Issue The Ruthless Streak

As told by Sam Jackson

“I’m absolutely delighted by the performance, but disappointed by the result.”

McCall’s post match thoughts seemed to speak for 500 strong travelling support coming away from Underhill, after giving their (we’re now not ashamed to call these players ours) boys a hearty, and deserved ovation after a game that could, and should have been won. The reason we didn’t leave with three points was due to a lack of a ruthless streak in all twelve of our players.

Before I go any further I should probably point out that due to living at the wrong end of the country for a year this was only my second City game this season, the first was Notts County away.

The difference between the two experiences could not be more pronounced. Suddenly we are in possession of players who refuse to recognise a lost cause, hurrying uncomfortable defenders into mistakes. A captain who personally tells his players what he wants from each of them individually before the match. And arguably most importantly, a group of supporters who burst into spontaneous applause to show their appreciation to the City players whenever they are anywhere near.

The game itself should have been over after half an hour. City created chance after chance, taking full advantage of the famous Underhill slope. In a refreshingly honest post-match interview Barnet manager Ian Hendon called it “Men against boys”. McCall’s away system, in which the only constant seems to be the back four and Lee Bullock in the holding role, gives City an advantage as each player seems to be able to easily fill in for each other, which gives us the attacking fluidity that brings to mind Manchester United in the past few years, or Brazil in a World Cup. That’s right, I just compared us to Brazil.

The first goal came from a driving run from Michael Flynn that he constantly seems capable of, leaving the Barnet defenders helpless and squaring for James Hanson to tap in.

By this point Hanson’s goal could have made it three nil. Within the first ten minutes James Hanson found himself with a free header from a James O’Brien corner, which caused problems all game for the flapping Barnet keeper and Manuel Almunia look-alike, Jake Cole. Just before that, Scott Neilson had a golden opportunity to score, but his shot was deflected wide.

Just before the half time break, the never tiring Gareth Evans pulled the ball back from the by-line for Flynn, who looked for all the world like he was going to give City a deserved two nil lead at the break until Barnet defender came from nowhere with a crucial block.

The point is that if we are looking at promotion, then we have to be looking to be putting away most if not all of these chances or we’ll just get punished. As inevitably happened in the second half of this game as Barnet eventually got back into the game.

Barnet’s two equalisers both came from unmarked headers. And both showed how little confidence Williams and Rehman have in their goalkeeper. Simon Eastwood is also lacking in a ruthless streak. While he looks a very technically able player, he just needs to make a decision and trust himself with it. Although there is no excuse for Rehman leaving John O’Flynn unmarked to head in Barnet’s first equaliser, Eastwood was caught in no-mans land, unable to decide whether to stay on his line or go and get the ball. He eventually helplessly, watched the ball loop over is head into the goal. There were a few more Eastwood moments, most notably Rehman saving his goalkeeper by heading off the line. Either Eastwood convinces the two centre-backs to trust him with some confident goalkeeping and communication, or he has to be replaced.

Barnet’s second goal was a result of a magnificent, slaloming run and cross from Albert Adomah, chief tormentor in last years 4-1 reverse. As good as it was, you could only feel that a more experienced, nasty team wouldn’t have even let him get started. Lee Bullock, otherwise impressive in his holding role in front of the back four, should have brought Adomah down, given City a chance to regroup and taken a booking for his team.

The second half wasn’t all negative, in fact is was a very enjoyable end-to-end encounter. In the end, any team could have won it. City regained the lead after Rehman showed the attackers how its done by smashing one into the top corner after another O’Brien corner. James Hanson had the chance to put the game to bed, but the ball was caught between his feet after a promising performance from Jonathan Bateson was capped by a full-length charge up the pitch on the counter attack to put Hanson in. Bateson looks more than able to step into the big shoes of Simon Ramsden who he replaced after Ramsden came off injured.

Both teams could have won it at the death, Mark Hughes embarrassingly shanked one wide for Barnet when he really should have hit the target. Just before, Neilson managed to find a final bit of energy to burst into the Barnet box only to fire straight at the keeper.

Even taking only a point back home, the future looks bright to me at City. McCall looks to have learnt from mistakes made in the first two years of his tenure. And this team can only improve, especially with the support they are receiving from our notoriously negative fans. If we can find this ruthless streak then a League 2 team will soon be on the receiving end of good old-fashioned mauling.