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|A Mortal Blow|
A Rainy Night in Edgware
By: Andrew Doherty
If you support a brand-obsessed team like Arsenal, you will have your dazzling European nights while wearing your designer top with indifference. I have witnessed many great games at Blundell Park on a Tuesday night, but it's normally cold and involved the likes of Notts County and Doncaster
My footballing wanderlust has orientated me to many grey places over the years, among them Aldershot, Luton, Southend and more recently Dartford and Ebbsfleet. Tonight I head for Barnet. Actually Edgware, which is nearby in North London. Arsenal’s in North London too. This week they get Bayern Munich. Barnet get Grimsby. I'm told that the London Broncos now play in North London. Taking the Mourinho-Wenger scale as the standard, the London Broncos surpass all measure of failure.
The principal distinction of North London is its lack of character. The old Underhill ground was cosy. The borough of Barnet bucked the trend which dictates that all in all North London has no redeeming features. No-one could ever write a song about this place. Metrically, Randy Crawford could have told us about her rainy night in Edgware, or Barnet if she wished, but instead chose Georgia, leaving this piece of suburbia in continued obscurity. Indeed it was a rainy night. The ground where the Bees play is appropriately enough called The Hive. it's modern, accessible, well-appointed and does the job. I like it. The host football team has had a mixed season. With or without Mr Davids, and it's now a case of without, they have had some good results and are still not a team to be underestimated. After our display on Saturday at Cambridge, there was no cause for overestimation. Was Captain Disley’s apology the portent of a future in PR or genuine embarrassment? Tonight may tell us the answer.
Swanky modern music played over the tannoy. Tube trains rolled by overhead. The smooth-sounding announcer read out the teams. Town had made changes from Saturday. It was hard to tell whether this was a more balanced side. The protagonists in question were: McKeown – Bignot, McDonald, Doig, Thomas – Rodman, Kerr, Disley, Neilson – John-Lewis, Tounkara.
Barnet started with purpose and quickly won a corner when Thomas headed out to clear. The corner came in and the unmarked Vilhete flashed his header into the net. Two minutes gone, and it was Barnet 1, Grimsby 0. Three minutes later the flying attackers of Barnet put Town under pressure again and Lopez raced clear. With McKeown to beat, he placed his shot against the foot of the post. It was a let-off. Marsh-Brown had another chance for the home side but crossed straight to McKeown. Rapid passes were the pattern on both sides but Town didn't have the control. Barnet were quicker and more aware on the ball. Fyfield replaced Thomas on 22 minutes. Town's play picked up a little, and on 25 minutes Neilson supplied John-Lewis whose back header just cleared the crossbar. Rodman then was beaten by the Barnet keeper Jupp as he advanced on goal.
Town continued to labour as Barnet ran around like hares. Fyfield had a good run but sent in a wild cross. The ball bounced around. Town didn't seem to be able to manage the pace and lacked Barnet’s fluidity. Town won a corner on 37 minutes after a resolute build-up, but Kerr’s corner kick was poor and led to a Barnet breakaway. A poor touch from Marsh-Brown’s prevented a further goal for the home side. As Town floundered, it was easy to see why Barnet don't concede many goals. Town looked incapable of breaking through the defensive wall. Inspiration came from central defence with a McDonald cross-field pass on 40 minutes. This was the cue for a better period. Town pressed, and won a corner. Rodman had a chance but was unable to capitalise. Town won another corner. Barnet stood firm and had a further chance themselves when Marsh-Brown and Hyde combined to break. Half-time came. Barnet 1, Grimsby Town 0. It ended more brightly for Town but it was Barnet who were brighter in their play and resolute in defence.
The second half began with a Tounkara run. Barnet held firm, then Tounkara again had a chance to break through but chose the wrong option and found himself surrounded outside the penalty box. Town's build-up was much better and Rodman found himself in space on 54 minutes. He turned and sent in a decent left foot shot. Rodman then won a corner on 55 minutes. Kerr’s corner kick found the leaping McDonald at the far post. McDonald’s header was accurate but one of the four Barnet defenders on the line managed to head it away. Town were unlucky. Then, as Town appealed for a foul on John-Lewis, Kerr volleyed from the edge of the box and was adjudged to have been fouled. Fyfield duffed his shot, Rodman then handled the ball accidentally, and that was the end of that. Town were enjoying a good spell, and on 56 minutes, Neilson threw the defence with Fyfield running outside, and cut inside to cross. The cross found Disley whose looping header from the edge of the penalty area climbed over Jupp and into the net. Barnet 1, Grimsby 1.
Neilson continued to twist and turn and cause trouble, but Barnet themselves had three attempts including two pot shots which went close. The game was open. Neither side seemed interested in a draw. John-Lewis turned to put in a bobbling shot on 60 minutes. Jupp fumbled but recovered the ball as Rodman approached. At the other end McKeown spilt a shot but Doig was on hand to clear. Barnet again went close on 64 minutes when Hyde missed after a thrusting run. McDonald set up an attack for Town. Neilson was tripped outside the box but the same player’s delivery was poor. Barnet themselves had a free-kick outside the box after a trip and showed how a free-kick should be taken, forcing McKeown into a save. Town passed well. First Kerr, Neilson and Tounkara linked up. Then Doig started a move up the left with a top quality piece of distribution. Neilson laid the ball off to Tounkara whose flick found John-Lewis. Unfortunately John-Lewis was offside but this was good play from Town. Hannah replaced Tounkara on 78 minutes. Soon after Rodman was foiled by a good tackle as he bore down from the right. Kerr’s corner found McDonald as before at the back post. Hanging in the air like a ski jumper, McDonald sent in a good header but it was just wide. Then on 81 minutes, against the run of play, Barnet raced up the pitch and Hyde flicked in a low cross from the right hand side and into the net. Barnet 2, Grimsby 1. Mr Smoothy-Nicey announced the arrival of the goal with great gravitas. But Town didn't panic, and passed the ball around competently as they searched for the equaliser. Rodman was tripped outside the box after a good run – another free-kick. Hannah took it this time and curled his left-footed shot just over the bar. John-Lewis grappled with Barnet’s Villa who went down injured and had to be escorted off. This left Barnet with ten men as all their substitutes had been used. It also led to a prolonged stoppage, which disrupted Town's momentum. Cook came on for Neilson after 88 minutes and immediately put in a low but harmless cross from the right. Five minutes were added. Hannah curled a shot just over, then John-Lewis was kicked in the face. Kerr limply directed his free-kick at a Barnet player. It was now a matter of urgency. Town speeded things up. There wasn't enough time. The game ended: Barnet 2, Grimsby Town 1.
There were passages when Town played very well, particularly in the second half. But there were worrying aspects to this performance. We were slow and sluggish for most of the first half. It took a while to gain control of our game, and we never got to grips with Barnet’s pace. They seemed capable of opening us up at will, while for the first half at least we were greeted by a solid defence. Things did get better as the game went on, but we really need to work on our dead ball skills. It's good that the duties are being handed around but as at Cambridge on Saturday, most of our free-kicks were terrible. The result is not a disaster but we don't want too many more like this, or we will have a mountain to climb.
As I returned through the dark night, I was prompted to recall a previous conversation with Dave the Stockport County supporter. Dour Dave, or Deep Depression as he is more affectionately known, once described to me the unattractiveness of driving back over a hundred miles to his home over poorly lit roads through pouring rain after a night game in November at Forest Green. Following his own advice, he didn't go. Just as well, because Stockport lost 1 – 4. This of course was last year as they were relegated. He goes to Histon now. Tonight I was on my way back from Barnet, disappointed with the result and to some extent the performance but at least I was in the company of old school mates and other Town fans I’ d met up with. About 50 miles later, I was back in the frosty fenlands where I live. The only way is up. But that's the title of a different song.
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