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Back To The Stone Age
Sickening By: Max Bygraves 26/11/2023
3 2
League 25/11/2023
2023-2024 Attendance: 2515 (556)

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Where do you start with that one? I made a stupid comment pre match along the lines of ‘at least today won’t be as bleak as standing in the corner at Chesterfield while they all celebrated.’ Hmmm.

In the context of the past fortnight, this always felt like it would be an uplifting response or a real compounding of misery. We sadly got the latter.

Only 556 Barnet were in attendance this time. Our lowest following in our three recent visits to the ramshackle Grosvenor Vale. The last two trips have seen a lot of old faces turn out, whereas there was a more youthful picture to this one. It seemed perhaps many had used up a day out ‘pass’ at Chesterfield and had to forego this one. In hindsight, I’m not sure this was the best use of one of those from my house.

Credit where it’s due though, the youngsters really made an effort to get behind the team and had an impressive array of older songs - even a tribute to Grazioli in there. Fair play. I’m not sure what things were like around the ground beforehand, but there were no scenes like last season. No orange smoke bombs and no little urchins chucking stuff from the Wealdstone end.

An amusing moment just prior to kick off came when several of our fans went to start “Have you ever won the Conference…” before others quickly turned to them with a teeth gritted whisper of “they have,” which led to an abrupt stop. The lad next to me blamed mob mentality. You’ve got to laugh at yourselves, some times.

Backed by said noisy travelling contingent, Barnet came straight out the traps and were on the front foot from the off. An early effort was cleared off the line and there were strong appeals for a handball in the home side’s penalty area.

At this point, I would like to caveat any descriptions of what actually happened by saying it was near impossible to see anything Barnet did in the first half from our view behind the other goal. Low sun, scaffolding poles and trying to see a considerable distance from a low vantage point were not a good mix.

This explained the delayed reaction to us taking the lead in the early stages. The ball had properly nestled in the Wealdstone goal before those of us a 100 odd yards away had caught up with what was going on. Apparently it was Harry Pritchard who scored, but the goal was credited to Jerome Okimo. Who knows.

Those jubilant scenes were short lived, however. Just three minutes later, a stunning volley from Wealdstone’s captain, Cook, meant things were all square again.

This didn’t change the way the pendulum was swinging. Barnet continued to largely control the game and before the half hour mark, we were back in front. Kabamba finishing at the near post.

We were looking a lot more like ourselves and whilst promising going forward, were also showing dogged determination at the back. A fantastic challenge turned block by Danny Collinge just before half time saw our number four enthusiastically show his delight to the away end. Passion on display. Fans up. Everything was looking rosy.

Half time at Wealdstone is a weird one in the modern day. There’s nowhere to go. It feels something of a throwback to just stay on the terrace and try to have a conversation over the tinny music over the tannoy. Having waited until the monstrous queues for the toilet had died down, I ventured over that way. The big queue was easily navigated by knowing about the secret portaloo in the smoking area. A tip for next time, there.

The teams re-emerged for the second half with the nuisance sun now tucked behind the home end. One of our group quipped that hopefully we’d finally see some action at the right end this half.

Hopes of this began to fade early in the second half when a near post header made it 2-2. Undone by a set piece, a theme of the afternoon.

This resulted in a bit of a spell for Wealdstone and the home crowd finally waking up. A few nervy moments were to follow, but we largely rode the storm.

Midway through the second half, we finally began to see some intent towards the goal in front of us. It looked as though the hosts may tire and confidence was still high in the away end that this would be our day.

On around 70 minutes, we had the ball in the net but the flag was up instantly for an offside. The pressure was mounting. Ten minutes later, Oluwo’s close range header was cleared off the line. Cropper had an ambitious drive comfortably saved moments later. Pressure but not much product.

Armstrong was introduced in place of Stead. This was the only change until stoppage time when Hall-Johnson came on for a limping Pritchard. It felt like on the back of some unwise changes in recent games, Brennan was hesitant to roll the dice this time. Why Gary Hooper wasn’t thrown on to add a threat up front, is anyone’s guess. It felt like the ideal scenario. Decision making not at its finest, on the pitch and in the dugout in the final third of the game.

Wealdstone were beginning to look leggy as time ticked on but we didn’t appear to have it in us to punish them. There was a lot of hoofing, stray passes and running down blind alleys. Even Kabamba struggled in holding the ball up effectively or winning headers. The impetus had gone and it was apparent as the fourth official’s board showed five minutes that we were not scoring again that afternoon.

Wealdstone had other ideas. Pulling energy and desire from the depths of somewhere, it started to become a hanging on kind of situation for us. A close range free kick thundered off Laurie Walker’s cross bar on 93 minutes. It felt like that might be it, but the referee kept adding time.

In the 98th of a supposed 95 minutes, a criminally easy close range header won it for the hosts. Absolutely suicidal defending from a corner allowed Charlie Barker to steal in and make himself a Wealdstone hero.

I don’t often drive to away games, but I’d chosen to on this occasion and I couldn’t have been more thankful to be able to make a quick escape. They went spare. I wasn’t hanging around to see it and I definitely didn’t need to run that gauntlet at the exit. Thanks to the ref for playing a further minute or so which gave us time to slip off before they all came piling out. Could not get out of that miserable part of London fast enough.

A video emerged a little later on Saturday evening of the Wealdstone manager leading the chants of “Barnet get battered, everywhere they go” in their clubhouse. For them, it’s a massive deal, almost like a cup scalp. That’s not actually meant to be condescending to the side they’ve got; they’re clearly well enough equipped to stay at this level for another year. But their mentality is beat Barnet at all costs. The fact it’s getting one over Brennan only making it sweeter for them. I think, unfortunately, this was a game where it’s fair to say the opposition wanted it more.

It feels quite unbelievable to think that exactly two weeks prior to this one kicking off, we were 90 minutes away from potentially going top. Here we are a fortnight on, eleven points behind Chesterfield who also have a game in hand. Due to Bromley’s good run continuing at Hartlepool, we also find ourselves 3rd and outside of the top 2 for the first time since the opening week of the season.

After the Oldham capitulation midweek, it was said here we haven’t just become a bad team overnight. That remains true, but we do currently look bereft of confidence, somewhat toothless and increasingly predictable. At least the next two weekends of cup football provide a bit of relief from the pressures of the league and offer the chance for a bit of a reset.

Our next opponents, Newport County of League 2, beat leaders Stockport yesterday and in doing so, denied them a thirteenth consecutive victory. So that bodes well…

Due to other commitments and things clashing, this is the last game I can make it to until the Saturday before Christmas. I can’t say at this stage that’s something I’m too unhappy about - it’s been a rough two weeks.

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06/03/2024 Bring Barnet Back
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