…Barnet vs Welling

Tuesday’s game was the first game I could attend in quite a while so I jumped at the opportunity to nip up to The Hive with a friend. Unfortunately, Tuesday evening was also unbelievably cold, which threw a bit of a downer on the evening.

Overall I thought the final result was actually a positive as I wasn’t expecting a victory heading into a game with our best attacking talent on the sidelines. However, let’s be honest, it was a disappointing performance and certainly left me hoping that we’d done just that little bit more.

The Stadium

I haven’t been to The Hive in a while so it was actually really nice to see the small developments since I was last there. The East Stand’s refreshment shop seems functional now as opposed to the disorganised mess it was every time I’d been previously. Food was prepared in advance of half time (who’d have thought you can guess, with some confidence, when there’d be a spike in demand at a football game?) and the staff seemed competent this time.

The pitch was still looking good although is beginning to show signs of wear and tear. Throughout the winter we’re going to be put at a further disadvantage if our playing style isn’t matched up to our own home turf, a notion that I entertained during the game. I mean, it was really cold and I’m fairly sure I was delirious at times. Another thought that came to me during the game was with the amount of players “slipping” over. Did they actually slip or was the turf cutting up under their studs? Only once did a player “slip” near me and in that instance it was as if the grass had given way, not their footing.

The Team

Toothless is probably the most apt word for the performance I witnessed, as a whole. I can’t remember who said it but Spain’s style of play was described as a “sterile domination” during the Euros an that’s exactly how I felt about us in the first half on Tuesday. They weren’t a threat because they never had the ball. Although it may seem like I’m bashing the team, I was actually thoroughly impressed with the first 45 minutes. There’s something about watching the team retain what felt like 80% possession that made me feel really proud. Of course, it’s somewhat boring to witness but when you look at it from the Welling perspective it’s brilliant for us — they spent 45 minutes chasing the ball away from home on a really cold evening. What a classy way to show you’re more talented than your opposition. While a bit more penetration would have been perfect (although we did have some golden opportunities, which we did ultimately squander), the amount of attacking players we had out left me feeling secure that the rest of the squad were still capable of such dominant attacking play.

Unfortunately, the second half put paid to my confidence. It felt like their manager had said the perfect words to his players while we had become complacent. After you dominate a side for 45 minutes you simply must expect them to release their frustrations on you in the second half. We… well, we didn’t, did we? Instead, Welling looked much improved in the second half and caught us unawares a few times. This is where our performance felt a bit toothless, given such a great start we should’ve added on even more pressure after the break. Sterile domination can sound great — we dominated them — but it can also sound a bit pathetic — we were sterile. In the end our shape and mentality was shown up quite heavily in the second half as it felt like Welling had cottoneded on to us. We wanted to keep the ball down, pass it around and play the percentage balls. Welling were happy with being given the best seats in the stadium to watch the show, sitting deep and remaining rigid in their formation. Any time we showed an inkling of penetration they’d close ranks and hit us on the counter. We wanted to pass it in front of them, they were happy to let us pass it in front of them. A weird Mexican stand-off, of sorts. Occassionally we tore down their barriers but didn’t do ourselves justice with the odd dodgy final ball, “close miss” and lazy pass making us the architects of our own demise.

In general, I actually really enjoy what we’re doing. It’s fascinating how Edgar Davids has brought Dutch “total football” to a non-league side in North London. It’s exciting to watch our style contradict so staunchly with the history of non-league English football. It’s comforting to know that we’re Barnet and we’ll do it our way. However, it’s arrogant of us to think that just because we do it a different way, we do it a better way. If we stick to our guns, and Davids/the Dutch coaching staff to his/theirs, I think we’ll have developed an efficient, aesthetically pleasing brand of football by next season. I hope the time is afforded by the chairman, the players (who are probably going against a lot of what they’d previously been taught and may lose faith), the coaches and, most importantly, the fans.

This could be our Swansea moment, having spent so long fighting to retain League status we finally have a chance to regroup and build something to give us a secure long-term future. Sometimes you have to take a step backward to make progress and this could well be our opportunity. I’m a bit of a softie for youth progression in football but it’s fantastic, in my eyes, that we have so many young players just starting to make waves in their careers.KMB has been a revelation for us and I’d love to see him playing at the top level in four year’s time, paying testament to the coaching he received from Edgar Davids at Barnet in his formative years. We’re not a club that wins many trophies but that’s the next best thing for me.

Our style of play is still quite naive, I feel, and it’ll take patience to witness its transformation from a mere ideology into a system that will cause lower-league and non-league sides real issues to deal with.

The Players

Note: These ratings might seem harsh but that’s because I award an average performance a five. It’s a minor bugbear of mine that people seem to think ratings out of 10 start at seven. On an 11-point scale five is the median value, why is this not blatant? Grrr.

Stack – 6. I’m a huge Stack fan. He’s the sort of player and person I want at our club. I’m proud he plays for us. Recently I’ve not been able to get to games but I’ve heard that he’s not at his best and Tuesday would back this up. His spillage in the second half was a new experience for me but otherwise I think he still gets too much stick compare to how insanely quality he is for this level. It’s almost like we expect him to make amazing saves without credit but then give him stick for one poor kick. I was at the PSF against AEL and the goalkeeper in that game gave me no confidence at all whereas I feel reassured with Stack in goal. That’s priceless for his defenders.

Johnson – 4. For his first game back in a while he performed admirably. Unfortunately, I felt like if we were going to be breached it would be down his side because he was out of position a fair bit. At one point in the first half a ball was played through the air to the right winger and Johnson somehow didn’t make it. That moment has stuck with me because I think it’s fair to expect better there. Still, he’s young and will hopefully continue to improve. After years of patchworking that position it’s nice to see that we have a player who could solidify the position.

Stephens – 7. Made one error really late in the game on the half way line when he didn’t commit to a tackle and ended up in no man’s land. Other than that, what a player he is. What an asset at the back. If there’s one thing I wish he did more it was communicate. He’s got the art of playing down with such ease that it’d be nice to see him reinvest some of that energy into his midfield. The player that he is, it’s all set up for him to become a leader. (Also if we could actually deliver corners that give him a chance to destroy the opposition that’d be good too kthx!)

Saville – 8. Personally, my MotM. Solid defensively and always seemed to be our out ball. The reason he’s my MotM, however, is that he was the only player who took the initiative, I felt. At times in the first half we’d be passing back, retaining possession, playing the safe percentages. Welling would just mark us up, man for man with an additional player floating to cover space. Saville simply picked up the ball on the circle and ran at Welling, inducing panic. Who was supposed to mark him? Suddenly they had a problem and it was because we committed that extra man to the attack. Well played, Saville.

Yiadom – 5. Fairly standard game. He’s taken to RB well and I feel it’s now fair to judge him as an RB, not as a winger chucked into defence. He secured his flank well and supported attacks down the wing as well. Unfortunately, it was a bit predictable and his actions in the final third weren’t quite as powerful as they should have been, particularly for a man who was tearing down defences at this level last year as winger. It’s harsh to judge him as a converted full back and then bemoan his attacking play but that’s the reality of the game now — “good enough” is no longer good enough. Plus I reckon he’s quality and I always expect the best from him. Such an underrated player for us.

Cadogan – 6. First time I’ve seen him play and I was impressed. He can play a tidy pass, tackle well, cross neatly, dribble at defenders and create space. Unfortunately his miss in the first half was my overriding memory, particularly because I remember him having so much time as opposed to his panicked first-time left-footed shot. I’d like to see him dominate games though, he has the skillset to do so. Him and KMB on opposite flanks is a delightfully filthy prospect.

Byrne – 5. I don’t get the Byrne hate in this game. He kept the game ticking over, passed neatly and made some important tackles. He was no more to blame for being toothless than any other player. In fact, as the game went deeper into the second half and the crowd grew more restless he seemed to be one of the players who fought harder. Suddenly he was popping up on the left wing, cutting inside to shoot and pressing Welling even higher up the pitch than previous. It would be nice, however, if he kept running for 90m. If there is one criticism I have of him it’s how ineffective he can be off the ball — he doesn’t seek space instinctively, which is an oddity for a central midfielder.

Abdulla – 4. He was safe in possession but probably the main culprit in terms of ineffectiveness. He got the ball, played it on, got it back, played it on again. It’s nice but it’s predictable, easily zoned out and a bit boring to spectate. He clearly has a large passing range and a fantastic eye for a pass (he was one of the only players to switch play), it’s a shame to see him reined in by our system. Unleash him!

Weston – 6. Probably the best midfielder in the league. It’s too easy for him. In truth, it’s a shame seeing him at this level when he’s so clearly a league player. On Tuesday he was our main defensive midfielder (despite Abdulla sitting deeper more often) and also our main attacking impetus from midfield. Thankfully Byrne and Abdulla stepped up to cover his absence when he moved into defence but it was still a notable change. He’s probably the only midfielder I’ve seen at this level who looks to dictate the tempo of the game and actually cause trouble for the other team. Conference midfielders seem really happy to receive the ball and play it on, without forcing the issue. It’s a bit underwhelming. A solid midfield could destroy this league, I reckon.

Villa – 6. As someone who watches football and appreciates Manchester United using Kagawa as a left winger, Chelsea using Oscar as a left winger and City using Silva as a left winger, I have absolutely no problem with using Villa as an inverted left winger. It means he can drift inside when he wants, whether that be to thread balls through or to take a shot. Unfortunately, the safety and caution in our play means that we under-utilise Villa and he doesn’t get to shine as much as he should. The end result is we have a supremely talented player who doesn’t have the time or space to show how supremely talented he is. On Tuesday he pulled some impressive plays out of thin air.

Crawford – 4. Poor bloke isn’t a lone striker and, again, shouldn’t be abused in the way he is when he’s acting under orders. In instances like this, when a young player is being abused, I do question the coaches because they’re effectively throwing him to the wolves. Moving him onto the wing didn’t improve his game because he’s a winger but because he had space to run into, an opponent to take 1vs1 (which I feel Crawford is deceptively good at) and another selfless runner on his inside to play off in Mengerink

Subs: Nurse – 4. Tried to inject some pace and meaning into the game but it was too late. He was also ineffective. Mengerink – 5. Almost bundled his way through on goal by sheer force of luck. Did no better than Crawford but at least gave Crawford some time to shine.

The Opposition

Welling seemed distinctly average to be honest. Their number two had a nice turn of pace and looked like he could threaten but otherwise they offered little. Their striker appeared to be a lump who was placed up top for the sake of having a striker on the field. It’s a great shame their goalkeeper was less busy than ours in the end, his fabulously pink shirt living another day.