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The Brunt Of It
That's where we belong By: Max Bygraves 20/08/2023
Barnet
Woking
2 0
League 19/08/2023
2023-2024 Attendance: 1596 (358)




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It’s good to be back. A wedding and then a holiday had stopped my attendance at any of the opening three fixtures, which meant a mix impatience and new season excitement ahead of this one. It’s easier than ever to follow from afar these days; but nothing is the same as being there. Having renewed my season ticket, what’s now become routine once more was a nice comfort to have restored.

The sun was out, the league table already looked quite good before kick-off and with Chesterfield drawing at lunchtime - a chance to go top of the league beckoned.

There was a sense of positive anticipation in the stand as the teams emerged. Tuesday’s late collapse was disappointing but given the difficult opening run of fixtures, still plenty of reasons to be optimistic.

The game had something of a tepid start. Both teams perhaps throwing a little caution to the wind initially given the other’s credentials.

What was apparent straight away was how well we can knock the ball about. Some lovely first touches and quick passing across the midfield and to both full backs. A friend who’d come along that doesn’t see a lot of football at this level commented on the obvious quality there. On this first in-person evidence, it does appear quite tricky to spot an obvious weak link within the side.

What was obvious to spot in this one was the star of the show. Zak Brunt was involved in everything throughout and was the man who opened the scoring after quarter of an hour. A very well taken finish to make it 1-0 from the first real opportunity for either side.

The game slowed down as the rest of the half went on, although each side thumped the bar. Rhys Browne, probably keener than most to score after his double penalty woe against Laurie Walker in March, went extremely close from the edge of the box at one end. Brunt then very nearly got a second just before the break with a lovely curling effort. If at first you don’t succeed, and all that…

There was a positive buzz in the bar at half time. Despite the visitors going close, it felt like we had control and would see it out. People looked genuinely happy to be there. In some ways, almost a bit unsettlingly so. It’s not what we do!

The one thing that sadly was typical of Barnet in August was the relatively low crowd. Just over 1200 home fans. A slight rise on the same weekend last year but fewer than maybe should be expected in context of the performances of the last 12 months. I remember fans being away on holiday used as a reason for low early season attendances going as far back as the late 90s in Division 3 at Underhill. No doubt it’s a factor - but does it impact other clubs to quite the same extent? What else takes everyone so long to return? It’ll be interesting to see the Bank Holiday crowd next week, given no higher-level games are on.

Woking made a double change at half time. Their 358 behind the goal made more of a racket than I ever remember Woking making. Not wonderful numbers either but a good support. Having been a perennial fifth tier side (barring one season a level below) for the best part of the last 30 years, these are presumably quite exciting times to be a Woking fan, given their impressive season just gone. However, just five minutes into the second half, it all went pretty quiet. Stunned silence.

Having threatened one in the first half, Zak Brunt scored an absolutely delightful curling effort from outside the box. Great build up play by Coker and Kanu too, easily forgotten given the quality of the strike. One of those beautiful ones where the moment it leaves the player’s foot, you know it’s ending up in the net. Absolutely sublime. There was a real roar for that one. Big goal from someone who looks like they’ll be a big player.

The ‘super Zakky Brunt’ chant which quickly followed and he acknowledged during a break in play perhaps felt a little rushed due to excitement, but I imagine that’s sticking now. Challenge for those youngsters to find something that fits a bit better - if he plays like he did in this one, any chant of his will get plenty of airtime! Can you make a Zak into a Zakky? Or Zaki even? Brings to mind the former Wigan and Hull striker. Hopefully this individual is not such a flash in the pan.

After the goal, we still looked the more likely to score next. Pressure was sustained for a time and it was a shame not to make it even more comfortable. However, once the time was right, the intensity dropped and we did well to see it out. Game management and all of that. You would imagine that’s been a big focus in training since Eastleigh.

Brunt aside, there were several encouraging performances. Coker looks incredibly dependable (if hugely one footed!) and Oluwo was totally assured on the ball throughout. We already know about Pritchard, Collinge and Kanu (his substitution was a bit of a surprise) but they were all brilliant, too. Strength in depth. Another forward to push Kabamba or be able to deputise and you’d feel there’s pretty much two for every role.

Before the game finished, there was time for Laurie Walker to make an outstanding save from a bullet header. Woking’s proper non-league looking centre half, captain Scott Cuthbert, connected brilliantly from a late corner. A great reaction save to knock it onto the bar. The win wasn’t in doubt by that stage, but a Woking goal would have knocked us back down to 2nd. No matter how early it is in the season, it’s always nice to be able to sing any of the top of league chants.

Credit to the Amber Battalion for their awareness of the Alice Deejay one. And also for waiting until stoppage time to do the Twist. Top song etiquette all round, great work and knowledge.

The tannoy could have gone with a bit of Back in my Life rather than Depeche Mode at the end but we can’t have it all. Dean Brennan dragging Zak Brunt to the front and pointing to the young midfielder was a nice moment. Feet need to collectively be kept on the ground all round, but that’s good man management to boost the lad and give him a moment of his own on what had already been a great day. Behaviour that should only breed confidence.

As the crowd dispersed into the evening sunshine, chants about being top of the league followed all the way out to the main road. It’s fantastic to start with this kind of feeling.

We found ourselves in the same position a year ago, however, that was with a bit of a sense of humorous disbelief that we shouldn’t really be there and it would soon come crashing down. This year it does feel different and that we should be aiming as high as we can.

It’s a long season and there’ll be plenty of bad moments along the way. Getting carried away now wouldn’t be helpful - but it’s important to enjoy the good when it’s there.

Next weekend, two games in three days beckons. Whilst I’d very much enjoy a trip to East London on Saturday, I’m having to make do with just the home game - with Boreham Wood on the horizon for an away day out the week after.

It’s all ahead of us, and it’s exciting.




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20/03/2024 Another Step Closer
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