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.

Barnet v Notts County: What we learned about Ephron Mason-Clark, John Akinde and Luke Gambin during the 3-2 win

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Barnet teenager Ephron Mason-Clark made his first ever league start against Notts County

Barnet extended their unbeaten run in League Two to seven games with a comeback win over Notts County – but what did we learn about the team?

Ephron Mason-Clark has unreal potential

John Akinde was given his umpteenth strike partner of the season when Ephron Mason-Clark was named in the starting line-up in the league for the first time in his career.

Having impressed on League Two debut as a substitute against Crewe, Martin Allen threw him into the team, clearly impressed by his attitude and his ability.

“He’s so bright and positive.

“I asked the players before the game about what we worked on in training yesterday and Ephron put his hand up and told me everything we did.

“He did a speech to everybody before the game and I thought ‘Oh my god’.

“We’ve got to enjoy him. I’ll help him and look after.

“We’re moving in the right direction with our young players.

“Ephron is an outstanding talent and if he kicks on then…well, he’s got a lot of work to do with us first.

“But the potential with him is huge.”

Perhaps worryingly for Barnet fans, Allen spoke as though he would not be able to hang on to the 17-year-old for long.

However, as the boss says, they must enjoy him while they can.

John Akinde is more than just goals

Akinde is often written off as a big man up front for a long ball team.

But the 27-year-old is a big part of everything that Barnet do and had a part in each of the three goals today.

He turned out of nowhere and had his shot saved for Bira Dembele’s rebound. He nodded the ball on before it fell to Luke Gambin for his first. He intercepted a pass in his own half to trigger the counter-attack for what turned out to be the winner.

Early in the season, Allen would shout at Akinde almost constantly, asking for more from him.

Today, the boss could not praise his performance enough on a day when Gambin will likely draw many of the plaudits.

He is a dynamic player with real quality in areas and at his best he is undefendable at this level.

Like Mason-Clark, the club must hope to hang on to him for as long as possible.

Is Luke Gambin on his way out the door?

Gambin told the club he didn’t want a new contract this summer and they accepted a bid from Leyton Orient of more than £100,000 but the move never transpired.

His two goals today were the pinnacle of one of his better performances this season.

His lack of physicality will always be a problem but the skill he possesses is undeniable.

Gambin has not yet shown the consistency to really be a regular at the higher level which is where he wants to play.

Club and player need to decide whether they want to persist until a point where he can show that consistency.

Transfer business is back!

Seven days ago, I wrote after Barnet’s 0-0 draw with Crewe that January would likely be a quiet one at the club. And until late on Monday night, that was still true.

But the deal that took Bondz N’Gala to Eastleigh for £60,000 went through on Tuesday and now the Bees look certain to make a move to strengthen in January.

Fingers are crossed that Dembele and Michael Nelson stay fit and well but if one went down there would be a serious shortage of personnel.

Sam Togwell filled in at right-back today (very ably too but he is not a natural at all) to suggest that there is already a problem.

With some fresh funds in the chairman’s pocket he may be feeling more generous after Christmas, especially if Barnet’s move towards the playoff places continues.

Barnet v Crewe: What we learned from the 0-0 draw

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Barnet v Crewe: A draw that could and should have been a win but for John Akinde’s profligacy

Barnet drew with Crewe at The Hive in a 0-0 draw which so easily could have been a home win had John Akinde shown more composure in the last minute of the game.

But what did we learn about Martin Allen’s side during the match?

John Akinde IS human

Who knew? Seven goals in his last five games before today and 14 all season means the 27-year-old is currently one of the entire Football League’s form strikers.

But twice he had chances on his left foot, the second the last kick of the game when clean through on goal, to score what would surely have been a decisive goal.

Most of all he struggles for support. His physicality gets him a long way but if he had another striker – say the injured Michael Gash – alongside him, then he would find it a lot easier to isolate defenders.

The Barnet kids are alright – enter Ephron Mason-Clark

The introduction of 17-year-old Ephron Mason-Clark had a few in the press box scrambling for their notebooks to check that it was indeed his professional league debut.

It was. Twice he has come on in the Checkatrade Trophy and impressed and after two weeks training with the first team, Allen gave him a chance to change a game.

He almost did so instantly, beating a man and playing Mauro Vilhete in down the right-hand side whose cross very nearly led to the opening goal.

The pacy forward ended up playing alongside Akinde up front and proved a very capable foil to the Bees’ top scorer.

Allen could not speak highly enough of his play and his attitude afterwards – he will be seen plenty more times in a black shirt it seems.

January will probably be pretty a quiet month at Barnet

The manager’s praise of Mason-Clark and promise to continue with the use of the youngsters suggests that while Barnet are short of strikers thanks to the injuries to Gash, Shaun Batt and Jamal Campbell-Ryce, the transfer market will not be where they find more.

There is a distinct lack of cutting edge to the team at the moment – Akinde has scored 63% of their league goals this season and the only other with more than one is Luke Gambin (2).

Even so, I understand the policy to look within for reinforcements will continue with January transfers by no means the first port of call.

You can’t keep a Mad Dog down

Allen is always desperate to keep his own profile well behind the performances of his team but at a club with which he has such a strong association, he will always be a big figure.

This week, he was not expected to be on the touchline after a medical procedure to do with some tightened arteries.

Surprisingly, he turned up but was supposed to be taking a back seat. When the Bees found themselves struggling to stamp their authority on the game, he could not help himself.

His passion for the club and the game is infectious and while the biggest stand is of course the place to sit at The Hive, the chance to be within earshot of Allen for the whole game never fails to entertain. Probably to the detriment of his own health.

The enigma of Ryan Watson

Watson clearly has something. His dead-ball delivery, range of passing and first touch tell you he is a player with proper pedigree.

But the last three months have been a proper rollercoaster for him.
At 23, he is a player just starting to work out what exactly he is and where his level in the game is.

Midway through the first half, Allen had some words for him about stepping up and getting involved in the game as opposed to lying deep next to Tom Champion.

Just before half-time, he had a lot more.

Mad Dog tore his teeth into the midfielder after failing to put his force into a tackle against ‘some f**king kid’.

I was convinced he would be given the elbow at half-time – clearly he was given 10 minutes to atone for his error before Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro replaced him.

Sam Togwell is back after six weeks out, a surprise appearance on the bench today, and will represent a significant threat to Watson’s place.

Still something of a youngster, he needs to learn to go forward with and without the ball – he cannot always be as indirect and perfectionist as he wants to be. Sometimes you have to take a risk.

Barnet 1 – Exeter 4: What we learned about the Bees from a dismal defeat

Let’s not be squeamish – it’s time to accept relegation from League Two is a possibility

Defeat means Barnet take the position of the second-bottom team in English league football from Exeter and will feel it is not a title they deserve.

In pieces they have demonstrated they can apply themselves in countless different ways this campaign.

But worryingly for the Hive faithful, they have rarely strung together a full 90 minutes. The comeback against Doncaster (only to lose 3-2) was impressive and today’s showing against the Grecians was excellent for 40 minutes. They played several passing moves which showed their ability with ball at feet and when they identified that the strength of John Akinde was too much for the defence, they exploited it.

“It wasn’t pretty,” Allen said of the first 40 minutes.

“But it was a determined, hard-working, Barnet performance.”

The disintegration that followed Jake Taylor’s thunder-strike was far from it and it was reminiscent of a team for whom the whirlpool of the drop was starting to loom on the horizon.

Barnet CAN pass the ball when they have the right personnel

Ryan Watson’s absence from the team can probably be put down to Martin Allen’s preference for bulldogs in midfield and distaste for the former Leicester man’s often-mercurial stylings.

However, his class on the ball cannot be underestimated. Allen himself is probably unused to shouting ‘pass and move’ but he has recognised that on the surface The Hive provides it is possible to knock the ball around.

But it needs a midfield who is firstly able to do so, and secondly prepared to work extremely hard to cover back if they suddenly give it away while in settled possession.

Sam Togwell faces six weeks on the sidelines after Thursday’s hernia operation meaning Watson will likely find himself as a regular partner to Curtis Weston and he must prove, to his manager at least, he has the grit and determination to go with his composure on the ball.

The youngsters will get the chance to shine

Almost every time a young Bee has been given an opportunity in the first team at Barnet this season, I have been impressed.

Sam Muggleton, Harry Taylor and brother Jack are all players whose ability could establish them as regular first-teamers one day.

And in another post-match huddle where Allen tried desperately not to criticise his senior players, the boss broke.

He remembered how when he first took over at the club he replaced the winless team with players who, in his words, had hunger, desire and commitment. Those players went out and beat top-of-the-league Hereford 1-0.

It was clear Allen felt those in black and amber against Exeter – apart from Michael Nelson and the youngsters – lacked those qualities, that fight. Expect a very different side against Wycombe.

Gash is a huge miss

It was a big day for Alex Nicholls. He faced the side he left in the summer whose fans gave him a kind reception and he did come close to haunting them with a goal.

However, deployed up front with Akinde he found himself out of position countless times. Allen screamed himself hoarse giving the winger instructions, mostly ‘get in the box’, which betrayed the inexperience of the player in the position.

Akinde is one of League Two best strikers in the air and he quite simply needs to play alongside someone who understands the position better than Nicholls and has more athletic ability than Shaun Batt.

Michael Gash has all of these things in spades but his knee will not be right for quite some time. The number of times the manager has mentioned his name since the injury tells you all you need to know about how much he misses his presence.

Is patience in the Barnet hierarchy slowly running out?

As the ground-going fans among you know, Barnet usually (like most clubs) pick a home Man of the Match irrespective of the result.

Today, there was none. Allen told me Michael Nelson was his best player but the club and the chairman declined to name one. It is not a good sign for anyone involved.

Barnet 1-1 Colchester: What we learned about the Bees

Tariq Fosu-Henry gave Colchester a sixth-minute lead as Barnet started poorly but the Bees recovered and Curtis Weston eventually grabbed the equaliser eight minutes from time at The Hive – but what did we learn about the Bees?

Barnet's players warm down after drawing 1-1 with Colchester at home

Barnet’s players warm down after drawing 1-1 with Colchester at home

Campbell-Ryce has still got it

Signing 33-year-old Jamal Campbell-Ryce was something of risk for the Bees. His contract at Sheffield United expired this summer and with a couple of clubs after him, it was Barnet who snapped him up. He did not come cheap.

The Jamaica international has more than 300 league appearances to his name and knows the Football League inside out. His dressing room presence alone is worth plenty.

But against Colchester, while Martin Allen wouldn’t single anyone out for praise, JCR made the difference.

Introduced after just 30 minutes for the blameless Alex Nicholls, he tormented makeshift left-back Ben Dickenson and should have had at least two assists to his name by the full-time whistle.

He injected pace into the game and beat men with a simple drop of the shoulder.

He may not have 90 minutes in his legs but a mere hour turned a lacklustre Barnet into one with real venom.

Barnet can pass – when they want to

There was a five-pass interchange in the first half, initiated by Campbell-Ryce that ripped Colchester’s defence open and reminded the Bees that on such a good surface, not to pass the ball seems foolish.

JCR-Vilhete-JCR-Weston-Akinde in the space of three or four seconds. Pass, and move, pass, and move. It was truly impressive.

The surface at the Hive, as Allen is often keen to point out, is excellent. But he continues to pick to massive centre-forwards which is conducive only to the long ball. But the boss has been heard shouting ‘pass it’ suggesting there is some suggestion that things will get more silky.

Nelson’s experience is invaluable

I spent a few seasons watching Michael Nelson at the heart of the Hibs defence. He was never the most talented footballer but was always exceptionally calm under pressure and strong in the air.

Yesterday he improvised and battled wonderfully, at one point even facing his own goal and turning out of trouble, leaving the harrying Tariq Fosu-Henry for dead.

And never underestimate his touch, whether it be a controlled header to the full-back or a cushioned thigh to Weston in midfield.

Allen is a box of tricks

You could easily spend 90 minutes just watching Martin Allen in the technical area. He is rarely still, jumping between the edge of the pitch, the front row, a seat in row seven and the substitutes’ bench.

He is also rarely silent, although his lack of instruction in the first 10 minutes was telling – the Barnet players didn’t need telling what was wrong because they weren’t executing basic skills.

But the manager’s years of nous almost paid off in the second half when Mauro Vilhete was tripped on the edge of the box. Allen whistled to Ryan Watson, free-kick expert, to dash back to the bench and get stripped ready for action.

Worried he might not get the Scot on in time, he screamed at Vilhete. No response and his team-mates couldn’t understand what their manager wanted. Eventually he pulled his ears out to indicate he was after the Portuguese’s attention, and then immediately told him to sit down.

The right-back (on this occasion…) hit the deck to keep play stopped, allowing Barnet sufficient time to get Watson onto the pitch.

The free-kick was deflected out for a corner, but it is was a piece of canny game management that any aspiring dark artist could learn from.

Chris Rogers: An Ashes hero born in Australia, made in England

Short-sighted and colour-blind, with a technique that was never easy on the eye, Chris Rogers probably though his international career was going to be limited to a solitary Test match at Perth against India, where he had compiled just 19 runs in two innings.

Hayden returned in the next Test to make his third hundred of the series, and Rogers, averaging 40 in first-class cricket that summer, had his national contract terminated.

Even up to that point, his career had been an unusual one for an Aussie. There is comparatively little first-class cricket played in Australia, and yet Rogers has in total amassed 296 FC matches (and 24,417 runs), impossible had he stayed in Oz.

As an 18-year-old, Rogers made the trip around the world, and spent the summer of 1996 playing for North Devon, where ex-Test player David Shepherd had taken to umpiring.

He enjoyed it so much that he returned the next year. He had learnt much from his first spell and he set the league record for runs in a season.

He spent 2002 scoring millions (well maybe not millions) of runs for Exeter, and he was soon recognised on the county scene, one which he rather enjoyed.

Rogers clearly realised the value of batting on English wickets, and it pushed him into the eyeline of the Western Australia selectors.

He made his debut in 1998, against an England XI. At Perth, he made just 14, and managed to nick off to Mark Ramprakash’s box of nonsense spin bowling.

And so there was some serendipity that having made his debut against England at Perth, he should come full circle and make his first and final Test appearance at Perth.

It seemed like this journeyman pro, built on the pitches of Devon, and then Derbyshire, Leicestershire, and Northants, should be given his reward and then allowed to play as much first-class cricket as he could.

But his appetite for runs was by no means sated, and his hunger for the game was merely exacerbated by the one chance to wear the baggy green.

The following English and Australian seasons to his Test debut, Rogers, unceremoniously dropped by his country and having moved to Victoria, made 2,567 runs at an average of 64, including carrying his bat for 248* against Warwickshire – the rest of the side made just 229.

‘Bucky’, as he is often known after sci-fi hero with whom he shares a surname, was just going to keep scoring runs.

He came to England every summer, and every summer bar one (a rare blip where he averaged just 38) he scored well over a thousand runs and averaged over 50. ‘If I keep scoring runs, they can’t ignore me forever,’ he must have thought.

And eventually, at long last, Bucky got his second bite, selected for the 2013 Ashes series, and as he had ever since that Perth Test, he chowed down on cricket.

When it came to playing at Lord’s, the ground of his latest county, there can hardly have been a dry eye in the house, English or Australian, when he put his name on the honours board.

In a period where Australian batsmen have struggling to knuckle down, resist the big drive, and battle against the moving ball, Rogers has stood alone as a fighter, reminiscent of Simon Katich or Paul Collingwood in his belligerence and power of will.

His Test average in England before the Oval Test is a shade over 50. It puts him above people like Ponting, Clarke, and Gilchrist, and within touching distance of Border and Langer. He is an Australian at home in England.

Featured image courtesy of Rhondda via Flickr

“Soldiers should get footballers wages”

Supporters Not Customers

In recent months, I have increasingly noticed a social media trend to demand that soldiers be paid footballers wages:

soldiers footballers

Nobody is quite sure why, but it’s definitely something to do with #respect. I decided to examine what would happen if this became a reality and soldiers really did get footballers wages.  What follows is an alternative vision of the future…

Please note, I am a big supporter of those people brave enough to put their lives on the line in the armed forces. They do a fantastic job that I certainly could not do myself, and certainly deserve a great deal of praise and admiration. Just don’t be a tit about it, eh?

1st September 2013

Gareth Bale completes an £85 million transfer from Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid. He will earn £300,000 a week, working out at around £15.6 million a year. 26-year-old Shannon Smith from Grimsby writes on…

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