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On 9th September 2017, Barnet had just beaten Cambridge 3-1 at The Hive and moved into the final play-off place.
Ten points from the first six games yielded a decent return for rookie boss Rossi Eames and with summer signing Shaq Coulthirst bagging a hat-trick in the game previous, it looked as if chairman Tony Kleanthous’ pre-season prediction of a promotion challenge was in full swing.
But since that day, the wheels have come off in spectacular fashion. In 24 games since, just 16 points have been gained and the club sit bottom of the Football League and very much in danger of losing the status they retained only three years ago.
The only club to win the National League, as it’s named now, three times the Bees look certain to fill one of the two relegation places after Tuesday night’s 3-1 home defeat to Carlisle Utd.
But why has it gone so badly wrong?
Fingers can be pointed in several different directions from the top of the club to the players on the pitch.
Was there a burden placed on Eames and his playing squad that promotion had to be achieved? A step too big maybe for a head coach who despite the fantastic start lost half of his starting eleven to injury across the course of those early months.
Was the assembled squad good enough? When you read through the squad listing, it is top heavy, including many youngsters who are either not ready yet for not good enough for League football, but taking up space in what has been said is the 10th best budget in the division.
Whose been responsible for the constant change and appointment of head coaches/managers?
After the summer promise of a big name managerial appointment which either Kleanthous or James Thorne missed out on, Eames who took caretaker charge after the ill-fated spell with Kevin Nugent at the back end of last season, was given the permanent role. Things began to turn sour soon after that Cambridge win and Eames was hounded out of the job amid rumours of supporter discontent.
Mark McGhee was bought in to replace Eames as he moved to a new role of ‘Player Development’, despite McGhee being asked to work with Eames as a Director of Football.
Named as the new first team manager in in mid-November, the Bees were already in the bottom two, but those injured players Eames had missed were now returning and the team were expected to change fortunes.
If anything, performances declined further, morale and confidence went through the floor and McGhee was publicly critical of the players which certainly didn’t inspire neither the team nor the supporters.
Then in mid-January in was announced McGhee had been a ‘stop-gap appointment’ whilst he, and not the chairman, was searching for the right candidate to lift the team from the doldrums and take them forward, the only way being up as Barnet had slipped to the very bottom.
So far, the season had resembled a complete shambles and the next appointment split the fanbase in two with the appointment of Graham Westley.
Only given two weeks of the January transfer window, the signings didn’t set the world alight given the club’s position and the strengthening of those around them which has yielded positive results only heightened the belief the Bees can’t get out of the relegation mess.
Westley’s short spell had begun to install a little bit of belief that Barnet could indeed get out of trouble despite being well adrift of those above them, one defeat in his first four games hadn’t moved the Bees off the bottom but had moved them closer to Chesterfield and Morecambe.
A victory over Carlisle would see them off the bottom for the first time in almost 2 months and there was a great deal of optimism the ‘great escape’ would be on.
Wind forward 90 minutes later and those hopes were in tatters, a 1-0 lead, followed by a missed John Akinde penalty and 3 Carlisle goals, Barnet were still bottom and that little bit of confidence gained through some better performances in the four games previous had evaporated.
Most would suggest 7 wins or 21 points gathered one way or another will be enough to stay in the Football League. But, with only 12 games left to play and with just 6 wins over 34 games, it’s hard to see where seven wins will come from, especially with the fragile confidence having taken a huge knock this week.
Whilst the Hive is a fantastic complex which provides an income for the Bees to compete against the bigger clubs, money hasn’t been spent wisely and managerial appointments have been farcical since Martin Allen left for Eastleigh.
Kleanthous you would feel has taken his eye off the ball when it comes to the football club and time is fast running out to preserve the Football League status they fought so hard to get back three seasons ago, and with the harsh reality that the National League is even harder now to win promotion from it may be awhile before Barnet taste league football again if those points don’t materialise.
Written by Trevor Knell
Follow Trevor on Twitter @trevk37
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