Saturday, 30 March 2013

Barnet 0-0 Daggers, Blunt Daggers Neutralise Bees Sting.

Picture from Arnu.
It may have been the last ever meeting of Barnet and Dagenham & Redbridge at Underhill before the Bees move to the Hive next season, but it certainly wasn't a classic. A game between two relegation candidates played on a tough surface failed to get going, with the anticipation in the build up failing to materialise. It meant that both sides took a valuable point for the second season running into the final month of the campaign.

Before the enthralling 90 minute encounter, we were faced with the exciting prospect of getting to Underhill. Thankfully with it being relatively local, it's a pretty simple journey. After meeting at Barking we caught the District Line to Embankment before changing onto the Northern Line for the final leg to High Barnet. Upon arrival we had a quick bite to eat before heading to the Old Red Lion Pub which was voluntarily designated as the away fans pub.

Whilst there we were given a brief insight into what it would be like if we took 600+ away every week. The supporters were in full voice as the pub was drowned out by a chorus of Daggers songs. But then the realisation hits that this isn't what it's like every week, and the majority of those singing, "I was there when Femi scored", probably weren't there when Femi scored. Following that we abruptly left and headed down the dark menacing alleyway towards the away turnstiles where the only thing that mugged us was the Barnet coffers.

After heading through the rustic building, we were greeted with the Underhill Stadium for the final time. Unsurprisingly it hadn't changed from our last visit - unless you count the several piles
Daggers players warm up.
of remaining snow around the pitch. Underhill is made up of seven different stands of varying size and nature, with six of those housing the home supporters.

Daggers fans were as usual given the choice of two stands. The majority chose the East Terrace North which is as the name suggests, is a covered standing terrace. We were to share it with the more vocal of the Bees fans that were to be separated from us by flimsy netting and several stewards. Daggers fans who wanted to be seated were allowed into the small North Family Stand which cost just a few pounds extra.

After finding our position towards the back of the terrace, the announcer who seemed to have been born with a silver spoon in his mouth, announced the two teams:

Barnet: Stack, Fuller, Johnson, Stephens, Flanagan, Byrne, Weston, Oster, Davids, Nurse, Hyde. Subs: N'Toko, Ganbin, Yiadom, Barnes, Jenkins, De Silva, Beattie.

Dagenham & Redbridge: Miles, Femi, Wilkinson, Doe, Hoyte, Saunders, Howell, Ogogo, Silva, Elito, Strevens. Subs: Seabright, Fortune, Maher, Shariff, Bingham, Reed, Gracco. 

It was a busy loan deadline for Daggers with Toni Silva, Mo Sharif, Jonathan Fortune, Jonathan Miles and Peter Gilbert all signing. Wayne Burnett was forced to start two of the loan signings following last weekend's 2-1 defeat at Fleetwood. Chris Lewington, who picked up an injury and was forced off last weekend, was replaced by Spurs goalkeeper Jonathan Miles. Toni Silva was also given his debut in place of Josh Scott who missed out altogether with an apparent knock picked up in training on Thursday afternoon.

After that the ground began to gradually fill up, even the uncovered terrace behind the North end had a flock of supporters in. Daggers fans continued pouring into the ground to give an away attendance of 634 as the teams were introduced onto the pitch. After a quick turnaround, the referee blew his whistle to signal the beginning of this crucial fixture. 

From the off it was clear the game was going to be a hard fought battle. Opportunities were limited in the opening 10 minutes with both sides looking to establish a firm grip in proceedings. After a flurry of free kicks Daggers looked to get things moving down the left, but to no avail as Elito failed to beat his man for the umpteenth time this season. With little over 20 minutes gone the visitors began to look more threatening. Good interchange between Femi & Elito saw the latter cross for Strevens whose toed flick rolled neatly into Stack's arms.

Matt Saunders was then booked by the referee as the game threatened to have some degree of action. With the match already petering out, the hosts finally managed an effort on goal. Mark Byrne's whipped cross from the left hand side found Jake Hyde who could only manage to head the ball wide of the far post for a goal kick. 

The visitors were now beginning to look more inventive down the right hand side through Toni Silva, yet they were still unable to create any clear cut opportunities. Silva was stifled by the Barnet left back whilst Ogogo wasn't having any luck playing in a role higher up the pitch. Abu almost fashioned a chance for himself with 35 minutes gone, but the Barnet defender recovered well to clear the ball out for a throw.
Toni Silva backs into Edgar Davids

As the half drew to a close, the Bees turned up the pressure and were unlucky not to take the lead. A corner from the right found Jake Hyde whose header was cleared off the line by Ben Strevens, before seconds later Hyde was through again in what looked like an offside position. This time though the Barnet forward who found himself in acres of space could only direct his quickly taken shot over the crossbar to the relief of a shell-shocked Daggers defence.

That turned out to be the final chance in what was a hard fought first half with limited opportunities for either side. Barnet had looked the most likely to take the lead, whilst Daggers' new loan signing Toni Silva had failed to impress thanks to stringent Barnet defending. Luke Howell & Abu Ogogo were both playing well in the midfield as the sides went into the break at 0-0.

Into the second half and Daggers started the brighter. Wayne Burnett's men had marginally more possession and looked more dangerous going forward. It showed on 52 minutes as Silva was allowed time and space before curling his speculative left footed effort just over Graham Stack's crossbar. The visitors were now looking the more likely to open the scoring and continued to threaten down the flanks.

The game wasn't without its controversy though and soon both sides were up in arms about a mistimed Femi challenge on former Dagger Jon Nurse. It had both sets of supporters baying for blood and after Nurse rolled himself off the pitch, it was Graham Stack who found himself in the referee's little black book for racing half way up the pitch to take part in the ensuing fracas. Then came a wonderful moment as Daggers fans chanted the name of their idol, Femi, and the cult left back just looked up as if to suggest, "Yeah, I know, you love me." Oh Femi, you cheeky minx.

Despite Daggers pressure they were still open to a Barnet counter attack and on 65 minutes, the Bees managed their first shot of the second half. Neat play in the midfield allowed centre half Barry Fuller to overlap and test Jonathan Miles with a tame strike along the ground that the Spurs debutant gathered comfortably. Tom Flanagan then went into the book for a late challenge as the game threatened to boil over.

With just under 70 minutes played, Wayne Burnett made his first change of the afternoon. Toni Silva, who probably lacks match fitness, was withdrawn for QPR loanee Mo Sharif. Instantly Sharif was a hit and it's clear he could become a talismanic figure from now until the end of the
Burnett made his first change.
season. The winger took the ball, beat two men and passed out wide to Elito, who with the ball bobbling, unleashed a rasping 20 yard drive that was superbly tipped onto the bar by former Arsenal 'keeper, Stack to keep the scores level.

Determined to force the advantage, it was the same duo that combined minutes later with Elito this time firing a cross-cum-shot across the 18 yard box before it went out for a goal kick. Already it was clear the impact Sharif had made after combining with Elito twice in two minutes.

The game continued to be a fiercely fought midfield battle, although Matt Saunders was doing his best to give the ball away at every attempt. Edgar Davids whose ball control had been exceptional all afternoon withdrew himself from the action, to be replaced by Andy Yiadom, with Kyle De Silva also coming on for John Oster. The subs did little to change the tide with Daggers continuing to look the more likely scorers.

Ben Strevens continued to look out of depth up front, which prompted cries of, "Unlucky Strevs" amongst the 600+ strong away support. I almost feel a little sorry for Strevs. He tries his hardest and no one can fault his effort, but there's no spark in his play, nothing's clicking - and that
Daggers fans look on.
makes it all the more frustrating when watching the man who was lauded upon his return; fail.

The game looked to be fizzling out towards the latter stages, and but for a controversial challenge from sub De Silva, it may well have done. The midfielder went in late on a 50/50 challenge with Luke Wilkinson to win the ball which left the referee with no other option but to send the Crystal Palace loan star off. In all fairness to the lad, it was a harsh decision made worse by the noise his studs made when colliding with Wilkinson's own raised boot.

The red card meant Daggers had a man advantage for the final few minutes, but could they make it count? Of course they couldn't. In fact they somehow managed to finish the game on the back foot as Barnet exerted uncharacteristic pressure. Despite the late push by the hosts, they were unable to find a goal which meant the game ended in a 0-0 stalemate. It leaves Barnet 4 points clear of the drop zone, whilst Daggers now have a 7 point gap down to 23rd.

After the final whistle we also learnt that Barry Fuller was sent off after the final whistle for directing foul and abuse language at the referee. That was followed up by Edgar Davids’ post match interview where he stated that there was a conspiracy theory in the FA against Barnet. Oh Edgar, you’re really sticking your clogs in where it hurts.

In all truth it was a very poor game with few opportunities. I was of the opinion that a draw was a fair result, despite a dominant second half performance, and yet a Barnet fan disagreed with me - funny game football, eh! Still it's a vital point that lifts us onto 48 for the season with only five games to go, which should see us safe assuming we take at least one or two more from the remaining 15 available.

As for the performance, Abu Ogogo & Luke Howell were both terrific. Howell in particular impressed. His passing was accurate and he combined that well with both nimble footwork and some sublime challenges to break up the play. Abu, in a more forward role, also impressed and put in a real captain's shift. He took hold of the ball and looked calm and composed in possession, hopefully it's a role where he can continue to excel for the final five matches of the season.

The defence vastly improved on last week’s performance. The two full backs were far better, helped by the fact Gavin Hoyte reverted to a more familiar right back position. Their assured performance was accompanied by the continued sturdiness of Scott Doe and Luke Wilkinson in the centre of defence, with Wilkinson in particular putting in a dominant aerial performance to prevent any Barnet threat.

As for the front line - the less said the better regarding Strevens. As I alluded to earlier it's just not worked out since his highly anticipated return. A combination of isolation up top and just a lack of natural instinct made him look lost yesterday afternoon, even his hold up play looked poor. 

Medy on the other hand was given a new lease of life following Sharif's introduction, although prior to that he was poor. I've often had a go at him for not taking on his man and yesterday when he did, he failed miserably. My gripe with him now is that he seems to fail to make the right decision in crucial situations - there was several times when he should have played the ball but opted to take on the man before giving it away.

The three loan players all gave hints as to what they're capable of. Toni Silva was almost marked out of the game by the Barnet left back, but showed signs of what he's capable of. Mo Sharif on the other hand was superb when introduced. The ball virtually stuck to his boots and the QPR loanee looks like a real talismanic player when given possession - something that should help Daggers in the coming weeks. Goalkeeper Jonathan Miles enjoyed a stress free debut, making few saves from the blunt Barnet forwards. 

I wasn't particularly impressed by the Bees who turned in a poor performance. The talent of Edgar Davids however, is clear. The former Dutch International has obvious star player quality and controlled the ball excellently when given the opportunity. And also a word to the Barnet left back who loves that ball down the channels with the outside of his boot - very creative and it nearly worked on several occasions.

So that was our final visit to Underhill, and providing we both remain in the league next season we'll be travelling to the Hive in Edgeware. Until then, we'll just have to wait and see. Next up for Daggers is a home game against Bristol Rovers on Easter Monday, whilst Barnet travel to AFC Wimbledon.

Until then, have a good remainder of the Easter weekend and remember to follow me on Twitter, @NickMurphyDRFC.

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