By Gerry PrewettBristol Rovers entertain Barnet this weekend as they face off against the team they chased down unsuccessfully for the Vanarama Conference title last season.
Having established an early season buffer the Bees were always ‘in the driving seat’ but it wasn’t until Rovers fell to a last minute equaliser in their last away game of the season at Dover that the Gas were forced to relinquish realistic hopes of a top spot to the North London team.
Having got off to a rocky start to their campaign, the Bees won their first game of the three played so far this season when they overcame Northampton at home 2-0 on Tuesday night. Last season’s goals scoring hero, John Akinde was on target for both goals.
Barnet keeper Graham Stack did well early on to turn away Lawson D'Ath's cross-shot from the left and then denied Sam Hoskins' follow-up header on the goal-line.
Akinde had the best opportunity of the first-half but his low 18th-minute shot was claimed by the away team’s keeper Adam Smith. Town wide man D'Ath threatened again just after the start of the second half but his header was headed out by the Bees full-back Elliott Johnson.
Akinde opened the scoring with a 64th-minute penalty after the Cobbler’s defender Jason Taylor brought substitute Luke Gamblin down when through on goal and ensuring a red card in the process. Akinde placed his spot-kick down the centre of the goal before Smith prevented the hosts doubling their lead when he twice denied Andy Yiadom from close range.
Akinde doubled the lead at the end when he calmly took the ball around Smith and rolled ball home from wide on the right.
The Bees’s Boss Martin Allen felt his team had played better in their first two games of the season despite losing but claimed he was not disappointed with the Bees’ first-half display in their 2-0 win over Northampton Town on Tuesday. Speaking after the game Allen said, “We have played better in the other games and not won, to be honest, it is a funny game. The other performances have been much better than that today but we have come away with a win.”
“It is good for the players; I think it is a relief for the players and probably a massive relief for the supporters. It is all part and parcel of it and they can’t play well every game.”
“How many times last year did we not play very well, win 1-0 and just do the job? Tonight I don’t think we did anything special but we did the job. When you don’t win for a few games there is bound to be that bit of nervous tension.”
"It is my job to help the players with that, like we did last year when we had a tricky spell. We kept going through right until the very end and won the championship. You need balls to win a championship and these players have got it in abundance.”
“Northampton had won three out of three and not conceded a goal, so we were playing against a good team with good players. Chris Wilder puts together good teams. It is a good performance, an OK performance and it is nice for all the players to get something on the board.”
Last season the teams clashed on 25 November at the Mem. Rovers came out of the blocks sprinting and took the lead after just five minutes. Lee Mansell’s ball over the top split the Barnet defence as Matty Taylor left Bondz N’Gala for dead and advanced through on goal. Taylor was forced wide to the right hand side of the goal following heavy pressure from David Stephens but managed to fire the ball past Raphael Spiegel at his near post.
On 37 minutes the League leaders were back all square as Spanish midfielder Luisma Villa’s 30-yard free kick left Steve Mildenhall with no chance.
Rovers piled on the pressure in the closing stages and it was Balanta who turned the ball past Spiegel from a Lyle Della-Verde corner
Until 2011/12 the Bees had never beaten the Gas, but that changed with a vengeance, the Londoners winning both games 2-0. The clubs first met in the FA Cup in 1983/84 season with a 0-0 draw at Underhill and Rovers winning the replay 3-1.
When the Bees played their only season in (the Old) Division 2 in 1993/94 they met Rovers for the first time in a League encounter. Rovers had been relegated the previous season and the Bees promoted. Marcus Browning and John Taylor scored the goals that gave Rovers a 2-1 victory at Underhill in October, with Kelly Haag being on the scoresheet for the Bees.
In the return fixture having lost their previous five games Rovers were in dire need of a victory and a Justin Channing hat-trick lead the way to a 5-2 win. An own goal by Alan Walker and a contribution by Marcus Stewart completed the scoring for Rovers, whist Russell Edwards and Paul Wilson scored for the Hertfordshire team.
Barnet have signed former Peterborough United and Hull City striker Aaron McLean on a short-term deal, despite Martin Allen stressing he was happy with his squad last week. The 32-year-old striker joins the Bees after leaving Bradford City at the end of the season.
McLean, who spent part of the 2014/15 campaign on loan at Peterborough United, shot to prominence during his first spell at London Road, netting 83 times in 178 starts in all competitions. Allen was asked after Barnet's opening-day defeat at Leyton Orient whether he would seek further additions to his squad but was dismissive.
He said: “I don’t know, we have got 19 players, that is it. Wycombe got in the play-off final with 18 so you do not need that many players, do you? These players are good players, don’t worry about that. These players will win games and they will win games.”
Speaking to the club website after signing, McLean said: “I’m buzzing to have joined Barnet and I just can’t wait to get started. I’m a London lad, so being back in London is brilliant for me. I know a few of the players here already, and then there’s the chance to come and work with Martin Allen.
“He’s different to a lot of managers; I look at the way he manages and I quite admire him."