Conference news: Can anyone stop the Bees?
The Vanarama Conference is a notoriously hard division to escape from, as only the Champions go up automatically while the four teams behind battle it out in the playoffs. This season, Barnet have looked streets ahead of the competition and are surely nailed on for a return for the football league.
One team in it?
But is it really a one horse race? The Bees remain Conference Title Favourites to and that’s despite the league leaders losing back to back games recently as the chasing pack look to reel them in.
It feels like the Bees have occupied top spot for the entire campaign but their nerve will be tested as the season enters the final 15 matches. Five points isn’t a big lead and with Bristol Rovers breathing down their neck, last weekend’s 4-0 win against Southport was a vital one.
Rovers are without doubt their main rivals but the race may well have been closer if Darrell Clarke’s men had picked up more that just one point from their first three games in the conference.
The Gas are also the only side able to out-muscle the league leaders in the transfer market.
Rovers missed out on striker Matt Tubbs as League Two Portsmouth stepped in to sign the 30 year-old. It was a cruel blow for manager Clarke who has already stated if his club are to delve into the transfer market, it will be to add quality the starting XI rather than bulking up the squad.
So third placed Rovers do represent a real threat to Barnet’s chances of promotion.
Meanwhile, it may be a stretch too far for the likes of Macclesfield Town, who finished 15th in the Conference last term, to overhaul eight points on Barnet, albeit with a game in hand. Form lines would also suggest that Macclesfield have it all to do after being battered 4-0 at Bristol Rovers earlier this month.
Grimsby fans will be hoping the club can improve on last season’s fourth place finish and will be full of optimism after beating Barnet 3-1 recently, but their inconsistency in the league makes their chances of reaching the summit of the Conference in May fanciful at best.
Moreover, it feels like Martin Allen and Barnet have some unfinished business, as I’m sure most neutrals will be hoping Barnet manage to get over the line. It was over ten years ago when Allen was cutting his teeth in management, when his Barnet side, that he had built from scratch, were on the verge of promotion but the lure of Brentford proved too much and Barnet ultimately fell short following his departure.
Nevertheless, Bees fans are confident of promotion and there is a growing air of expectation around the club. Allen has an excellent bunch of players with the strength and goals from John Akinde and the intelligent midfield play of Sam Togwell.
The remaining fixtures have also fallen nicely for the Bee’s – a home match with Grimsby and an away visit to Eastleigh look like the biggest banana skins left for the club.
You have to credit Martin “Mad-Dog” Allen for the fantastic job he has done off the pitch as well – Barnet have had open training sessions this season that allowed fans to watch and openly chat to the players after training. While the squad are also keen to acknowledge the club’s travelling support on every away game.
All in all, Barnet look primed to win the league given the circumstances, but they shouldn’t underestimate the quality of Bristol Rovers, who will be keen to avoid another season playing non-league football.