Barnet 1 Wrexham 1 (13th Oct 2013)
To be honest, it was only the offer of a lift that tempted me to venture to Barnet’s new home, hidden away in the labyrinth of inadequate roads suburban North London seems to specialise in. In fact, had it not been for a decision of dubious legality to drive down the footpath to bypass the gridlocked Charlton Road (a short way south of the ground, where traffic from two directions tried to negotiate a road reduced by parked cars to one car width in many places) I don’t think we’d have got to the game at all.
It also seemed from pictures I’d seen as very much a “it’ll have to do” type of construction from a club with few other options. Arriving on a grey afternoon, the sort where it looks permanently like it’s either just rained, just about to rain, or raining already, wasn’t a major adrenaline shot either.
But actually, it was OK. Not great, but I’m sure the place is more like what Barnet fans would have hoped for when they moved rather than what they feared.
For a start, both end terraces, while unlikely to enter football folklore in quite the same way as The Kop or the Holte end, looked like they had enough steps to provide something of a view, rather than just being the glorified bike sheds I’d imagined.
They also have one fairly decent stand down the west side. Nearly 20 rows deep, this very steep stand was a splash of black and orange, providing fine views for around 3000 people – a number considerably in excess of what Underhill, for all of its charms, could achieve. Underneath, a well appointed club bar was a welcome change from the 70s bus station breeze-block ambiance so loved by most modern stadium architects.
The weakest point of the ground was the main stand, which only held about 500 seats in at most six rows of seats. These seats may have been padded, but only about three quarters of them had a roof of any kind, with half a block at one end, and one and a half blocks at the other completely exposed to the Autumnal rain. Four spindly, but welcome, corner floodlight pylons shone down through the gloom, although you felt a stiff breeze would have then rocking about like nodding dogs on a car’s parcel shelf.
Another thing very welcome was that to try to boost crowds on this day, when Barnet’s “Hive” would feature live on BT Sport, they’d slashed all prices to half price. This made the decision to opt for the opulence of the West Stand’s centre section – today just £11.50 – an easy choice. With each ticket containing one of those square blocky barcodes that looks like it was designed on a ZX81, entry was fully automated, even if each of the very smart-looking turnstiles did still need someone to take the money and hand you ticket, which rather defeats the object.
Also welcome was the football on display. The non-league game doesn’t get readily associated with passing football, but with former Dutch star Edgar Davids managing Barnet, they were never likely to have a “big fella” up front, and just spend 90 minutes hoofing balls in his direction.
Not that they didn’t have height. The right back and the centre-back nearest him were both of a height that suggested they were allowed on the roller-coasters at Alton Towers a good year or two before any of their friends at school. I suspected they may be something of a danger in the box from set-pieces etc, and in a rare moment of prophesy, I was proved right. 6’3″ Anthony Acheampong met a looping right wing cross at the far post to put Barnet 1-0 up in the 7th minute.
Barnet edged the rest of the half of a pacy and open game, although it was Wrexham, who forced a couple of good saves out of Graham Stack, who went closest before half time. The 2nd half, perhaps with both managers thinking it was a little too open before, was tighter. Barnet were sitting back too deep, riding their luck, but it seemed to be paying off. The odd scare apart, the best chance went to Wrexham’s Joe Anyinsah, who dragged a shot across goal and wide when well placed, then it all kicked off in the last minute.
Wrexham won a foul on the edge of the Barnet area. Edgar Davids, who’d had the odd cameo in possession, along with getting noticed for the usual decision to wear the No.1 shirt as an outfield player, refused to give the ball back. In the scuffle that followed, he appeared to lash out enough to bloody the lip of Wrexham’s Stephen Wright. That the referee gave Davids an extra few minutes to prepare his post-match team talk was not surprising, but Wright was a little bemused as to exactly what he was sent off for.
With others getting wound up, Wrexham’s Dean Keates kept his nerve to coolly hit the resulting free kick over the wall, past Stack’s despairing dive, to give Wrexham a 90th minute equaliser.
Barnet now poured forward to try to regain the lead, but with tempers flared and determination at levels that overrides common sense, you were almost waiting for the first nasty challenge. It didn’t take long. Wrexham’s Johnny Hunt, who’d only just come on as sub, decided to go flying studs up into Barnet’s Curtis Weston at full pelt. It was probably his first touch of the game. It was also unsurprisingly his last.
It was Curtis’ last action too. Two deep gashes in his leg, but thankfully no break, saw him stretchered off after a long delay.
I’d thought Wrexham had probably deserved the draw, but after that it was hard to not want Barnet to nick a win as some kind of justice. And it so nearly happened too. A ball in from the right was met by a glancing header from five yards out. It looked a certain winner, until to the disbelief of most, it somehow drifted wide of the far post.
The chance was gone and the game was up, but with both sides taking a rather too literal interpretation of “injury time”, maybe it was for the best.