There's a place in the Fifth Round up for grabs tonight as we head to Barnet in the Emirates FA Cup. Here's what we can expect from tonight's opponents ...
Barnet lost their place in the EFL last season after being relegated due to an inferior goal difference to Morecambe and they don't seem to have recovered from that disappointment as yet, sitting in the bottom half of the National League table at present. How has the first half of the season been for the Bees?
It’s been an incredibly injury-hit season so far and I think that’s really the reason for the poor form in the league. The team were relegated with a squad that was absolutely decimated by injuries for much of the last campaign and that’s just continued into this season. John Still was never really able to name a consistent side and I think that obviously had an impact on the results in the first half of the season.
I think coming down to the National League is particularly tough, in your first season anyway, unless you’ve got a huge budget to work with, but when you also have a lot of your key players out injured then it becomes even more difficult. So I think that’s the key factor in not performing so well in the early stages.
It’s been quite the journey for Barnet in the FA Cup this season, though, having entered at the fourth qualifying round and booking their place in the fourth round proper after a win at Bramall Lane. Tell us a little bit about their cup run so far…
Barnet started in not quite such impressive form, I guess, because they beat Braintree in the fourth qualifying round and there was a period of that game where they made quite hard work of getting through, but the same could be said for when they beat Stockport 1-0 in round two; they are a lower division team but Barnet only narrowly edged past them.
On the flipside, there were two really impressive performances against Bristol Rovers in the first round proper. In the initial fixture, really, Barnet should have held on for the win, especially against 10 men, but everyone thought the game was up then, because when you go away to a higher division club, it becomes quite tricky. Nonetheless, they put in a really good performance in that match, easily match Bristol Rovers and got through to the next round. Obviously the big one everyone is talking about is Sheffield United, where I don’t think many people would’ve given them a chance. I know they were helped by Chris Wilder making a lot of changes to his side, but regardless, Barnet actually played some good football in that match and really were worthy winners.
In addition to that, they have advanced to the third round of the FA Trophy, too. Do you feel this cup success has been detrimental to their league performance?
I think it probably has been. If you look at the Braintree game where they lost 4-0 at the weekend – there were extenuating circumstances with the goalkeeper getting sent off inside the first five minutes – you wonder if the players aren’t quite at their best or are a little bit hesitant to dive into tackles because they are obviously concerned about the upcoming cup games. Also, I think it’s largely about the fixtures; the Bees have such a fixture backlog now because of the cup competitions and, though I’m not sure that’s had a massive impact so far, I think you are really going to see the team struggle to compete on multiple fronts and catch up on all those games as they reach the final stages of the season.
John Still retired from management just after Christmas and former player Darren Currie was appointed as his permanent successor last week after a spell as caretaker. How has Currie fared so far in his first experience as head honcho?
He’s looked very assured as a manager and has said all the right things, so far. Often when you get an assistant manager who steps up, you still have that feeling that they are an assistant manager, that they don’t necessarily have the gravitas associated with being the main man, but we haven’t seen that with Darren Currie. He looks as though he’s taken to it like a duck to water and tactically he’s changed things around, too. It was all a little bit too stale under John Still, it was a direct form of football and it wasn’t entertaining the fans, or getting the results, which is a pre-requisite if you play not very aesthetically-pleasing football. It’s nice to watch under Darren Currie, it’s a bit more expansive and that seems to be suiting the players.
Results-wise, they beat Dagenham & Redbridge away in the first game under him and played very well that day, then again there was a draw at home to Boreham Wood and Barnet were much the better team in that match and really should have taken all three points. Obviously I’ve already mentioned the Sheffield United win, but the only real blip has been the 4-0 drubbing by Braintree and I don’t think you can really judge a manager too much on a game where they’ve had to play with 10 men for pretty much the whole game. The fans are on-side, he’s saying the right things and there’s a feeling that he could be someone who could do quite well in management.
Which Barnet player should Brentford fans be keeping a close eye on in this one?
Dan Sweeney the centre-back does have an error in him every so often, but you can see he’s a ball-playing centre-back who pushes play forward from the back and he’s really quite talented, so I could see him going on to play at a higher level. There’s also a couple of youngsters: Jack Taylor – one of the hottest prospects – is a playmaking central midfielder and Shaquile Coulthirst is the main goal threat. He’s a had a slightly inconsistent season and his Mum passed away, meaning, naturally, he missed quite a few games with that. He hit double figures last season in a team that was struggling and if he can play week in, week out, I’d imagine he could become one of the top strikers in this league.
How are Barnet likely to set up on Monday? Can you give us any injury news?
The setup has changed a little bit over the course of the season, but I would anticipate that they’ll go with a 4-3-3 against Brentford and that will essentially match the manner in which they’ve set up in the last couple of games. Goalkeeper Mark Cousins is suspended so we’ll see a different face between the sticks, but I’m not entirely sure, at this stage, whether it’ll be a loan replacement or Rihards Matrevics, the backup goalkeeper, who’ll play.
The main other difference is that Charlee Adams is suspended, so I think you will see Wesley Fonguck in there instead - he’s another hot-prospect and was fantastic early on this season. Besides that, I don’t think you’ll see many other changes; there were so many changes early on in the campaign that Darren Currie has made a point of trying to keep the team more consistent since he’s taken over.
What’s your score prediction for the game?
I’m going to have to go for a Barnet win, aren’t I?! I would think Barnet, perhaps, could nick it 1-0.