After last week’s snowy interlude that saw the Lincoln game postponed, we return to league action with our prospects of getting into the play-offs – and possibly even the automatic promotion positions – enhanced thanks to the trials and tribulations, as well as actual games of football that our promotion rivals have experienced over the past week or so.
A home game against bottom side Barnet should present the perfect opportunity to leap into the promotion run-in, having clawed ourselves back into position with our past two results. Although, this being football, it’s not going to be quite as straightforward as it looks on paper – not least because Barnet have actually taken as many points as we have over the past six games.
Mark Robins has to ensure that any rustiness endured after an unexpected weekend off is avoided, as well as ensuring that the focus is on this game, rather than on seemingly tougher challenges ahead. Too many times this season we’ve dropped silly points just when we looked to be building momentum. Winning or losing this game isn’t going to decide whether we make the play-offs or not, but it eases both the pressure in the stands and on having to win other games later on in the season.
While defensive performances seem to have improved of late, it’s worth noting that we’ve relied on penalties to take four points from our last two games instead of one. The attempt to integrate both Jonson Clarke-Harris and the, now fully-fit, Liam Kelly into the side appears to have disrupted our momentum as an attacking side. Clarke-Harris’ inclusion has added another goalscoring striker, but one who arguably offers less in terms of link play than Maxime Biamou, while Liam Kelly’s return to fitness has seen Tom Bayliss shunted into a wide position, where he only intermittently affects the game.
It seems Mark Robins is set at the moment on maintaining the Kelly-Doyle central midfield axis, which is likely to see Tom Bayliss continue in a wide position for this game. Bringing Kyel Reid into the side as a starter seems like it could provide greater balance and creativity to the team, but it remains to be seen whether Mark Robins fully trusts a player who pretty much went AWOL in the summer.
Last Time We Met
We had a great opportunity the last time we played Barnet to move top of the division, following a run of three straight league wins. With the Sky cameras watching, along with a packed-out away end, the two teams served up an absolutely insipid contest devoid of any incident or goal-mouth opportunities.
There’s nothing else really to say about that game.
How Are They Doing?
There was a small level of optimism at Barnet heading into this season that they could be one of the division’s surprise packages. With one of League Two’s most lethal strikers in John Akinde supplemented with the signing of ex-Tottenham youngster Shaq Coulthirst, alongside a squad packed out with some useful-looking academy players, Barnet potentially had the ingredients of a strong season ahead of them.
Despite a promising-enough start to the season, an injury to Akinde that kept him out for most of the first half of the campaign and a lack of leadership both on the pitch and off the pitch – Graham Westley is Barnet’s third manager of the season – has seen the Bees cut adrift alongside Chesterfield at the bottom of League Two.
(Side Note: there’s probably about a 10% chance only one team will be relegated from League Two this season, depending on whether Sutton – who have a 3G pitch, which isn’t allowed under EFL regulations – were to be promoted from the National League. Which would make Barnet’s chances of survival easier, although it’s by no means guaranteed)
Graham Westley seems to have stiffened the team up since his arrival in January, but they still have a habit of leaking goals due to their brittle confidence. Westley will undoubtedly look to set his side up to frustrate in this game – he is after all a manager almost synonymous with time-wasting from the very first minute in games – which makes it all the more important that we take this game by the jugular and not provide Barnet anything to hold on to.
In terms of who will threaten us, John Akinde is clearly the main man for Barnet, although he hasn’t been the same since returning from injury. Akinde is one of those big strikers who doesn’t necessarily like to use his physicality, but his goalscoring record in the past two seasons shows how impactful a player who can be in the box. Alongside Akinde, Barnet will be looking to exploit the pace of Shaq Coulthirst, as well as utility player Mauro Vilhete.
The rest of Barnet’s set-up will be hard-working and/or physical players who can put up a block in front of their goal. Aside from Curtis Weston in midfield, Barnet lack an experienced leader in midfield and defence, which has partially been why they’ve struggled to recover from poor results this season. It’s yet another reason why we really need to be playing on the front foot and asking questions of Barnet from minute one in this game.
While Barnet are likely to be thorny opponents for us, we’ve got to be approaching a game against a side at the foot of the table as one we can win comfortably. The main question about us heading into this game is whether there are the goals in this team at the moment to successfully set out to win a game where we have to come out on the front foot.
I think it’s going to be a tight contest, but one we’ll be able to triumph – 1-0.