After Saturday I think we were ready to forgive almost anything tonight – except perhaps extra time. I was even willing to pardon my partner Suzanne for preventing me from taking a trip to Peterborough (this is grossly unfair, but as they say history is written by the victors; my mother persuaded my father to go Christmas shopping once instead of the home game and that one turned out 7-6). And let’s just accept tonight for what it was, despite all the nonsense written in the programme. It was a game to win with as little effort as possible and move on; after Reid scored everyone in red was ready for a hot bath. It was an opportunity for some players to remind Parkinson they are around, but of them nobody took the chance – and in front of a crowd a little above 4,000 perhaps they have mitigating circumstances.
With Semedo, Martin and Anyinsah out of the equation, there had to be changes to the line-up. Fortune came in to give Doherty a rest alongside Dailly, who never seems to need one. Francis and Fry made up the back four. Not surprisingly McCormack came in to partner Racon in central midfield, but whether or not they were told to do so it seemed odd to me that McCormack spent most of the game, at least until the latter stages, in a more advanced role than Racon, despite his recent goals. If that gave us an odd shape, we also had Wagstaff, Jackson and Reid alternating in a flexible formation, with Abbott effectively the lone striker. Reid did seem to have a roving role, until he embarrassed their full-back to score the goal, after which he seemed to decide that’s the position he wanted to occupy. As an exercise in options it might have had merit, but the end-result was disjointed, with Racon not able to get forward and Abbott unable to hold the ball up for others to run, although in his defence the service was poor.
There was an early scare as Barnet hit the post with an early effort, but in general we did enough to have most of the play in the first half, without looking especially dangerous. Francis found himself up against a speedy and tricky winger, albeit one who looked like he tends to fluff the final ball, and provided an excellent example of how to handle the situation: a mix of timely tackles and the occasional shove. The game was going nowhere in particular when we took the lead out of nothing. Their full-back should have had the situation under control but dwelt on the ball and Reid took it from him and outpaced him. Rather than looking for any pass he simply went on and scored at the near post. It was a very well taken goal, but one that no defender should be proud of having given away.
I can’t remember any other notable incidents of the first half and at the break we were reasonably comfortable. But that only served to encourage all concerned to take it as easy as possible. When you start a game slowly and aren’t truly up for it it is hard to turn around. And after the break Barnet clearly decided that with nothing to lose they might as well take it to us. The second half was to be all about Elliot.
Wagstaff was replaced at the break, with Benson coming on and Jackson going wide right in a more conventional 4-4-2 set-up. If we thought that would create more of an attacking threat we were mistaken. Benson was to play his part, with one delightful flick to set up McCormack for a run through which should have ended with a better finish and just as important one moment in our own box where he put his head in where it hurts to clear. But Jackson looked uncomfortable on the right side and, with Reid after his goal flattering to deceive – and guilty of standing still instead of tracking his man in a dangerous position, which led to another Elliot save – we continued to struggle to make anything happen. Most of Elliot’s saves were good, including turning a Basey free kick around the post, but a couple at least were outstanding, including one at the near post from a McLeod shot (he came on as a substitute) and a one-on-one which he blocked.
Doherty came on for Fortune to try to ensure we kept what we had, and later Abbott departed for Sodje, to no obvious effect. It was a case of running down the clock – and to be honest, despite Elliot’s saves I’ve been more nervous in a pre-season friendly. When you’re 1-0 up on a night like tonight you just want the final whistle and to be spared another 30 minutes. It all came soon enough.
The games have been coming thick and fast and I’m not going to moan about tonight, even though on chances created Barnet will feel they have been robbed. Others may disagree, but I’m not bothered about a third-round FA Cup tie (except for the money). I’ll never want us to lose, but tonight , the prospect of Luton or Corby, and the Southend Johnstone’s Paint Trophy exercise, plus the ‘southern semi-final’ against Brentford are all games you just hope improve the gelling of the squad and can be negotiated without injury and suspensions for more important tasks. Let’s get serious again on Saturday as after the recent results and given the league position the bar has been raised, with two home games coming up and the chance to really push on. The reaction to the Brighton result has been spot on; taking it easier tonight was understandable. I just hope we haven’t used up our allocation of luck.
Elliot: 9/10. I don’t know what constitutes a perfect score; in football there always has to be the potential for more, but he was man of the match by a distance. If we make it through for a money-spinning third-round tie Murray owes him a pint.
Fry: 7/10. Reasonable enough game; was a touch unlucky to pick up a yellow card.
Francis: 7/10. I thought he was excellent in the first half against a difficult winger, but came under more pressure in the second as they went for it. Like Fry wasn’t able to get forward to much effect, given problems in front of them.
Fortune: 6/10. No obvious mistakes, but did seem to play the game without really imposing himself, or paying too much attention to distribution.
Dailly: 8/10. Composed and assured, Mr Reliable.
Reid: 6/10. Extra mark for the goal, but quite frankly after that his performance disappointed me. He’s good enough to have run them ragged but didn’t. Has to do more to be demanding a starting position.
McCormack: 5/10. Disappointing. I thought he’d slot into the Semedo role and play as if he had something to prove to Parkinson. Instead he was more advanced than Racon, which seemed to suit neither of them.
Racon: 6/10. Decent enough first half but barely featured in the second. He’s started scoring goals but was in my opinion too deep tonight.
Jackson: 5/10. Suffered from accommodating both Reid and Wagstaff and then being played out right in the second half. Back to normal position on Saturday I hope.
Wagstaff: 6/10. Not sure whether he picked up a knock or whether taking him off was tactical. Looked lively in the first half when he and Reid were switching around.
Abbott: 5/10. Service to him was usually poor, but didn’t do enough to suggest that he deserves a starting place ahead of Benson, Anyinsah and Martin. Missed opportunity.
Subs: Benson (6/10 – the flick and the defensive header, not a great deal else but we weren’t looking to go forward much in the second half); Doherty (7/10 – his coming on for Fortune didn’t exactly tie things up at the back as hoped); Sodje (5/10 – like Benson struggled to make an impact as we were effectively playing out the game).