After avoiding relegation on the last day last season, there was a feel-good factor around the club due to this and the appointment of former Northern Ireland and Fulham boss Lawrie Sanchez only added to the optimism. Pre-season saw us get some good results, with us drawing against Peterborough and MK Dons and winning against a Tottenham X1; while transfers were low-key, with influential captain Joe Devera leaving for Swindon, while Dean Brill and Danny Senda signed for the club alongside Mark Bryne and Sam Deering, who signed permanent contracts at the club after being on-loan last season.
August started brightly, with an opening day win over Morecambe and a victory in the League Cup over Portsmouth. We then went to go on a run of seven league games without a win before beating rock-bottom Plymouth; but the cup competitions proved a solace, with a narrow loss against Burnley in the League Cup and a win away to Colchester in the JPT. The team then only won once in nine matches, with this culminating in a abysmal 6-3 loss at home to Burton Albion, which saw calls for Lawrie “the magician” Sanchez to be sacked: This was because of the team’s awful form and a lack of commitment to the cause, having stated his interest in the Northern Ireland job.
The next game against AFC Wimbledon proved to be a turning point due to the signings of West Brom’s Paul Downing and Reading’s Michael Hector on-loan. This saw the team win their next four matches in all competitions, with the last game in this run against Macclesfield Town saw an introduction to the much-maligned “Friday night football.” A penalty shoot-out win over Brentford in the JPT saw us reach the final of the southern section of the tournament. The game that followed this was away to Torquay United, which is probably my personal highlight for the season, despite the result.
This month also saw the news that Barnet would be leaving Underhill at the end of the season due to the council “forcing the club out of the borough.” The news didn’t come as a surprise due to Tony Kleanthos’ regular criticism for the council in the way they handle matters regarding Barnet FC. It was announced a few months later that Barnet would be staying at Underhill for next season in a farewell campaign; with the club statement saying that the club’s training ground the Hive would become a temporary home for the stadium. In my view, we should stay at Underhill (change in council leadership might make this possible) until we have a new stadium that we can stay at for the long-term.
Back to matters on the field, January proved to be a great month for the Bees, with us getting four wins out of four in the league, with the best result being the 2-0 win over Crewe Alexandra due to us dominating them for the whole game. This month also saw us draw 1-1 at home to Swindon in the first leg of the JPT southern final, but the result was overshadowed by a season-ending injury to influential right-back Danny Senda. The second-leg saw us go out bravely, with us losing the game 1-0, but this result was the start of an awful run of form.
Eight points from 16 matches saw us being dragged back into the relegation battle, with it looking hard to tell where our next win would come. The result which summed up this spell best was the 4-0 loss at home to Bradford City due to a bust-up between Michael Hector and Izale McLeod during the match. This saw Lawrie Sanchez rightly sacked and he confirmed himself as Barnet’s worst manager in recent years with a bitter statement, which said “the club had lost their bottle” and that they had “shown a lack of loyalty towards him.” And this is coming from a man who publicly stated he wanted the Northern Ireland job a month into the season!
This paved the return for Martin “Mad Dog” Allen to return for a third spell with the club. Views on this appointment were mixed due to him walking out on us after 19 days in his last spell in charge, but all Barnet fans agreed that he was the man to save us from relegation. A 3-0 loss away to the impressive Southend United had many Barnet fans worrying that our luck might run out in yet another relegation battle. A 4-0 win at home to AFC Wimbledon not only produced our biggest win of the season, but an outstanding team performance. We could have secured survival on the basis of this result, but Hereford United’s shock 3-0 win away to promotion-chasing Crawley Town meant that it went to the final day for a third season running.
The last match was away to mid-table Burton Albion and it was great to see Barnet bring a big contingent to the game. Things started brightly with Mark Bryne’s deflected free-kick roll into the back of the net. However things became very tense when Jacques Maghoma equalised for the Brewers and news had filtered through that Hereford were beating Torquay 3-0. The game’s turning point was when Calvin Zola missed a penalty (whether it was purposely, I’m not sure) on the stroke of half-time. The second half saw us come out reinvigorated and we deservedly went in front through Mark Hughes’ wonder-goal. Things looked comfortable until added time where Dean Brill made a spectacular save to deny former Bee Patrick Ada. The final whistle blew, cuing for reactions of either celebration or amazement at yet another survival.
After his recent spell in charge, it has been made clear that there is only one man who can help Barnet to avoid another relegation dogfight. While he might not have been many Barnet fans’ choice due to him leaving us twice already, Martin Allen has endeared himself to the fans again by keeping us up again and I feel that is past spells have to be forgotten due to his achievements in this three-match spell. If we get Martin Allen as manager on a permanent basis, there is no reason why we can’t finish mid-table, if not higher up the league. Let’s hope that we don’t end up in the same position four years in a row!