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 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 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.

Where is the best sporting atmosphere in the world?

During my weekly radio show on STAR this week (Sunday 4pm – listen in), I discussed with Andrew McQuillan where the best atmosphere in an sporting venue in the world might be. For me, biased as I am, there can be nothing better than a European night at Anfield, in the days when we actually played in the Champions League, with You’ll Never Walk Alone being bawled out by 40,000 scousers while Steven Gerrard emerges from the tunnel. As I say, I am biased, but it ranks up there with England vs Ireland at Croke Park, any game at Lansdowne Road (before the renovation), or Borussia Dortmund playing at the Westfalenstadion as far as noise and sheer ambiance goes.

So, in the interests of interaction, I am asking you, the general public, to submit your vote for the best sporting atmosphere in the world. I’ve listed some, but you can submit one don’t see, and it could being anything from Test cricket at the MCG to the velodrome of London 2012: the results will be announced on next week’s show, and I’ll post a piece here with some Youtube-related proof of the top 5.

From Sin Bins To Straight Red Cards – Five Ways To Tackle Diving

First published on Footy Matters.

One thing is certain, there must never be a dull day working in Sepp Blatter’s office. If you’re not dealing with a press release that he himself has penned, then you are responding to one of Michel Platini’s crackpot ideas that he has forgotten to mention to you over brunch.

On this occasion, it is Sepp himself who has dropped the latest bombshell, claiming that FIFA should introduce an unofficial sin bin for players going down feigning injury to discourage it. The whole world has been trying to find a solution for diving, but is sin binning the answer? Let’s look at the options:

1.       THE SIN-BIN

How does it work? Blatter’s suggestion is to allow referees to eject players from the field of play for a period of time if they are adjudged to have dived. Whether this would eventually end up being the case for all yellow card offences is unclear, but if it doesn’t, referees would require a third card to indicate that a player has been sin-binned for diving, not merely booked.

Pros: Clearly it would be a huge disincentive against diving, and would swing the risk-reward of simulation mostly in the other direction.

Cons: In rugby you can bin one out of fifteen players, whereas binning one in football is a greater percentage change, something dangerous when football laws are much more open to interpretation than rugby.

2.       RETROSPECTIVE PUNISHMENTS, OR CITING

How does it work? Exactly as it says on the tin, or as happens again, in rugby. A citing commissioner reviews every game, and if they find an incident of simulation, they may decide to punish the player retrospectively.

Pros: The camera never lies.

Cons: Very few, but in rugby citing is only used for serious foul play, not incidents which affect the actual game or scoreline. Would the commissioner retrospectively wipe off goals and penalties? Surely not, but the logic is confusing.

3.       LIVE VIDEO EVIDENCE

How does it work? It seems we learn constantly from rugby union, but again, the idea comes from the use of the television match official, TMO, whom the referees may now ask to look at almost anything which they aren’t quite sure about. If a referee suspects simulation, he would have to stop the clock and ask the fourth official to look at the replays. Would be the most logical solution and the one favoured by the FA.

Pros: As with before, the lens is rarely wrong, and the considered opinion of the fourth official, as opposed to the instantaneous one of an official will always be better. Would also allow diving to go instantly punished, i.e. penalties not awarded etc.

Cons: Football is a very fast-moving game, and the use of TV replays could slow the game down a substantial amount, ruining the spectacle. Referees would also feel obliged to use the TV at every opportunity, even if diving wasn’t involved, resulting in constant stoppages. Also undermines omnipotence of referees.

4.       EXTRA ASSISTANT REFEREES

How does it work? UEFA President Michel Platini’s preferred option. The extra officials provide another angle for the referee to take advice from, on diving and other decisions.

Pros: Should improve penalty area refereeing on all fronts.

Cons: Doesn’t seem to have made a blind bit of difference to diving in the Champions League, and in the end may just provide another pair of eyes to confuse situations.

5.       MANDATORY RED CARDS FOR SIMULATION

How does it work? I…I’m not going to spell this one out.

Pros: Unlikely to see anyone dive ever again as it has both real-time and long-term (bans) implications.

Cons: Very dangerous to allot so severe and instantaneous a punishment for an offence often so difficult to detect correctly in real-time. Which is, of course, the problem with the whole issue.