Martin Allen gets The Bees buzzing again
By Tom Simmonds
Barnet nipped the rot of two consecutive home defeats in the bud, with a 3-1 win over basement boys AFC Telford on Saturday. Can Martin Allen’s team sustain their blistering start to the season to reclaim a place in the Football League come May?
Barnet went into last Tuesday’s Conference game against Torquay nine points clear of second- placed Grimsby, fresh from their cup defeat to League Two high flyers Wycombe. Without two of their regular starters, right back Andy Yiadom and midfielder Sam Togwell – both sent off in that game – they fell foul of conditions on a filthy night at The Hive.
Allen – now in his fourth spell in charge at Barnet – made five changes against Torquay from the team that started at Wycombe (including the two enforced ones). Given that this was the second of six games in 21 days for Barnet, it is unsurprising that he would look to rotate his small squad.
Unfortunately for Barnet, this reshuffle brought a disjointed performance. Torquay also made the most of playing with the wind behind them in the first half. They took a 2-0 lead into the break with both goals coming from Barnet’s patched-up right hand side. Louis Briscoe turned a cross home for the first, before Luke Young’s free kick went in off goalkeeper Graham Stack’s chest.
Barnet’s early second half rally – crowned by Luisma Villa’s calm finish to halve arrears – did not last long as Briscoe curled in from long range almost straight from the kick off. Bernard Mensah’s well crafted reply was to be Barnet’s only other counter-punch.
Allen made four further changes for the match against Telford, with veteran winger Lee Cook enlisted and ever present centre-back Bondz N’Gala dropped for Jack Saville. Luisma Villa and Bernard Mensah were rewarded with starts for their goals against Torquay. While Barnet’s 3-1 win – given to them by John Akinde’s hat-trick – suggested it was a routine performance, the vulnerability shown whilst defending crosses – which resulted in Torquay’s first two goals – also led to several nervous moments. Telford’s goal, a screamer from Sean Cooke was like Briscoe’s second for Torquay – resultant of a failure to defend proactively in the area between defence and the back of midfield.
Barnet do however, possess a solid midfield base in their captain Curtis Weston and Sam Togwell plus, attacking options which outweigh their frailties. The powerful Akinde is in the form of his life, suggesting that he’s settled at Barnet after what has been a nomadic journey since winning the FA Trophy with Ebbsfleet in 2008. His second hat-trick of the season pushed him to the top of the Conference scoring charts.
As well as chief hitman, he is also Barnet’s attacking pivot. He is supplemented by the experienced Charlie MacDonald and the raw, pacy Watford loanee Mensah. Cook – while clearly not the player he was in the mid-2000s – still has access to his full box of tricks at reduced pace. From deeper positions, Johnson looks comfortable making raiding runs down the left in addition to his solid defensive work.
Also – for all of Allen’s tinkering – the spine of this Barnet team has a settled look about it. Stack, Weston and Akinde have all been omnipresent this season and Johnson, N’Gala, Yiadom and Togwell have all been virtually so. Continuity is always important for success at any level, but Barnet’s thin squad is not in a position to cope with too many absentees at once. However, the win over Telford and favourable results elsewhere have put them eight points clear, firmly suggesting that the Conference is theirs to lose. If they can get maximum points in upcoming trips to fellow promotion chasers, Woking and Bristol Rovers, their grip will be further strengthened on what is a devilishly difficult division to be promoted from.
Barnet fans: How well-placed do you think your team are in the Conference promotion race? What do you think you need in order to make sure of the title? Other supporters: Do you think any team can realistically catch Barnet?
Read more from Tom Simmonds here.
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