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Barnet’s journey: Relegation strugglers to promotion contenders.

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When the National League fixtures conclude this weekend, Barnet Football Club might be just 180 minutes away from returning to the English Football League.

The Bees were demoted alongside Chesterfield in 2018, and with the Spireites returning to League Two as winners this season, it would be ironic if the same two clubs were promoted together.

Dean Brennan took over Harry Kewell’s fractured club just two years ago. The Australian was let go after only seven games. The club was in the bottom three without a win, with unhappy fans and a team without confidence.

The season took on the appearance of hard work, perseverance, and pure desire to finish 18th in the final table despite a roster consisting of injury-prone players and many missing the quality for non-league’s top division.

Defeats by a significant margin were a frequent theme as Brennan struggled to field a team at times. The standout results were 5-0 against Stockport County, 6-1 against Notts County, and 7-3 against Dagenham and Redbridge, and fans were quick to vent their frustrations.

With many players on two-year contracts, patience was necessary last season in order to completely rebuild the squad this summer, despite delivering a playoff campaign and an FA Trophy semi-final, Wembley twice within sight, and double despair by mid-May.

The green shoots of recovery were beginning to emerge, but Barnet fell just short of success. The team spent nearly the whole past season in the top seven, which served as a springboard for what has happened this year.

Despite Chesterfield’s significant point advantage since the turn of the year, Barnet remained in a title contest until November, when the Derbyshire team increased the ante and powered away. However, the North London side held their own, remaining in the top three ever since, forcing a play-off after missing out on the eliminators.

Togetherness is the buzzword. Used from the start, but believed from the boardroom down to those who pay to support the team, a manager whose office door is always open for a talk, and an open invitation to observe training sessions.

The Irishman’s recruitment strategy has been to bring in players familiar with his methods from his time at Hemel Hempstead and Wealdstone. He has combined players such as Laurie Walker, Nicke Kabamba, and Jerome Okimo, adding Danny Collinge, Idris Kanu, Harry Pritchard, and Dale Gorman.

The loan market has been exploited extremely effectively. Gatlin O’Donkor and Anthony Hartigan have made significant contributions this season, with the latter winning four of the five prizes at the club presentation ceremony. Josh Keeley’s arrival from Tottenham Hotspur in goal has mixed opinions among the fans, with many remaining loyal to former number one Walker, both of whom are capable of producing a match-winning performance.

Kabamba has produced his best, with nearly 50 goals in his two years donning the black and amber, putting him in exclusive company in the club’s history books, with just John Akinde and Giuliano Grazioli having done so since 2020.

One of the other essential components of the incoming plan is adding players who have a track record of playing thirty or more games per season; Okimo, Pritchard, and Kabamba just reached 100 appearances for the club in little under 24 months.

Barnet can profit from finding the next prodigy to leave the manufacturing line. Brennan’s management staff is on the hunt for a player who has been released from an academy but still has the skill required, as well as a star in the lesser divisions.

Ryan De Havilland was one such player, dumped by Fulham but shaped and fostered at The Hive before joining League One club Peterborough United last summer. Collinge, Ade Oluwo, and Callum Stead are anticipated to make significant contributions, with the latter two coming from lower divisions and already making impressive improvement.

The Bees will fall just shy of 100 goals scored in the National League, a far cry from the 59 they managed two years ago, while allowing almost the same number at the right end of the game.

Allow a manager time to execute a philosophy, and the desired outcome can be reached with everyone pulling in the same direction. Some clubs fail to reach their full potential due to constant upheaval and player turnover.

Football is now a quick fix; if you’re not up to the challenge, go on and start over. It is one of the reasons Barnet was relegated to non-league football, but they must restart, reset, and repair the damage before dreaming of returning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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