Three seasons in a row Barnet FC have summoned up great Houdini-like escapes from what have seemed like impossibly bleak situations. And in each of the last three seasons have seen a tall dark stranger emerge from the rubble of that season and lead the Bees out of the mire and into nose-bleed territory of 22nd place. With this knowledge the current debacle, 24th in the league and no win in all competitions this season, looks remarkably positive – if anyone can recover, Barnet can.
After each of the previous miraculous escapes came a period of hope, otherwise known as ‘The Summer’, when we naively believe that somehow the master plan laid down by Tony Kleanthous will be played out and the goddess of mid-table mediocrity will swoop down, pluck us out of the reach of the Wolves Of Non-League and let us rest our weary heads on her ample bosom.
However, Tony has other ideas….Revolution!
The kulaks of the old squad must be cleansed for any chance of the old vices of insecurity and the shackles of self-doubt to be banished and a new bunch of merry men brought in to provide the 2000 (I have rounded up to give the impression of grandeur) a feast of football and success.
Each August comes around with supporters hurriedly reaching for the programmes to put names to these new faces and to count the survivors from the summer’s cull. From the evidence on the pitch it seems as if the players could also do with this programme ritual (or, less cumbersomely, name badges) such is the lack of cohesion and understanding. And by the fourth game of the season the cleansing process has to be repeated because the first lot were generally incompetent and had been found out to have lied when they entered ‘Footballer’ under the previous employment section of their job application. Twice in the last three seasons has the whole squad been completely annihilated; after the 2009/10 season, at the wish of the then new manager Mark Stimson, the only one senior player – Joe Devera – survived for the beginning of the 2010/11 campaign.
Around game 8 of the season this second team, consisting mainly of hasty loan deals, has finally come some kind of arrangement which, without going into the boring details, meant that they had agreed to pass to one another with the aim of getting the ball past ‘the man who can use his hands’ and into that netted area which, for the purpose of ease, we will call the ‘goal’.
And here is where we find ourselves now. After scoring 2 whole goals against a good Southend side with 25 minutes left on the clock, Barnet, seeming to realise the magnitude of the situation proceeded to crumble, letting Southend claw their way back from the brink of defeat to claim a draw and leave the Bees still without a win. While many teams might have been disappointed with this end, in Barnet’s current state a 2-2 draw away against Southend seemed like Divine Intervention. One now hopes that this result can now provide some form of momentum to the current batch of players who have shown promise but very little cutting edge up to this point with only the silky skills of Ricky Holmes providing any threat to opponents or joy for supporters.
Mark Robson, the latest leader of the revolution, has arrived at the club with the backing of the Paul Fairclough, Director of Football, to impart a “comprehensive transformation of the club’s footballing strategy”. Paul Fairclough set out his mission statement after the appointment of Robson:
“I want the club to become renowned for the way they pass the ball and try to play their way through opposition, as opposed to over them. Obviously results are important but those results can be achieved by playing good, entertaining football. In Mark Robson we have secured the services of a forward-thinking coach who will lead the club along a new and exciting pathway. I truly see this as a new dawn for Barnet Football Club.”
This has not been taken to kindly by the supporters, as of yet, with groans of derision every time the ball is played backwards and screams of ‘kick it in the air!!’ belted out when the ball has touched the green stuff for too long.
I am a fan of the idea that led Fairclough to bring in Robson, however maybe not the application (3 points from 11 games isn’t what I signed up for), but can’t help but feel that I am being naive. I recently saw an Opta stat which analysed how clubs were successful in League Two; it suggested the opposite of Robson’s philosophy, namely; long balls, big blokes, lots of crosses and more big blokes. It would be lovely to be the club which proved the exception to the rule but evidently the current points tally demonstrates that. It would seem that the idealistic Fairclough and Robson need to reassess their priorities and put the survival of the Football League status of the club back at the forefront.
The main problem with the games I have seen this season has been a goal threat (I thank Alan Shearer for this astute piece of punditry). 8 goals from 11 games and the recent Southend game being the first time the team have managed to beat the opposition goalkeeper twice do back up the point quite nicely. While Jake Hyde is a willing runner and links the play quite nicely there is very little danger in his play. In fact this lack of danger runs through the whole team, while the philosophy of building from the back and trusting your defenders to hold onto the ball is a brave move, once in possession no one seems to want to make that killer pass or lung-busting run from deep to test out the opposition defence.
While Robson’s passing philosophy does appeal to me, there is a difference to just playing a game of piggy-in-the-middle and a real game of football, I have been reliably informed. The passing up until this point has mainly taken place within our own half, across the defence, or slightly further up the pitch, laterally across midfield. Too seldom will a midfield player take the risk of venturing further upfield to see what the grass is like up there and present the opposition with a goal threat.
Great possession sides like Barcelona and Swansea look to play one-twos in order to take players out the game and move themselves into dangerous positions while poor ones, like ourselves, keep the ball around the back for a while and then once the ball finally gets to the striker he is so isolated there is no chance of him doing any damage. Ricky Holmes has proved to be our only real goal threat, scoring a cracker and setting up Jake Hyde for the second goal against Southend. He is eager to take players on and try things which the others are; either incapable of or too frightened to do.
When Exeter came to Barnet they presented the antithesis to the ‘Robson Theory’; playing with two banks of four defending their own half and once in possession quickly getting the ball forward to the lively pairing of Jamie Cureton and the ex-Bee John O’Flynn. During his time at Barnet O’Flynn had looked cumbersome and slightly lazy even though he did score plenty of goals in his first season. However, here he looked sharp and in-sync with the classy Cureton and proved a constant menace to the Barnet defence providing a lovely cross for Cureton to score his first of the game. Their second goal was one of the best counter-attacking moves I have seen at Underhill, such was the speed of the move, the ball was won deep within the Exeter half and quickly chipped forward to O’Flynn who played in Tommy Doherty providing the opportunity for a beautifully weighted ball for Cureton to stroke home. These kinds of moves have been sorely missed from the home side at Underhill this season with the insistence of patient build up and a lack of pace in general within the side.
There were a few calls for Robson’s head after the Exeter game, not literally since Underhill is a family club and do not condone beheading as a punishment for underachievement. While I have been critical of his methods thus far, the club needs much more consistency than has been the case recently if there is ever going to be any success. The management merry-go-round, with Martin Allen sitting on most of the horses, needs to stop. As does the annual summer decimation of the previous season’s squad. It was the players as much as the management who pulled off the remarkable recovery last season and any momentum built from that quickly evaporated with the decision to not retain Allen and change most of the squad. From what I have heard from Robson he is aware of the problems the team has and the judgement of him must wait until he has a chance to tackle these.
Now that we are near to having a settled squad once again there is some promise. The defence and goalkeeper look solid with Clovis Kamdjo providing effective cover in midfield and Danny Senda close to returning. John Oster is an excellent footballer who looks like he just needs to improve his fitness and Ricky Holmes has proved his worth time and again. With big Collins John now cleared to play hopefully we can have some real threat up front. The outcome of his fitness battle, which has plagued him since he was seen as an excellent prospect at Fulham and has led him to ply his trade in far-flung reaches of the footballing world, will prove to be crucial to the Bee’s survival this season.
In Robson We Trust – sort of…….
Written by Doug Pyrke, We Are Going Up’s Barnet Blogger
Doug tweets at @dougiepyrke