PREVIEW: Barnet v Luton Town
Barnet are finally giving themselves a real chance of promotion back to the Football League at the first attempt, writes Mike Simmonds.
After constantly struggling against the drop, the Bees were finally plunged through the trapdoor last season and found their start to this campaign hampered by draws.
They picked up seven from their opening 15 games as they found it hard to make a real impact on the division.
However, since winning at Hereford on October 19, Barnet have enjoyed five league wins from eight matches, including three successive victories to move into the play-off places and sit just eight points behind Luton.
They have done that with an excellent defensive record too, keeping three successive shut outs in their last three league games, and six clean sheets in eight.
Stopping goals hasn’t been an issue all term as Bees have conceded just 22 times, but only netting 33 at the other end shows where the problem appears to lie.
On droppping out of the league, Barnet lost the likes of Ricky Holmes, Liam O’Brien, Collins John and Craig Beattie, with Steve Kabba moving on too.
In came Keanu Marsh-Brown and Anthony Acheampong, along with Dartford striker Harry Crawford, who has yet to hit anywhere near the kind of goalscoring form he showed at former club Dartford though.
The Bees have signed Dani Lopez on loan from Stevenage to bolster their attacking options too and he returned to the bench on Saturday.
Despite losing their league status, it was off the field where Barnet had their biggest development as they moved away from Underhill, which had been their home since 1907.
They are now playing home games at the Hive, a complex in Edgware, although they are still planning to build a 10,000 capacity stadium in the London Borough of Barnet.
Team news: Barnet will be without top scorer Keanu Marsh-Brown, who has netted eight league goals this season, but sits out with a one match ban after picking up five bookings.
Assistant head-coach Uli Landvreugd is confident of overcoming Luton Town despite his absence though as he said: “We have a big squad, Keanu has that special quality, so it’s a shame for him as it’s a massive game at home with lots of people.
“It’s an opportunity for someone else, we’re definitely going to miss his qualities, but a lot of players involved have quality.”
Hatters are without Jon Shaw (calf), Alex Lacey (metatarsal), Andy Parry (hernia), Solomon Taiwo (hernia) and Danny Fitzsimons (knee), but suffered no new injuries to their squad during Saturday’s 4-2 win over Gateshead.
Top Skrill Premier scorer: Bees: Keanu Marsh Brown (8). Hatters: Andre Gray (13).
Man in the middle: Rob Whitton - Has shown 35 yellows and three reds so far this season in 13 games, including sending off Barnet’s Luisma in their 1-0 win over Kidderminster back in November.
Has taken Town twice this term in the league, the 3-0 win at Dartford and 4-3 triumph at Tamworth.
Whitton has been in charge for two Barnet home games too, the 1-0 win over Harriers and 1-1 draw with Lincoln.
Last season he brandished his yellow card 75 times, while also sending off four players in 25 games.
Took Luton four times at home, with Hatters winning twice (4-1 against Macclesfield and 3-0 win over Lincoln), plus drawing 1-1 with Nuneaton in the FA Cup and then losing 2-1 to Hyde.
Whitton also officiated Town’s 5-2 hammering at Newport County.
In charge: Edgar Davids - the 40-year-old former Dutch international is without doubt the stellar name in the Conference.
Has a Champions League, Serie A and UEFA Cup winners medal to his name amongst a host of other titles, and was named in the 1998 FIFA World Cup All-Star team.
After beginning his career with Ajax where he won the Champions League, Davids played in Italy for AC Milan and then joined Juventus for £5.3million, winning the title in 1998, 2002 and 2003, although tasted defeat in the Champions League this time on penalties to former club Milan.
Had a loan spell with Barcelona during 2004 and it was his arrival that has been cited as the catalyst for the Spanish giants’ dominance of domestic and European football since.
Spent a year at Inter Milan, before moving to Tottenham Hotspur in August 2005 and stayed for two seasons, returning to Ajax in January 2007.
Left his homeland once more to have a brief time at Crystal Palace in 2010 before retiring from playing at the age of 37.
In his international career, Davids was capped 74 times by Holland, playing in the World Cup once and three European Championships.
In 2012, he was appointed player-manager at Barnet alongside Mark Robson, taking over himself when Robson left in December 2012.
Made eight appearances so far this season, but has been sent off twice in that time, the most recent in a 1-0 home win over Dartford.
View from the opposition: Jon Nurse - “They are the big days that you dream of. It will be Boxing Day so hopefully we get a lot of fans in and the atmosphere should be good.
“We are looking forward to playing them. They are rivals for the title but I think we can do really well.
“We believe in the changing room that we are one of the best sides in this league. We just have to go out there, perform and prove to everyone that we deserve to be up there.”
Average home crowd: Barnet: 1,781. Luton: 6,471.
One to watch: Jon Nurse - Barbados international who is extremely well known to Still, after he signed him while at Dagenham & Redbridge in June 2007, scoring the winning goal in the League Two play-off final win over Rotherham United.
Joined Barnet in July 2012, but looked like he might well leave at the start of the campaign.
Back in the first team fold once again though and has scored in his last two league games, including the winner at Hyde on Saturday.
Friendly faces: Hatters chief John Still took over as Barnet manager in June 1997, taking the Bees to the play-offs twice in his time there.
In November 2000, became director of football at Underhill after Tony Cottee was appointed as player manager.
Cottee then lost 13 from 19 league games and Still took over again in March, but was unable to prevent relegation to the Conference.
Stayed on as manager and director of football but resigned as manager in January 2002 and left the club at the end of the campaign to become assistant boss with Bristol Rovers.
Hatters defender Anthony Charles helped Barnet win promotion from the Conference in the 2004-05 season.
Eventually played over 60 times for the Bees until he moved to Aldershot on loan in 2007.
Town’s first team coach Hakan Hayrettin played for Barnet during 1989-93 after joining the club from Leyton Orient.
Meanwhile, Barnet striker Harry Crawford was on trial with Luton at the start of the 2012-13 season under former boss Paul Buckle, going on the pre-season tour to Spain, but wasn’t handed a permanent deal.
Last time out: Hatters were held to a 1-1 draw in their only other previous visit to Barnet, although that was their old Underhill ground in League Two back in the 2008-09 season.
The hosts went ahead through Adam Birchall, before Town levelled on 49 minutes as Rossi Jarvis was on target, while Hatters had to play the last 11 minutes with 10 men as Kevin Nicholls was dismissed.
Hatters: Dean Brill, George Pilkington, Asa Hall, Sol Davis, Ed Asafu-Adjaye, David Livermore, Michael Spillane (Ian Henderson 52), Keith Keane, Rossi Jarvis (Jake Howells 89), Kevin Nicholls, Tom Craddock (Sam Parkin 84).
Subs not used: Ian Roper, Paul McVeigh.
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