Barnet v Portsmouth: Kevin Nugent’s first game in charge and what we learned about the Bees from the 1-1 draw

Conor Chaplin’s late strike from 20 yards cancelled out Mauro Vilhete’s terrific free-kick as Barnet were denied a famous rearguard win at The Hive.

A 1-1 draw was probably a fair result given both sides struggled to get out of first gear – but what have we learned about the Bees and their new manager?

Barnet playing against Portsmouth at The Hive in front of nearly 5,000 fans

Barnet came within seconds of beating Portsmouth at The Hive in front of nearly 5,000 fans

Kevin Nugent: what does the new boss stand for?

Having only been in the job since Wednesday, I probably won’t get my knives out for Nugent quite yet. Give it a week.

I’m joking of course but we learned a little bit about his ideas for the side today.

Tom Champion played in a screening role in front of the back four while Curtis Weston, Mauro Vilhete and Ruben Bover had some freedom to work behind John Akinde and Simeon Akinola.

It was a system without width, but that allowed Akinola and Akinde to exploit any space down the sides and get one-on-one with defenders.

Nugent told me afterwards that he will not be afraid to tinker with the team so Barnet will at least be unpredictable in the final 14 games of the season, which could prove crucial.

They also look like they are going to play football from a little deeper, although the boss was still keen to give anyone messing around with it in their own third a dressing-down.

“Go forward Ruben!” was heard more than once – it was eerily similar to Martin Allen shouting at Ryan Watson.

An experienced football man, if not manager, I expect a pragmatic approach to the run-in before Nugent, he hopes, is given a full summer to shape the team.

Simeon Akinola might not be good enough at this level

Akinola is someone Rossi Eames and Henry Newman identified as a player they thought they could “upscale” with their coaching. On today’s showing, there is plenty of work to do.

His raw pace is undeniable and it causes problems both with and without the ball while he also seems to beat a man with some regularity – albeit without necessarily knowing how.

But his final ball is sorely lacking consistency and his touch is at one moment miraculously deft and the next impossibly heavy.

He is starting to look like a luxury player and in a side that tends to play on the back foot, that might be one they cannot afford.

Josh Vickers or Jamie Stephens?

At the moment, this is not a question that Nugent needs to ask himself. Stephens is still sitting in the back of the directors box with Shaun Batt and Michael Gash while he recovers from a groin injury.

But when he is fit again, the first team coach will need to decide who is his No 1 goalkeeper.

Allen claimed never to have made up his mind while Eames wasn’t forced into the decision many times thanks to the injury.

The pros and cons of both are clear: Stephens appears the better shot-stopper but his distribution is very poor, while Vickers may not be as talented with his hands but is far better with his feet.

That said, the 21-year-old Swansea loanee has produced some fine saves this season and I even saw some (unfair) criticism of him in the aftermath for being beaten by Chaplin’s bullet. However, his kicking was sub-par and if he cannot provide that, he will fail to outdo Stephens for the spot.

You don’t need to be the best team to win

This of course is old news to Barnet fans, who now see their side on the verge of the League Two playoffs despite regularly being played off the park.

The most important thing in football is not how much you have the ball but where and what you do with it.

Barnet can rarely be accused of overplaying, although there were times today when Bover and the relentless man in the trenches Champion played a square or backwards ball when a forwards one was on.

It is not always pretty or exciting but it is an effective way of playing football that allows them to compete at a level often above their ability on the ball.

The pitch at The Hive has seen better days

Portsmouth boss Paul Cook had a good old-fashioned whinge about the pitch today – and in at least part I sympathised.

He said he’d expected a good surface and picked a team accordingly, and he didn’t get one.

By League Two standards, the pitch was not in bad nick but equally it was far from perfect.

In the end it’s grass and it’s mid-February. It’s never going to be a carpet.

But it was the same for both sides and in the end, I don’t think it affected the result.

Barnet v Newport County: John Akinde, Jack Taylor and Nana Kyei feature in five things we learned from the 0-0 draw

Barnet took on Newport County at the Hive but could not find a way past the Welsh side

Barnet took on Newport County at the Hive but could not find a way past the Welsh side

Barnet were unable to find a way past inspired goalkeeper Joe Day as they drew 0-0 with bottom side Newport County.

Nana Kyei had the best chances and forced Day into his best save of the match, throwing a left-hand at his fierce curling shot.

But what did we learn about the Bees?

John Akinde doesn’t want to leave Barnet

This isn’t based on anything I have heard behind the scenes, although everyone at the club is desperate for Akinde to stay for obvious reasons.

He has been so far “unable to promise” that he would stay at the club beyond January but with less than two weeks until deadline day, he has is still a Bee.

However, I have seen strikers in the shop window before. They are desperate to grab a headline and make sure their talents are at the forefront of every rich chairman’s minds.

Akinde was far from his best today and did look tired. But he didn’t look like he didn’t want to be there.

Quotes earlier this week suggest he thinks he can carry Barnet beyond League Two. I would suggest he will attempt to do so until the summer at least.

Jack Taylor is making waves

As I exclusively revealed before kick-off, West Ham are not the only footballing organisation with their eye on Jack Taylor.

Since coming into the side in December, the 18-year-old has been ever-present in the post-Martin Allen side and has been supremely impressive.

Jack Taylor in Barnet action

Jack Taylor has impressed for Barnet despite his tender years

The Republic of Ireland sent two scouts to watch him today (I had no idea there was Irish blood) and the FAI are clearly interested in poaching him.

He has 18 months left on his current deal and a year option after that. Barnet will do well to keep him any longer.

Rossi Eames and Henry Newman don’t have the job titles we think they do – I think…

Even I – something of a stickler for consistency and categorisation – have struggled to call Barnet’s two leaders (coaches? caretakers? managers?).

I probed them for an answer – “should we drop the interim” – as to their future but both were resolute in their assertion that it’s one week at a time and that realistically, it’s all about the players anyway.

I await further developments with interest but giving the job to anyone else would look like madness at this point.

Luke Coulson will bring something different to the front line

Coulson’s debut, if social media is anything to go by, came 15 minutes too late.

The winger joined the club this week as the Google Maps directions for Eastleigh were dug out once again.

He twice nearly made the difference with a lofted ball to the back post and Rossi Eames believes he will add a directness and aggression to the attacking third that Barnet currently lack.

It is harsh to criticise them for a lack of incision when County sat so deep but that was the problem and Coulson will go some way to rectifying that.

Nana Kyei is still learning

This was definitely not Nana Kyei’s best day at the office. The winger struggled to have an impact against Newport’s resilient, physical and deep back five.

His struggles were highlighted by the contrast with the success of Mauro Vilhete and Harry Taylor, who made much of the running in the opening exchanges.

Kyei was also put on most of the set pieces with Luke Gambin gone to Luton and I’m afraid his inadequacy was so extreme that it bordered on the farcical.

He struggled with injury in the early season and has often looked best coming off the bench. Maybe he needs to reprise that role.

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EXCLUSIVE: Republic of Ireland eyeing call-up for Barnet teenager Jack Taylor

Jack Taylor in Barnet action

Jack Taylor has impressed for Barnet despite his tender years

Barnet youngster Jack Taylor’s good form has drawn the attentions of scouts for the Republic of Ireland.

Taylor spent seven years as part of the Chelsea youth set-up before joining the Barnet youth set-up in 2012.

Having signed his first professional deal in April, Taylor was handed his first-team debut in October against Norwich in the EFL Trophy.

And since the departure of Bees legend Martin Allen to manage Eastleigh, the 18-year-old has been a firm fixture in the midfield of interim boss Rossi Eames.

His impressive performances are understood to have caught the eye of the Republic of Ireland set-up, who sent scouts to Barnet v Newport County at the Hive to monitor him.

The Barnet midfielder, whose older brother Harry also plays for the club, has 18 months remaining on his current contract.

However, there is an option for the club to extend his stay by a further year.

Ireland representatives are not the first scouts to have watched Taylor this season, with a host of clubs from across the country having sent officials to assess his talents.

West Ham United are reportedly interested in signing both Taylor brothers, according to the Evening Standard.

Taylor has featured at right-back this season but is generally preferred in central midfield.

Analysis

This is great news for the club and for the player himself. Every fan I’ve spoken to has told me how excited they are about his abilities and since Eames took over he has grown into his role in central midfield.

International recognition would be the kind of thing he deserves and if that results in a call-up to the Ireland under-19s or something similar, that would be a huge confidence boost. Might it alert his native England to his abilities? Quite possibly.

Barnet in focus: Luke Gambin, transfer strategy and the managers

Barnet lost 3-1 to Doncaster Rovers as they failed to repeat their Plymouth heroics and grab another home win against the league leaders.

It was not the first-half performance anyone at the club wanted and the mood – both in the ground and on the message-boards later on – was a very somber one.

It was a heavy bit of turbulence for a team that had won six of their last eight and had begun to develop an air of indestructibility, buoyed by an influx of new talent.

There was some pretty heavy criticism of the side and that is understandable. In the first half Rovers cut them open at will and despite the Bees taking the lead, they were all but out of the game by half-time.

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Barnet v Doncaster Rovers: As usual, I spent the first 20 minutes squinting into the corner

But make no mistake – Doncaster are a side whose talents will almost certainly see them rise to and remain in League One. They have raided the country’s top clubs for talented youngsters in the shape of Conor Grant and that lad Houghton (Everton and Chelsea respectively) to compliment the evergreen talents of James Coppinger which has made for one of the best midfield groups in the league.

The loan route is not one Barnet want to go down – rightly or wrongly – and they are sticking to their own. On this occasion, they weren’t good enough. But it was not for a lack of talent.

Their system – which identified a lack pace and confidence on the ball at the back – garnered them the opening goal and had they shown greater concentration and fortitude at the back it might have seen them get much more than a defeat. That and a more clinical approach in front of goal.

On an added note, Jamal Campbell-Ryce will always struggle to fulfil that high-energy pressing role given his advancing years – although his talent with the ball and ability to beat a man with ease makes him difficult to leave out. Team selection is one of the parts of the Barnet job for which I do not envy Rossi Eames at the moment.

Luke Gambin joins Luton to end his transfer saga

Luke Gambin has finally completed his move away from The Hive, heading to Luton after turning down Leyton Orient in the summer. A talented footballer and good-natured man, he leaves with little ill will.

He turned down a new deal at Barnet and I am led to understand it was a move that he was not the driving force behind. It doesn’t take much to work out what is going on there.

But I don’t see it as a great loss to Barnet particularly. He has technical ability but lacks physicality and I don’t think he has enough of the former to make up for the latter. Nevertheless, he deserves the best of luck at Kenilworth Road.

Rossi Eames and Henry Newman are the main men

Both Eames and Newman came out to talk to me after the game on Saturday, something they haven’t done before at The Hive. I don’t know whether it was a conscious decision given the result or just something they want to do more of, but it gave me a chance to assess them as a pair outside of the cut-and-thrust of the technical area.

The interim boss has his principles and for the most part he has the players to fulfil that. There are elements of the side that are still not his though and it is a work in progress. But he gives off an air of composure and a quiet confidence that I think the players feed off.

Henry is a far more animated and can scarcely stay in his seat during a game, although he tries. And in post-match too he seems more confident talking about the team and their strengths or weaknesses.

Both are clearly very passionate and thoughtful in equal measure. They make for an unlikely couple but an effective one that I look forward to getting to know more.

In Eames’ words, “we disagree and we argue but we both care about this football club” and it never crosses one mind talking to them that they don’t.

As for their future, I think it is bright. They are already making managerial decisions about the club – Simeon Akinola for example is a player both have had on their radar for some time – and are being given responsibility beyond any mere caretaker. If chairman Tony Kleanthous drops the interim from the job title, few could argue with him but nothing would really change. They are already in charge.

Barnet’s transfer strategy is clear and effective

Henry Newman said something very interesting after the game about bringing in non-league players “so we can make them better”. It is clear so far that coaching is at the centre of what they want to do with club, a natural tendency for two guys promoted from the coaching hierarchy of the club.

And if you look at the players they have signed, it is already what they are doing. Simeon Akinola, Dan Sweeney, Ricardo Santos and David Tutonda all have physical attributes that the squad didn’t have before.

And Eames and Newman believe they can add footballing knowledge and tactical nous to those talents and turn them into key players in a League Two side.

Barnet player ratings v Plymouth

Barnet hung on heroically to beat Plymouth – but who shone and who struggled for the Bees?

Plymouth fans at Barnet

Plymouth brought 1,119 fans to see Barnet at The Hive as attendance ticked past the 3,000 mark

Jamie Stephens – 5.5: Kicking was as poor as it has been and rarely had to make many saves. Could have been more assertive with crosses too although Nelson and Santos took care of them. Will rarely keep a worse clean sheet.

Harry Taylor – 6.5: Right-back is a problem position at the moment with a varied cast of characters having tried to nail down the spot.

Ricardo Santos – 8.5: For a man who has only just turned up, he looks perfectly at home. Endured one or two wobbly moments of miscommunication but was outstanding with his head and feet.

Michael Nelson – 9: Outscores his defensive partner only by virtue of having put his head on a few more balls. He is 36 years young and shows no sign of losing any thirst for the fight.

Elliot Johnson – 4.5: Comfortably the worst Barnet player on the pitch. In the first half he seemed unable to complete even the most basic of passes. When Plymouth put the squeeze on, it all came from his side.

Mauro Vilhete – 9: My man of the match, even without the goal. His understanding of space is so good and he ran a marathon to hang onto that result.

Jack Taylor – 8: In a really good run in the middle of the pitch. Has oodles of talent and gets out of tight spots very well. Started to realise that Akinola is a great man to feed in behind and it proved dangerous.

Curtis Weston – 7: Has had plenty of poor games this season but did a lot of work without the ball today that is easily ignored. May not be the most attractive player in the world but does a job.

Nana Kyei – 7.5: Came close to his first senior goal a number of times and showed off his skill by beating a man twice in very dangerous areas. Appears not to have his full legs yet but could play a big role in 2017.

Simeon Akinola – 6.5: New at this level and looked a little overwhelmed by the lack of time and space in the small spaces but loves using his speed in behind. Will learn how to play with Akinde quickly.

John Akinde – 6: A quiet day for the league’s top-scorer. Got through one-on-one in classic barn-storming Akinde style but blasted the ball straight at the keeper. Looked a little uninterested at times…

Substitutes

Jamal Campbell-Ryce – 6: Seemed to press the accelerator without getting the expected boost of power. Was a positive change on the left but he also tracked back very well.

Dan Sweeney – 6.5: A bit like Akinola looked slightly at odds with the pace of the game but used his physicality well as Barnet hung on.

Sam Muggleton – n/a: Came on for the last five minutes. Threw the ball onto the roof. It was awesome.

Barnet v Plymouth: What we learned about the Bees from the 1-0 win at the Hive

 

Barnet produced one of their most extraordinary performances of the season to complete a League Two double over leaders Plymouth, winning 1-0 at the Hive.

Barnet beat Plymouth in front of the setting sun at the Hive

Barnet beat Plymouth at the Hive on one of the coldest days of 2017 so far…

Mauro Vilhete grabbed the only goal of the game, a glancing header from Nana Kyei’s corner, but the second half was all about the defence.

Here are the main takeaways and talking points from the game and here are some Barnet player ratings for you as well.

Ricardo Santos, Simeon Akinola and Dan Sweeney: The new signings assessed

The majority of pre-match speculation surrounded the four new signings that Barnet had announced in the run-up to the opening of the transfer window.

It’s always prudent to do business early and avoid the pressures of the deadline – and the added premium that usually brings – so it’s impressive that the chairman and management team have quickly and efficiently done their deals. There may be more to come but to have four already is sharp work.

Ricardo Santos – A centre-back was an essential after Bondz N’Gala followed Martin Allen to Eastleigh. It was a big outlay to get Santos but he played a lot in League One and forms a partnership with Michael Nelson that oozes experience.

“He only had his first training session yesterday and he was told to head the ball,” Eames told me afterwards.

“From that point of view, he was excellent.”

And he’s right. Santos was committed and purposeful in the air. Particularly impressive was his confidence to move late and attack the ball, ensuring a solid header as opposed to being caught under it and dominated.

Eames was also quick to point out his confidence on the ball and that appeared too. When all around were losing theirs, he kept his head and carried the ball out with confidence and composure.

Simeon Akinola – Akinola’s goalscoring record for Braintree Town is not spectacular or even remotely eye-catching, having played predominantly as a winger. But he is a player Eames and Henry Newman have both known about for some time and were delighted to be given the chance to go and get him.

“He’s the perfect foil for John,” Eames said.

“We want him to have a good partnership with John and you saw that today.

“As a defending team, you’ve got to look after big John and now you’ve got to look after Simeon.

“For those two it’s going to be great.”

All that is required now is for Akinde to stay until the end of the season. We await further news.

Dan Sweeney – Some Maidstone United people I’ve spoken to certainly hold Sweeney in high regard and at 22 you can expect him to get better.

He replaced Akinola as Barnet looked to hold onto their lead in the second half so it was difficult to get anything except a first impression of him.

Plymouth fans at Barnet

Plymouth brought 1,119 fans (it got more full, I promise) to see Barnet at The Hive as attendance ticked past the 3,000 mark

However, he’s a big unit which is something Barnet do not currently have in midfield so that’s useful.

He looked slightly off the pace in terms of moving the ball but that is understandable – this was his Football League debut after more than 150 non-league appearances.

Nana Kyei may have leapfrogged Luke Gambin in the pecking order

It was a surprise to see Kyei preferred to Luke Gambin given how little he has really played this year.

But he is perhaps for the first time this season fully fit and was able to showcase the full array of his talents.

He started on the left and went down the outside as well as cut inside and to make use of his right foot.

The 18-year-old clipped the bar after finding space at the top of the box in the second half – although he maybe should have scored – and it was his corner that Vilhete headed in.

Gambin is probably more technically talented but lacks the physicality that Kyei offers, even if he can’t yet give it for 90 minutes.

I have always struggled to identify Gambin’s place in the team and it now appears that Kyei may be closing in on it if the manager is willing to give him the nod against the league leaders.

Rossi Eames is an asset – even if a new manager comes in

Rossi is not someone I knew very much when he was on the bench behind Martin Allen, other than being in charge of shouting when the boss was too ill to do so.

Rumours are circulating that Kenny Jackett was in the ground today but I saw no sign of him and no-one else I spoke to did either.

However, I don’t want to speculate on whether Barnet can afford him or not – one of the two parties would have to stretch to the other.

What is clear is that Rossi Eames is a talented coach and a fine motivator who has grown under the tutelage of Allen.

“I learned so much from Martin working with him for 18 months,” Eames said.

“Out of possession there’s no-one better to coach a team.

“The way he sets teams up you can’t break them down especially when you’re 1-0 up.”

But what Eames, the more modern coach, offers is a more positive outlook with the ball.

The centre-halves will still look to hit it long in the channel most of the time and that’s fine, but there was evidence today that the players are encouraged to play the ball and get themselves out of trouble while keeping possession. Men like Jack Taylor and Mauro Vilhete are integral to that with their quick feet and ability to understand space.

So even if Jackett – or anyone else – is appointed manager in the next weeks or months, Eames should be kept on as part of the staff. He is an important cog in the workings of the club.

Jamie Stephens kicking is a major concern

It’s important not to brush over any negatives in victory and Jamie Stephens’ distribution is once again a concern.

Allen rotated between the two goalkeepers because Josh Vickers is clearly better with his feet while Stephens’ shot-stopping ability is outstanding.

He was not required to make many saves today but his kicking almost threw away everything the team had worked for on several occasions.

It can be very deflating when you battle at the back for what feels like hours, finally get a goal kick and your keeper scuffs it straight to their striker.

Barnet v Stevenage: What we learned about Rossi Eames and his team

Rossi Eames suffered his first defeat as Barnet manager losing 2-1 to Stevenage at the Hive.

But what fresh pearls of wisdom can we garner from a disappointing derby result?

Jack Taylor is a quality player

I always like to focus on individual players – it’s a hangover from Martin Allen, who hated doing it.

Jack Taylor returned from loan shortly after Allen left and was the focus of much of my attentions on Saturday.

Barnet played in front of more than 3,000 at home for the first time this season

Barnet played in front of more than 3,000 at home for the first time this season

He started at right-back at Matt Godden, a canny player at this level, made his life very difficult indeed. Dale Gorman at left wing is also a talent and Taylor wanted to go and get close to him but Godden was more than adept at exploiting any space in the channel between him and Michael Nelson. It was a struggle for the youngster.

But in the second half he moved into his natural position in the middle of the park and it was a totally different performance. He has good vision, the ability to execute a pass and unlike Ryan Watson, he wants to be direct and go forward.

“Jack has always been a central midfielder,” Eames told me in post-match.

“He’s got huge potential and he’s very good to coach.

“He’s very receptive. Long-term, he’ll be in midfield.

“But he did very well at Yeovil last week at right-back and there was no need to change it.

“But once we put him in the middle, he looked after the ball well and his tenacity was good as well as his off-the-ball defending.”

Youth is great – but experience pays its way

Bees chairman Tony Kleanthous was talking a lot this week – or at least, typing a lot. In the wake of Bondz Ngala, Martin Allen, Sam Togwell and Gavin Hoyte all heading off to Eastleigh, he felt he had to respond to widespread criticism over the exodus of experience from the club.

He refused to apologise for a focus on youth – rightly so – and Barnet fans can expect to see more and more young players in black and amber.

But in the first half against Stevenage, there was something lacking. Ryan Watson, Ephron Mason-Clark and at times Luke Gambin all looked panicked on the ball when Stevenage pressed them high up the pitch, resorting to a fruitless long lump over the top as opposed to trusting their ability.

Barnet in the fog

Barnet’s future may not be totally clear, but it is at least bright

But when Eames brought on seasoned pros Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro and Alex Nicholls, even if they themselves were not the specific instigators, there was a change in attitude as the whole team appeared to play with more authority and swiftness of pass.

That 15 minutes after half-time was a glimpse into the future of how Barnet will try to play from now on – they just have to believe.

Rossi Eames has got the dressing room behind him

I tweeted at half-time that the second half would be the biggest test of Rossi Eames’ (short) managerial career.

“We told them at half-time to be brave and play like they have,” Eames said.

“They were eight unbeaten and there is a reason for that – the spirit they have, the way they play their football.

“There was no ranting and raving. If you find problems in the first half, find solutions for them.”

After a quarter of an hour he appeared to have found those solutions. Two strikers up front and Taylor into midfield solved many of the problems they had in the first half moving the ball as well as at the back.

It was unfortunate for him that the second goal – from a set-piece where Barnet were troubled all day – took the wind out of them and punctured that confidence which sometimes seems so frail in this team.

A response after half-time is so often the sign of a manager with the ability to motivate a team – this performance told me there are plenty in the team who believe Eames is the right man for the job long-term. Only time will tell to see if those upstairs agree.

“Henry and I are working to the point where what happens, happens.

“We’re enjoying every minute.

“It’s a great experience. It’s a great privilege.

“I’ve been at this club for seven years and this is the pinnacle.”

January is going to be busy as Barnet ‘evolve’

Eames was predictably tight-lipped on transfers, despite Kleanthous’ midweek promises that there will be plenty of business.

“We can be excited,” he said.

“We’ve lost a couple of players. Sam Togwell was a great servant and had three great years here and was part of a championship-winning side.

“But football evolves and we’re evolving. There’s a recruitment process in place.

“We’re putting targets together and everyone should be excited.”

Well I may not be the manager but there are obvious areas required.

In the short term, right-back seems like an obvious requirement. Jack Taylor did indeed do well there last week but he was found out by Godden’s clever movement today.

Mauro Vilhete is capable there but not a natural and his talent going forward is useful. A specialist would be a good addition.

N’Gala’s departure also leaves a hole in the defence should either Bira Dembele or Nelson go down. An experienced alternative looks essential.

And finally up front. If John Akinde goes, as seems now beyond possible and even likely, one or even two strikers will be on the shopping list. Ben Tomlinson’s torn quadricep is likely to keep him out for the rest of the season while Michael Gash will not be back any time soon.