race is certainly far from clear cut.

Whilst AFC Fylde, Southport and Chorley have a little bit of a gap to the others, you can say as far down as Spennymoor in 14th place will still be eyeing a spot. I’ve gone as low as that due to their games in hand and although there is an allowance needed for those in between them to have to lose a few games the impossible it isn’t at all.

At the bottom with very few clubs having more than a game in hand on others and goal difference being quite tight that battle is going to move up and down every week. Farsley Celtic who occupy the current bottom spot have a far inferior goal difference to the rest and will need to do more than most I feel to escape, but level on points and just above them AFC Telford are without an away win all season, it could come down to whoever can win the most home games between those two or alternatively someone can easily get dragged into the mess at the bottom.

Whilst Dorking Wanderers win over 2nd placed Maidstone Utd at the weekend strengthened their position in the South division, the Stones game in hand can still bring the Kent club to within three points of the leaders. Recent form for those underneath these two have seen them all fall away and at one stage you could have thrown a blanket over five or six clubs separated by a minimal amount of points.

The play-off race once again is as every bit exciting as the North division with Hemel Hempstead down in 11th place not thinking they’re out of the race, a lot of wins needed but it’s still a possibility. It only takes a couple of wins for those just outside to be inside and for others to get themselves closer but for some it will need a fantastic run of wins against others managing an awful run of defeats at the same time.

At the bottom Tonbridge’s win over Billericay on Saturday was huge in both cases, breathing space for the former, the latter knowing their game in hand has huge importance in closing the gap to a manageable three points to those above them. Whilst an 11 point gap from the bottom to those in 15th place might be enough to see the likes of Hampton & Richmond Borough and Concord Rangers from getting dragged into the dogfight we all know football has that unpredictability and somewhere from within these three divisions one or more will surprise us all and spring from the pack or drop more than we expected, it’s all a case of who can keep their nerve for the next two months and come up trumps.

Bees unable to break down resolute Linnets

With so much Tuesday night football all season there has been plenty of choice of where to pitch up each week, whether that be locally, a bit of distance or somewhere I’ve wanted to go this season.

I think it’s fair to say alongside a few others Barnet were not doing a great job of enticing me to watch them over the last few weeks and I’m putting that down to events both on and off the pitch, one causing the other to no doubt in my mind make supporters feel the distance between themselves and the club is starting to make itself known once again.

I can’t complain however at the offers the club have put on so far this season, typically though it’s always been the weekend I have my kids but on a Tuesday night there’s no such obstacle and the offer of a fiver entry to see the Bees take on Kings Lynn saw me decide The Hive was my destination instead of a trip to Haywards Heath to see them take on Worthing, a chance to see what Tommy Widdrington and Hugo Langton have managed to do with the Linnets, the latter I know well from spells around Kent and Sussex.

Both sides were in need of a win, the Bees having had a stuttering two months not helped by off field distractions and are by no means safe from relegation whilst Lynn are beginning to run out of time to get the results needed for another season in non-league’s top flight.

After coming back from 2-0 down at Torquay last weekend, Dean Brennan named an unchanged side which I don’t think has happened on too many occasions this season, but it was the visitors who started the strongest and made all the early running with the Bees struggling to get out of their own half.

The Linnets could have been in front inside the opening ten minutes with Aston Oxborough forced into a diving save to prevent Josh Barrett from giving Lynn the lead. Barnet did respond with Ross Marshall’s flicked header unable to be forced over the line whilst Reece Grego-Cox got in behind a dithering Lynn defence but Paul Jones was equal to tip the striker’s effort over the bar.

Grego-Cox was inches away from connecting with an Ephron Mason-Clark cross into the box on the half hour after good work from the winger and Adam Marriott had fashioned the chance.

That though was about as good as it got for both sides in the first half, chances very limited and neither side extending the opposition goalkeeper too much, a lot of huff and puff but not much to shout about.

The way the Bees came out for the second half certainly suggested a few words were said at half time and the period of extended pressure should have brought about a goal. Just a couple of minutes in Teddy Howe was denied by a fine save from Jones followed by Mason-Clark’s shot deflected into the side netting after a mazy run.

Grego-Cox was then denied by the keeper a minute later and as the pressure increased Ben Richards-Everton low drive was destined for the bottom corner until Jones turned it round the post.

That said the Linnets absorbed the pressure and the scoreline stayed 0-0 although on the hour mark they should have been ahead. Barrett’s drive was palmed out by Oxborough and Cameron Hargreaves skied the ball over the bar when it should have nestled in the back of the net.

Brennan certainly went for the win the same as he did on Saturday with Rob Hall replacing Ryan De Havilland and Daniel Powell replacing Grego-Cox. Powell went close with 11 minutes to go, having rolled his defender he dragged his shot across goal with Mason-Clark unable to divert it past the keeper.

With the Bees again enjoying a good period of pressure, Mason-Clark’s skill saw him flick the ball over the defender’s shoulder and head towards the penalty area where Jones’ legs stopped the winger giving the home side the lead.

Howe again was put in a prime position from a Hall pass but chose to shoot instead of crossing and got his angles all wrong, the ball arrowing the wrong side of the post into the half dismantled terrace behind the goal.

The visitors had two glorious chances to snatch the points, Barrett’s effort clipping the top of the crossbar on it’s way over while Oxborough raced from his goal to make a fantastic save from Michael Clunan to keep the scores level as the game entered stoppage time.

There was one final moment to win it for Barnet, Hall driving into the box but putting his effort the wrong side of the post leaving the referee to blow up and the sides to share a 0-0 draw.

Despite it not ending how the home side would have wanted a second draw in a row and a clean sheet is a couple of positives given that recently anything other than a loss has been hard to come by.

The Bees were missing an entire back four and with at least three players playing out of position can we expect too much more? Both loan signings in Marshall and Grego-Cox look shrewd acquisitions, the former organising vocally as well as with his boots whilst the latter a willing runner with a little bit of quality.

Impressed with De Havilland in the middle of the park, set pieces were spot on the money bar one free kick in the first half and considering he’s really here for next season he showed some nice touches for someone who hasn’t played a lot of football at this level.

Good to see Giuliano Grazioli after the game, of course had a great Zoom chat with him during the first lockdown but since then we’ve managed to miss each other at games and also great to know Ben Strevens was also out watching, contrary to the Only Barnet forum his only other visit to The Hive was as boss of Eastleigh.

Nice surprise to see Kevin Mullen too, an ex-commercial manager of the club when I used to do a lot of sponsorship and hospitality during Underhill times, was really nice to catch up, that’s been a lot of years!

After the game I was able to spend some time in the office with Brennan, Dave Anderson and John Dreyer, who were already analysing the entire game just an hour or so after it finished.

I appreciate I am lucky to know a lot more than at times can be let out to every supporter through various sources and outlets and some of that I wouldn’t let on because there some things I can say and some has to be in confidence.

Both reminded me that since Xmas we’ve had a rough couple of months with two bouts of covid hitting the club followed by the racism allegations and a struggle with recruitment, it’s been too stop-start in their eyes and quite frustrating.

We have the clarity with Dean’s job title that I think was needed to be put right behind the scenes with lots going on there and those calling for him to go because the performances haven’t been spot on etc just refer a little to the paragraph above, that’s not to make an excuse but let’s put it this way.

The last two years our club foundations have been built on quicksand and they are the whole reason why we sit in 16th place in the table, changing manager’s again would be continuing that quicksand reputation.

When we get to the summer this year there won’t be 12 or 13 going through the door, it’ll be 5 or 6 in my opinion giving us a solid base to build upon, we haven’t see that for a while.

With a poor managerial appointment last summer this season has been all about surviving in this league and pretty much getting those foundations in place, the rest of this season won’t be pretty I can assure you and I tip my hat to those of you who follow week in week out.

We knew after seven games this season was a write off despite that brief moment where everything was going well and we hit form, those off field things that hit us derailed everything, if Chesterfield, Stockport, Boreham Wood continually missed players and got to our point of missing an entire back four would they still be grinding results out? You know that answer.

John Dreyer will be a good addition to what we have already, we actually have a backroom structure to the club and with a fresh pair of eyes and a different voice he knows he’s got work to do.

As Dean alluded to in the Beespod interview about recruitment starting in November, we are underway and not waiting for June like we have in previous years, it’s what we’ve been crying out for and why we won’t see a massive exodus come the end of May.

I don’t think we can underestimate that last week’s meeting between TK and Dean how huge that was, if DB wasn’t in the manager’s chair last Tuesday night when I spoke to him then we were looking at quicksand again.

Some of this might look like I’m blowing smoke up DB’s arse, but we can’t keep swopping and changing the management team and then expecting a miracle for nine months, give him the tools and then if he cocks it up it’s on his head!

You can see from the three new signings they’re an improvement on what we have, but more has to come and I’m confident it will.

What I will say is trust the process………..

Defeat overshadowed by off pitch events

Tuesday night and the fourth game in seven days for me, it started at the Dripping Pan and took in Lewes, Wroxham, Barnet and finally Barnet again but an away day at Southend Utd.

The original fixture planned for Tuesday following Xmas wouldn’t have seen me attending due to work so it would have been rude not to make a first trip to Roots Hall when able to.

Both sides came into the game at opposite ends of the form table, the Shrimpers beginning to find form under Kevin Maher and the Bees finding struggles of late under Dean Brennan.

Barnet were missing three key players, skipper Jamie Turley who was internally suspended as I was to find out just before kick off from revelations of the aftermath of Saturday’s defeat to Stockport, Harry Taylor was suspended and Sam Beard suffering from a bout of tonsilitis.

With the focus of the Bees players possibly elsewhere at kick off, Southend went for the kill from the off and were in front inside five minutes, Aston Oxborough pushing a shot out straight to the feet of Matthew Dennis and he made no mistake to give the home side the lead.

Barnet struggled to get to grips with the lively front man and he was only denied by a superb Jordan Thomas tackle from getting himself with a free run at Oxborough nine minutes later. The Bees did then settle down looking to get Rob Hall and Ephron Mason-Clark on the ball as much as possible to unsettle the Southend defence with their pace and direct running.

Just before the half hour mark Dennis had his and the Shrimpers second, Oxborough failing to hold onto the ball and the frontman took full advantage to extend the lead for the home side.

The two goal cushion only lasted five minutes, Mason-Clark played in Adam Marriott who fired hard into the bottom corner to reduce the deficit. The Bees could have been level two minutes later but Mason-Clark headed wide of Steve Arnold’s goal.

Five minutes before the break Barnet allowed Tom Clifford a free run up the pitch and his shot came back off Oxborough’s left hand post and away to safety, but the home side in front at the interval.

Barnet were certainly the brighter side for the first fifteen second half minutes applying a good amount of pressure but lacked the penetration to level the scores. From that point on Southend dictated the play without too much threat to Oxborough’s goal and while Barnet stayed within touching distance of the game Arnold had a relatively comfortable second half, the Shrimpers taking the points to move to seven games unbeaten leaving Brennan proud of his side’s efforts but with nothing to show for them.

The game was certainly overshadowed by events off the pitch with much talk in the away end over what had happened since the Stockport match at the weekend, a few at the end chose to vent their frustrations and a lot of anger aimed at various individuals throughout.

Hopefully by the time the Bees take to the field at Aldershot this coming weekend some things will have been resolved and we get back to concentrating on football, the form needs to improve as it’s really tailed off with no win in six league games.

Better performance from Teddy Howe standing in at left back and Jordan Thomas made a difference recalled to the right back berth, stand out player for me was Sam Woods, winning headers and tackles where he’s supposed to and Wes Fonguck had his best game for a while before running out of steam.

Seven points were really needed out of the next four games including this one, a tall order maybe but we don’t need another relegation fight.

Headline news but for all the wrong reasons

Well, where do you start with this one! It’s a sensitive topic that plagues society as well as football and something we can’t seem to deal with effectively. I am of course talking about racism which is prevalent in our game and across the footballing world, but this one strikes a lot closer to home.

A big majority of you will have read by now of an alleged incident during the Barnet vs Stockport County match on Saturday at The Hive, a game I attended with a good mate of mine Nick Patel.

The game was halted around 15 minutes in but there was uncertainty as to why. The referee held conversations with his assistant on that side of the field nearest the tunnel, both captains, a steward, the managers and also the 4th official. Play took about 5-10 minutes to re-start and I thought whatever it was had been dealt with.

Then around 10-15 minutes after the stoppage an anti-racism message was broadcasted over the tannoy and again I assumed it had been dealt with at the time and to be honest didn’t think too much of it.

Fast forward to Tuesday night and a trip to Southend. I arrived and sat down after eating to check out the team news, no Jamie Turley who I assumed picked up a knock at the weekend, no Beard or Taylor, the latter two I found out after were ill and suspended. From here is where it unravels!

I messaged Nick to say no Turley and forwarded on came a link to a Daily Mirror article about Barnet embroiled in a racism row and that if I read it I would know why Turley was not there.

Turley had indeed been suspended from the club on full pay following an incident at The Hive on Monday morning which came about from the allegations on Saturday.

Ricky Bartlett, the clubs apparent logistics manager (more on that later) and NOT a member of the coaching staff, is alleged to have made a racist comment to Stockport County defender Ryan Johnson that caused the stoppage in play.

Bartlett wasn’t suspended by the club initially despite the chairman being made aware on the Sunday of an issue whereby the players weren’t comfortable with him being around the complex at training time.

As per the statements released so far Turley clashed with Bartlett leading to the latter making his feelings known to the chairman and Turley receiving his suspension. Bartlett was eventually also suspended but it appears after the Bees captain.

Now all of this appeared on various newspaper links an hour before the game was due to kick off at Roots Hall, leaked out I assume from the club but by who that remains a mystery. That led to the club releasing a statement once they knew it was out in the open, once again poor communication that we have seen on so many occasions and the timing itself was also very poor.

Word then began to filter around the stand before, during and after the game with much speculation abound, the game itself merely a by-product almost in front of us for its duration.

The atmosphere itself wasn’t pleasant at all in the away end, disbelief, angry, confused, the best way to describe the emotions but getting behind the players on the pitch at the same time.

Once the game had finished a few took to venting their frustrations as the staff and players were leaving the pitch, two of the staff members did walk across and talk to them, I didn’t hear what was said as I was out of earshot.

Going back to the article the playing squad had backed Turley and refused to turn out on Tuesday night and didn’t train on Monday nor anything light on Tuesday morning. The reason the players did play was down to Dean Brennan solely to convince them to play for him, for Dave Anderson and for us as supporters.

There seems some uncertainty that they were told going on strike would see some contracts terminated or players fined, we do know however if they had failed to fulfil the fixture then the club would have been on the receiving end of a fine themselves.

If you’re still reading and not in a confused state of mind, then well done! I’m not convinced I’ve got things in order and this is after a re-read twice over.

Since I began to write this earlier on Wednesday the club have since issued another statement with more bullet points and information than before but it still begs a few questions need to be answered.

Reading the statement sent out on Wednesday afternoon those closest to the incident confirm nothing untoward was said out of context or that what was said wasn’t deemed to be racist in its wording.

If however nothing out of the ordinary was said then why has the County player in question reported it to the Kick It Out campaign? Because if the said wording is not racist then it’s another can of worms opening up surely?

What don’t I understand is why the club didn’t undertake a thorough investigation a day later and suspend Bartlett while they completed it? The FA would be involved in any case which they are now and potentially this could have been concluded by now.

If you or I had done this same thing in a normal workplace we’d be on suspension pending investigation and released back to work if the allegations were unfounded, why does it appear to be done differently? It’s their place of work, the same rules don’t apply?

If they had followed those parts above then Turley wouldn’t have been in the situation he’s ended up in now, there would a more calmer approach to it instead of het-up angry comments flying around everywhere.

I can understand people saying the players were wrong to strike, but like in a disagreement you back your mate, they feel their skipper was hard done by because the club hasn’t followed what you would expect when serious allegations are made and at this stage until every last morsal has been investigated that’s what they are.

I don’t understand why reference had to be made to Bartlett no longer holding the position of Logistics Manager due to a severe heart condition, surely that has no bearing on anything discussed above? And if he’s only a member of the site team should he be anywhere close to the training sessions as he now has no impact on any football related matters that he was once responsible for?

My hashtag on Twitter of #WeStandByTurley isn’t an admission of guilt on the part of Bartlett as one or two have suggested, I stand by the fact that whatever happened on Monday morning was avoidable and he’s paying the price for it as are the team without his presence on the pitch.

The whole thing has left a sour taste in the mouths of many for a situation that could have been handled far differently and we’re not here talking about football, but you have to take the rough with the smooth, that’s Barnet FC…………………

County storm to victory against struggling Barnet

I think I can probably count on two hands the amount of times I’ve watched two live games in two days. Life generally dictates otherwise which is fair enough, that can’t be helped.

Having taken in Wroxham vs Norwich Utd in El Broadico on Friday evening I was hoping for Kings Lynn to be at home on the Saturday and a catch up with Hugo Langton who is assisting Tommy Widdrington at The Walks.

But an away day for them at Boreham Wood meant I decided on a trip to The Hive for Barnet and Stockport County instead on the way back home, a nice cross country route to get there instead of endless motorways.

Having watched County cruise past Dagenham last weekend on BT Sport, there wasn’t anything to suggest Barnet would fair any better so keeping the score down and respectable was the most Bees fans were expecting.

With Dean Brennan fielding arguably his strongest side with Jordan Thomas and Kian Flanagan on the bench the only two likely to be included, there was a debut for new right back Teddy Howe.

The intention from Stockport was there right from the kick off, press high and constantly and not give the home side any time to settle, the pace of Paddy Madden and harassing of Scott Quigley forced Reiss Greenidge to concede an early free kick and picked up a booking in the process after only five minutes.

With Barnet struggling to get any momentum going forward it was looking to be a matter of time that County would take the lead, targeting the new full back Howe with balls around and over the top of him.

Both Liam Hogan and Madden put shots just wide of the post before a free kick clipped the top of the crossbar on it’s way over just past the half hour mark. The Bees were still struggling to get anything going and Aston Oxborough was called into action seven minutes before the break tipping Ryan Croasdale’s effort onto the bar, not the first time the County midfield and front line had broken through the Bees back line, this coming from a sliced Oxborough clearance which saw the young stopper redeem himself.

Just as it appeared Barnet would head into the interval on level terms, a silly freekick was given away outside the box and was headed back across goal for Will Collar to nod home unmarked from two yards out in first half stoppage time, in all honesty that should have been the second or third goal for the visitors.

A second goal did come for County nine minutes into the second half, Ryan Johnson outmuscling the Barnet defence to head home from a Ryan Rydel corner much to the delight of the travelling fans behind Oxborough’s goal.

Twelve minutes later Hogan headed home unmarked from another corner to seal the points leaving Bees fans frustrated having conceded all three goals from set plays.

Barnet’s inability to test the County backline meant they waited until the 88th minute for a shot on target, Ephron Mason-Clark’s stinging drive tipped round the post by Ben Hinchliffe.

With the Bees seemingly in the dressing room at the announcement of four added minutes, Stockport showed their ruthless side and score twice more through Connor Jennings and Johnson again to really rub salt into the wounds and cap a five star display from start to finish.

The gulf between the two sides was clearly evident before and during the match and as mentioned the intensity that County played with was far removed from anything Barnet tried.

I think we all expected an away win but not the capitulation at the end and the manner of the first three goals, re-starts, something the Bees had a massive problem with last year and it seems even with new personnel this year it’s no better.

As per almost every game we’ve played this year the lack of midfield legs is showing far too often, we don’t get close enough to the opposition to make them work harder. There is a huge lack of goalscoring threat as well, and it’s not just down to this particular game either, it’s becoming a bit baffling as to why neither Adam Marriott nor Mason Bloomfield are selected to start games when that’s their bread and butter.

The post-match interview from Brennan certainly attracted a few comments, not quite the solid debut from Howe that he alluded to, let’s hope that one was put down to nerves and there is a player in there.

Three huge games coming up in Southend and Aldershot away plus Wealdstone at home by mid-Feb and Notts County somewhere in the middle, seven points must be the minimum from these four games, that relegation zone is becoming closer than mid-table safety……..

It certainly isn’t over yet

As it comes towards the end of January the National League title race is turning into a mad sprint to the finish. With so many games postponed in the last six weeks there is such an imbalance in games played that the lead and positions underneath top spot are changing on such a regular basis.

I’ve long tipped Chesterfield to win it, the goals of Kabongo Tshimanga vital to the charge and with the addition this week of Joe Quigley from Yeovil alongside the return from injury of Akwasi Asante there is enough firepower there. Having dealt with an injury crisis that at one stage numbered 12 first team players, the only concern is turning draws into wins, indeed they are the draw specialists in the division so far this year but are on top of the tree on goal difference.

That tip is under big threat from no less than six teams, that’s how tight the league is this year as clubs clamour to get out of non-league and into the Football League before the salary cap hits next season.

Question is who do you fancy? Halifax Town are really putting the cat amongst the pigeons. No disrespect to the Yorkshire outfit but they weren’t at all mentioned in the pre-season predictions and I remember Pete Wild the Town boss bemoaning the amount of money in some clubs that his couldn’t compete with, but he’s almost swallowed his own words and shown they can mix it.

Maidenhead managed to account for losses for the top two sides inside the last seven days showing this league isn’t as easy as sometimes thought to escape from.

Having watched Stockport not really get out of second gear to get past Dagenham in the evening kick off on Saturday, they are serious contenders. Seven wins in a row and Dave Challinor has County purring, they are really putting the heat on others now and clearly shows they were right to dispense with the services of Simon Rusk and lure last season’s play-off winning manager back into non-league.

Bromley like Halifax have gone a little under the radar but are still in the thick of things despite an unsettling week with interest from Gillingham in boss Andy Woodman. It’s no secret he expects to be managing in the Football League sooner rather than later but can he do it with the Ravens instead of the Gills? There is a possibility they could face each other in League Two next season, lots would need to come together for that to happen.

Boreham Wood are nine games unbeaten and haven’t lost a league game since mid-October, they have most to gain with games in hand in the top seven. Like Chesterfield, Wood need to convert more draws into wins and if those two games in hand are won Wood will sit top of the table.

Wrexham have hauled themselves back into contention and it’s maybe a surprise they haven’t made good use of the transfer window although eight or nine days left to still strengthen. Their home form has to be stronger in order to keep up their challenge, winning on the road seems to come easy.

Notts County occupy the final play-off spot at present and with games in hand as well. A five match unbeaten run has kept them in touch with the play-off pack and like the others winning those games can put them at the summit it really is that tight at the moment.

There are two or three clubs just outside at the moment that will still feel they have a chance of getting in there but the remainder beyond that will need a Stockport type of run and in effect longer than seven games won or a massive drop in form for about four or five clubs.

Whilst the Daggers looked out of sorts against Stockport they’re not out of the picture by any means the only thing going against them at the moment is having played more games than the top seven bar Halifax. If Solihull Moors can find some consistency again then they can challenge for a spot while Grimsby somehow need to turn their form back to the early months of the season or they will be looking at a mid-table finish at best.

There are a few tasty games coming up over the next three weeks alone, Halifax vs Boreham Wood, Bromley vs Notts County, Halifax vs Bromley and Stockport vs Chesterfield stick out, it’s certainly something you can’t take your eyes off for a minute.

Uninspiring draw opens the new year

Extra Bank Holidays also means extra games of football or just the same amount spread over more days! 2022 was to kick off with a derby as Boreham Wood took on Barnet for the third time this season.

With Wood winning both the FA Cup and Trophy ties already this season, the Bees would have looked at this one as surely the one to turn the tide and finally get one over their local rivals.

It was the first game for both since that Trophy game at The Hive on 18th December, a covid ravaged Christmas for a majority of the National League and both these sides had their fair share as well.

On a damp Sunday afternoon in Hertfordshire but on a decent playing surface, Bees boss Dean Brennan went with both strikers in Adam Marriott and Mason Bloomfield, something that hasn’t been seen too often this season and in trying to match up against Wood’s formation, Harry Taylor was employed as a centre half in a back three with Reis Greenidge out for the game.

From the beginning, it looked like it wasn’t going to be one for the purists, Wood well known for their tough, hard tackling game and turning the ball from back to front as quick as possible, the Bees trying to match their high flying opponents.

With both sides ring-rusty from a lack of match action of around two weeks there is pretty much next to nothing to write about the first half, Aston Oxborough forced into a save from Scott Boden down to his left tipping the ball away from goal and Sam Beard completing the clearance.

That was the only clear chance either side had in the first forty-five minutes as the two teams cancelled each other out from back to front.

The second half had more of the same unfortunately, Barnet’s first real chance came just after the hour mark, the excellent Jordan Thomas sent a lovely little cross in the six yard box but Bloomfield fluffed his kick and the scores stayed level.

Jacob Mendy had a great chance to win it for the hosts in the final ten minutes but Oxborough was equal to his shot and without much further drama a 0-0 draw was about as much as we could have expected.

I think it depends how you look at it as to whether it’s a good point against a top three side or just a poor game of football. From the outside it’s the good point, as mentioned above you could see neither side were in sync having had two weeks without playing, that’s bound to affect any team to get momentum going again.

I can’t say I was too keen that we went for a match up against them instead of playing our game, granted we did stand up to them and blocked and sweated everything they did, but at the expense of players like Rob Hall who had no influence at all on the game, a mere passenger.

I know playing Wood it’s not pretty, I have to say I wouldn’t enjoy watching the ball constantly find the air, that’s for the NFL!

Excellent game for Thomas on the right side today, certainly helps I think having Jamie Turley alongside him and by far the man of the match in black and amber.

A final word on the officials, the referee was pretty decent, just missed all the subtle things Wood like to get into the game, slowing down the throw in’s, the pushes and man handling. But the assistant in front of us was as poor as they come, countless offsides missed from not being in line with play, one or two too many mince pies this festive period, he was a shocker!

Well, onto Hungerford on Monday, can’t wait for that burger…………

When is a shock not a shock

I did open up the floor to my Twitter followers earlier on Sunday for ideas to write the next blog but it seems most were asleep on the sofa after a roast dinner but one idea did come out so here it is.

What do we class as an FA Cup shock these days? Of course a club from the predominantly part time section of the footballing pyramid has to be classed as upsetting the odds defeating those above them.

But when it comes to the National League and their clubs knock out a League One or Two club is it really as unexpected as it happens on the day? I sat through Chesterfield’s magnificent win over Salford City, themselves once a National League club but always with aspirations higher up the food chain, no doubt no different to a lot in the current top flight of non-league football.

Despite Salford’s ability to control possession they rarely threatened Scott Loach in the Spireites goal and we all know, no ball in the back of the net doesn’t win you games. Sometimes games rest on fine margins, a fingertip save from Loach preceded a second goal for the visitors, the difference there between a replay and an automatic place in the next round.

It’s not just Chesterfield at it, Yeovil also claimed a 3rd round place after a 1-0 win over Stevenage. The Glovers have that fantastic record of scalps over league clubs, 21 now in total, but I didn’t see this one as anything of a shock. Yeovil aren’t among the National League front runners granted, but considering Stevenage only survived being a non-league club last season by virtue of the Football League working out nicely how to move the Macclesfield problem away did they stay up.

This season they’re not exactly in much better shape and in that respect they’re not on a different level to Yeovil. We saw Stockport really take the game to Bolton in the last round and narrowly lose 1-0 at Rotherham on Friday night, there is certainly much less of a gap between League Two and the National League for sure and even going a little higher some sides might well hold their own.

Those of us that follow National League sides know how strong the division looks and actually is, it takes some to get out of it at the right end especially with only two places up for grabs. I think I’ve said it quite a few times I believed back in August 14 of the 23 sides would have said they’re in the hunt for the title or at least aiming for the play-offs.

That’s some number and a lot of disappointed teams come next May! So far though we’re not yet half way through the season and there is time for some of the clubs that are somewhat adrift of even a play-off spot to come good.

So, we come back to the original question that was asked and in my opinion when a full time National League club knocks out a League One or Two club in the FA Cup then I don’t consider it a shock, I’m not even convinced a part-time club knocking out a league club is as huge as it used to be, these clubs are just as organised as their full time counterparts and there is often the argument non-league’s top division should become League Three given it’s professionalism.

‘Shocks’ should be reserved for those teams in the lower levels of the pyramid who knock out someone higher up, feel free to say what you think, is a shock the same if you’re not Buxton, Bromley, Beaconsfield or Bexhill Utd? Let me know………….

The National League isn’t disappointing many

The National League is showing no signs of stopping throwing up the odd result or scoreline that makes you raise your eyebrows.

At the beginning of the season I reckoned there were 14 of the 23 sides harbouring hopes of either challenging for the title or getting into the play-offs. There are probably two or three of that 14 who will feel they’re a little bit further away than they wanted to be, but for most putting two or three results together would propel themselves into the thick of the race.

There is of course plenty of time left to make a move with over half the season to go and constant unpredictability from week to week does make it hard to pick winners in an accumulator!

Having watched Grimsby host Southend on Friday night the Mariners looked nervous despite the perfect start of an early goal and their current league position and had the visitors been able to show some potency in front of goal they certainly would have deserved to come away from the game with something.

The only two sides above Grimsby are two very good sides. Just three defeats between Boreham Wood and Chesterfield so far this season but neither side have pulled away from the rest. Kabongo Tshimanga who moved from Wood to the Spireites in the summer will be the difference when it comes to the final shake up, 16 goals already so far coupled with a strong defence that has registered nine clean sheets, they are the team to beat in my opinion.

Luke Garrard though knows Wood can compete with these big budget boys despite not getting the support through the turnstiles their position dictates they should. Despite the loss of Tshimanga’s goals they’ve shared them around a bit more and still plundered 25 in their 16 games.

Underneath them Bromley and Halifax continue to impress, the former unbeaten in nine now and seemingly having kept hold of manager Andy Woodman. Neither side can claim to do battle on budgets, but like Bromley Pete Whild does a fantastic job with team spirit at The Shay they constantly defy the odds and compete at the top end of the table.

Once you get beyond the top five comes the inconsistency, Notts County the prime example of pulling off the expected result and then fail to click away to Eastleigh. Taking nothing away from Ben Strevens’ team, they are strong at the Silverlake Stadium with only a single defeat so far this season.

You can also add Dagenham, Stockport and Wrexham to the inconsistent pile, the Red Dragons quite an enigma. Unbeaten at home but only five goals scored, yet on the road 24 goals in the net. County of course will be looking to stabilise and become more resilient under Dave Challinor.

Solihull under Neal Ardley are right on the cusp and after a good run to put them in the play-off zone they haven’t won in three, the win at the weekend for Chesterfield at the Moors putting them back on the top of the table.

Altrincham have lost their way a little over the last few weeks and dropped to mid table but a fine win at Weymouth might kick start their season once again, as stated above two good results this week puts them back in the mix as we enter December.

The same goes for Woking, Yeovil and the already mentioned Eastleigh, two wins by next weekend they’re knocking on the play-off door. If the Spitfires can improve their away form which is their achilles heel it will put them in great shape, consistency or the lack of is what’s holding all three back so far this season.

Barnet under Dean Brennan are in play-off form, averaging two points per game in his eight game spell. Clean sheets however are few and far between and without an abundance of goals raining in, the Bees do need to tighten up and start to put games to bed when on top.

Just underneath them the common theme is a lack of away wins holding back about four teams. With a round of midweek games though to come there is opportunity along with the games next weekend to make some movement but they are the sides currently at the wrong end of the form table.

As we’ve seen though on enough occasions there’s likely to be one or two results you don’t expect in each round of games.

The bottom four are a little adrift of the rest and although Southend should have added a point to their tally they know more bodies are needed in the building. Their ask to make the play-offs is too great and the aim surely must be to avoid yet another relegation to the National League South.

Dover have a heck of a lot to do with no wins after 15 games and with minus nine points to make up, it’s a totally wasted season for them and their supporters and no wonder they’re not attracting much more then 500 fans per game.

Kings Lynn will be wondering how they didn’t pick up a third away win at Bromley, leading twice but coming out with a 3-2 defeat. Unable to win at home so far the Linnets are certainly struggling this season and haven’t won in their last six games. Just above them Aldershot aren’t fairing much better, only a little improvement if any since the sacking of Danny Searle and it’s looking like a long season for the Shots. Once again the budgets are doing some of the talking in certain parts of this table, but as shown by some it’s not impossible to compete, you just need that rub of the green.