As first halves of the season go, few can match that of Conference leaders Barnet, who sit nine points clear at the top of the table. Their manager, Martin Allen is now in his 4th different spell in charge of the Bees, and his unorthodox style has put them in pole position for the title.
I say unorthodox having dealt with him at one of his other clubs. From doing pre-match press conferences outside in blizzards to being personally summoned to his office for a meeting he failed to attend, you never knew quite what to expect.
Frequently he would change half the team from one week to the next. His answer to any problem appeared to be to sign yet other player. Perhaps he’s mellowed in his old age. Somehow I doubt it but that kind of short,
sharp, shock management works with some squads, and Barnet and Martin Allen appear made for each other.
On this last Tuesday in November, Barnet travel to Bristol Rovers, who dropped into the Conference at the end of last season. Fancied to go straight back up, they started poorly but have now lost only one of their last 14 league games.
The wider picture though is this. Rovers have now
19 of the 23 other teams – the remaining four are Gateshead, Macclesfield, Torquay and Welling. I have seen Macclesfield and Torquay as well as a clutch of Rovers games and Barnet have been by far and away the most dangerous side.
Nobody else has carried the goal threat that they do, and their healthy lead will be difficult to claw back unless they implode. We’re only at the end of November but the chasing pack may be more concerned about consolidating a play-off place than dreaming of automatic promotion because of the way the season is front-loaded.
The loan window closes on Thursday, and no deals can be done between then and January 1st, when barely a third of the season remains, pending any postponements.
It’s not long to make an impact so you could understand why Rovers manager Darrell Clarke was keen to bring in Nathan Blissett now with a permanent deal already done, and acquire Bradley Goldberg on a temporary basis. The fact that Blissett’s parent club, Kidderminster, are stretched financially helped his case.
Clarke spoke at the start of the season about the competitive nature of the Conference and fans needing to be realistic. It wasn’t going to be a cakewalk. He was spot on with that, and the table tells its own story, with the top half in particular (Barnet apart) being very bunched.
Rovers must continue to defend as resolutely as they have done, and get their forwards firing if what for them has been a slow burner of a season is to have a finish to remember.
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