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Outfought, Outthought, Out Of Ideas
It's never going to happen, is it? By: Max Bygraves 29/04/2024
Barnet
Solihull Moors
0 4
Playoffs 27/04/2024
2023-2024 Attendance: 4560 (331)




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How do you lose a playoff semi-final 0-4 at home?

It’s not the sentence I thought I’d open this article with, but despite this being extreme even by our standards - I can believe I’m writing it. Who else but Barnet?

I decided to wait a little longer than normal to pen this in the hope that a bit of dust settling might help with perspective, but it doesn’t feel that’s had much impact.

A one-off game, at home, against a side we finished well above, to go to Wembley for the first time in 52 years. It feels like we’ll never have a more gilt-edged chance than this one. We didn’t just miss the opportunity; it was like we completely ignored it.

The collective anticipation and nerves throughout the support base was palpable beforehand. Whether an every-weeker, an every-now-and-thener or even a Hive abstainer, everyone I spoke to felt the same. Excitement, but an awful lot of worry that we would do as we always seem to in this scenario. Arguably, we defied even our lowest expectations on the day.

We can’t avoid it. The team selection was horrible. So many questions before a ball had even been kicked. Perhaps some context to the fitness of Calum Stead was needed, but lots of odd calls otherwise. Ignoring the eleven and naive set up there; a 5-man bench comprising of a half fit attacking player, the discarded golden boy, a goalkeeper who should have been on the pitch and then two out of form full backs.

Still, we all tried to put any questions to the backs of our minds as kick off approached. The ground was alive, the atmosphere building and it felt the stage was very much set.

Credit to the youngsters for their efforts behind the goal with the flags, colours and general noise. Perhaps their pre-game display being slightly depleted due to turnstile issues (who’d have thought it?) meaning a good chunk of that section were yet to be in their seats was an apt sign of things to come.

The game hadn’t really settled by the time we were already 0-1 down. A far too easy header in the 6th minute that you knew was going in from the moment the ball was delivered into the box knocked the stuffing out of everyone. At least in the Boreham Wood play off last year we gave some initial hope with a bright start. This one was to be consistent from the word go.

The crowd stuck with the team and after the initial moment of woe, attempts were made to galvanise and keep believing. That kind of confidence was pretty much evaporated less than 25 minutes in when the defence parted and allowed a simple finish to double Solihull’s lead. Nightmarish deja vu in the extreme.

We lacked any sort of idea. Oluwo headed over a half chance before their 2nd and Kabamba on another day at least hits the target with the late first half opportunity he was given, but we weren’t unlucky. There was no precision and a real lack of purpose. Passing was off, key figures anonymous - it was awful.

Half time presented the manager with an opportunity to change things, despite the limited subs bench. He opted not to. I could see why some decided to remain in the bar downstairs as the teams re-emerged and follow in the removed way of looking at the TNT Sports coverage (once they’d put it on - 23 other games this season that channel shown, but not initially on this one…).

You have to keep positive in this kind of scenario. You have to believe a madness is possible. How many great playoff games involving random teams have you seen down the years on the tele? It happens, right? Not when it’s Barnet.

Two changes made on fifty minutes had little impact. Luke Freeman coming off cemented his place in the esteemed ‘players from a higher level who haven’t done it at Barnet’ club - please see Craig Beattie for your membership card. I don’t imagine we’ll see him again. Maybe Gary Hooper can give him a lift on the way out?

Why he got the nod over Zak Brunt, who has been heaped with praise and confidence from the manager all season, was a real mystery. Gatlin O’Donkor being out of the squad altogether perhaps the biggest mind-bender of them all. With Stead not fully fit, we left ourselves with minimal attacking threat as an option.

Solihull’s third goal confirmed what we all knew and probably expected at half time if we’re honest - but that didn’t make it any easier to take. This was getting embarrassing now.

At 0-3 down, Ben Coker was brought on as a final throw of the dice. I like him and think he’s largely made quite a positive contribution. However, I did turn to my friend at this point (who was at only his 2nd game of the season with not a huge awareness of the current team, as he lives in Stockholm) to highlight that we were bringing on a 33-year-old left back to save the day. You had to laugh at this point.

You kept lying to yourself that you thought we might stage a mad comeback, didn’t you? I kept this pretence up myself until around 80 minutes when I accepted the reality. I think it was 83 on the clock when I decided I simply couldn’t take anymore.

I wandered down to the bar to rescue comrades who’d fallen earlier than I, to get out and give a lift back to the comfort of a Barnet pub. Whilst rounding up the gang, I had the misfortune of seeing their fourth goal go in on the TV. Barnet 0-4 Solihull Moors. Look at the state of it.

Normally, we have a sense of ‘glad to be there’ in the play offs and a philosophical attitude to not quite making the grade. Not this time. Can anyone say they felt ‘proud’ in defeat after that? It arguably would depict a rather poor mentality if so.

The pathetic fallacy of a cold, very wet evening was not lost on me as we made a damp trudge to the car. It had all fallen into the most horrible of places.

The night, as much as we tried not to let it be so, turned into one pretty long Moretti based post-mortem. The same questions asked again and again, in many different ways.

It’s been alluded to before, but it cannot be ignored that for all the progress of the last two years, our performance when it comes to the big occasion has been consistently dire. Six times now

  • Gateshead in the FA Trophy Semi Final last year. A mad team selection, despite a late rally, cost us a trip to Wembley.
  • Boreham Wood in the play offs last May. No ideas against a very functional side. A damp squib. Out without so much as a whimper.
  • Chesterfield away in November where a win would have taken us top. 1-0 down early in the second half, a reactionary substitution which left us wide open led to a complete capitulation. Title race out of the question in forty minutes. The three-game losing streak after this, culminating in misery in Ruislip really compounding things. Fragilities shown in so many ways.
  • Newport County at home in an FA Cup replay on ITV. 0-3 down in 25 minutes. Error strewn, nervous and another big opportunity tossed away.
  • Bromley in the FA Trophy Quarter Final in March. Abject. Players drafted in from the bitterest of colds to then never be seen again. An aloof approach to a big deal for many. Chance wasted. Again.
  • Solihull taking the crown for the greatest debacle of them all. You’d hope it really can’t be topped.

Despite 2nd place, 86 points and clear progression from season to season, it’s not unreasonable to ask the question of how much further Dean Brennan perhaps takes Barnet from here.

It is only a question for pondering, I hasten to add. We’ve regularly highlighted what a job he’s done at the club - but the unfortunately consistent missing of opportunities when they come is a concern. He’s proven himself to be an excellent non-league manager. A big summer and new season awaits once this disappointment has been sufficiently grieved. It will maybe show whether this is what he is or if he can figure out what’s missing to take the next step and get the club back into the league.

There has been a lot of clamour about how good Brennan is and where he compares to managers of the past. He’s missed a chance here to be in the conversation for now. Fairclough and Allen in this century alone have delivered where he still has work to do. If we look at big games, Darren Currie’s FA Cup and Play Off exploits gave us more joy when it came to the crunch.

We made a very un-Barnet move in giving the manager a long-term deal at the start of 2023 until 2026. I’m all for stability and allowing someone to really build something - but relative success naturally rises expectations. I hope in 12 months’ time I’m thinking back to the ponderings here with a wry smile that he went and proved he could take the next step.

A consistent strength of Brennan’s tenure has been exceptional recruitment. Two summers running he’s unearthed some real gems and signed the right characters. I have faith we can expect more of the same in the coming months.

Something of a quite ruthless approach may be needed when it comes to squad tweaking. There may be decisions that we don’t all feel delighted about on the face of it - but his prior record should lead to a degree of trust from the fans. Credit very much in that banking department.

I am sure he’s taken many learning points from the way this has ended. Also, the man management aspect. Whatever the footballing reasons for it, the way Laurie Walker (who was well on his way to becoming a club legend) was discarded and treated left a sour taste and is an unfortunate talking point that’s dogged the second half of the campaign. No doubt he’ll be exiting over the summer and it’ll be interesting to see who else joins him out of the door. Clean breaks needed now, rather than midway through any future campaign.

When the dust fully settles, there will be a lot of fond moments to look back on from this campaign, but it’s raw now and probably will be for a little while yet. A hopefully slightly happier season review will go up in the next few weeks to fill the early summer void.

Void perhaps the wrong word as I’m sure most of us feel the need for a break and to recharge before coming back in August with the usual giddy optimism. To half quote the brilliant Fever Pitch film, there is something quite comforting about it all going wrong at the end of one campaign, only for there to be a new opportunity just around the corner in the next.

As always, a big thank you for taking the time to read these over the course of the season. Work and family commitments have made them a challenge to keep up with at times, but the positive interactions and discussions from them via our social media make it all feel a worthwhile endeavour. They’ll continue into 2024/25 while I can still find enough hours in the day. My wife will be absolutely delighted.

Have a good summer. Once we’ve taken the time to get over this, there’ll be plenty to keep an eye on with all things Bring Barnet Back in the close season months.

Whilst we all dream of Wembley, the day out to top them all will be that first one at South Underhill. Keep up your support and spread the word in any way you can - it’s got to be a big team effort to make this happen!

If the Bring Barnet Back campaign succeeds, it’ll surpass any previous victory and make up for any disappointment faced at any time in our existence. Keep the faith, as they say…




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All Articles By This Author:

Date 
13/05/2024 Togetherness
29/04/2024 Outfought, Outthought, Out Of Ideas
10/04/2024 Nearly There
25/03/2024 "A Game Of F*****g Demolition"
20/03/2024 Another Step Closer
09/03/2024 Tepid
06/03/2024 Bring Barnet Back
21/02/2024 Shot Down
14/02/2024 Simon Clist
04/02/2024 Unpleasant
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29/04/2024 Outfought, Outthought, Out Of Ideas
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20/03/2024 Another Step Closer
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