A dramatic late winner from substitute Luisma Villa helped Barnet to earn a hard-fought 2-1 win over bottom side Alfreton Town to maintain their position at the top of the Vanarama Conference.
The away side had taken the lead shortly after half-time, but the turning point came when Lathaniel Rowe-Turner was sent off after an hour in conceding a penalty for a foul on John Akinde, which Charlie MacDonald duly converted.
Martin Allen made two changes to the side that beat Southport last weekend, bringing Jack Saville in at left-back in place of Elliott Johnson and giving Luke Gambin his first start of the season with Mauro Vilhete missing after picking up a knock at Haig Avenue.
As previously announced, he also named Mathew Stevens on the bench for the first time following the 16-year-old’s impressive goal scoring form for the Youth Team.
Alfreton came into the game having failed to take a single point from their first six games of the season, but the Reds belied their lowly position at the bottom of the Conference table by producing a determined first-half performance to frustrate the Bees.
Despite enjoying the majority of possession Barnet struggled to break down the visitors during the first forty-five minutes, as Nicky Law’s team put plenty of men behind the ball and looked to break on the counter.
Their main attacking outlet was former Bee Daniel Bradley, who ended a short stint at The Hive after deciding to return to the Midlands having been signed earlier on in the summer.
Lining up on the right-hand side of midfield, Bradley posed a constant threat and caused a moment of panic after fifteen minutes when he broke clear of the defence and sent a shot skidding all the way across the face of goal.
The visitors went close again five minutes later, when Massiah MacDonald collected a bouncing ball in the box but Graham Stack, announced as the Vanarama Conference Player of the Month ahead of kick-off, raced off his line to block the strikers shot from close range with his legs.
Lee Cook was causing plenty of problems of his own down Barnet’s left, sending in a low cross to the near post that Lathaniel Rowe-Turner prodded away from Charlie MacDonald on 30 minutes before standing up a cross to the back post one minute later that nearly picked out John Akinde one minute later.
It was another Cook cross from the left that helped create the Bees’ best chance of the half on 38 minutes. A shot by Luke Gambin from the edge of the box deflected into the path of Cook, who delivered a perfect cross onto the head of Akinde but the striker could not keep his effort from a few yards out down as the ball flew over the bar.
There was a moment of controversy shortly before half-time, when David Stephens was booked following an altercation with Massiah MacDonald after the striker had clashed with Graham Stack after he had come out to claim the ball.
The visitors were forced into a change at half-time, with Bradley being forced off for Luke Sheridan. However, it did little to nullify their threat as they took the lead just one minute after the interval when Massiah
MacDonald was left alone in to the box to nod a cross from the left beyond Graham Stack and into the far corner.
It was the first goal that Barnet had conceded in over 200 minutes of football, but they recovered from the setback to equalise on the hour mark when John Akinde was fouled in the penalty area by Lathaniel Rowe-Turner, a challenge for which the centre half was sent off.
Charlie MacDonald then stayed calm to convert from the penalty spot and bag his fifth goal of the season by rolling the ball into the bottom right-hand corner.
Immediately after the goal Barnet made their second substitution, bringing Luisma Villa on for Luke Gambin having already replaced Jack Saville with Sam Muggleton.
With the visitors down to ten men, Barnet continued to pile on the pressure as they looked for a winner with Villa, Cook and Curtis Weston all going close with efforts from distance.
Martin Allen made his final change with seven minutes remaining, bringing on Mathew Stevens for his first team debut as the 16-year-old became the youngest ever player to appear for Barnet. The youngster nearly made an instant impact when a cross from the right found him at the back post on 87 minutes but he shot narrowly wide.
However, Barnet did finally find the winner in the fourth of five minutes of injury time when Luisma won a free kick 25 yards from goal after being tripped. The Spaniard then stepped up to take it himself, sending a beautiful curling effort beyond the reach of the goalkeeper and into the top-left hand corner to send the home fans wild.
It was a goal that secured three crucial points for Barnet which ensures that they remain top of the table, level on points with Halifax.
Next up for the Bees is a trip to Dover Athletic on Wednesday night, in a game that will be televised live on BT Sport.
Barnet: Graham Stack; Jack Saville (Sam Muggleton 53), Bondz N’Gala, David Stephens, Andy Yiadom; Lee Cook, Sam Togwell (Mathew Stevens 84), Curtis Weston, Luke Gambin (Luisma Villa 63); John Akinde, Charlie MacDonald (c).
Alfreton Town: Cameron Dawson; Daniel Gray, Lathaniel Rowe-Turner, Luke Graham, Bradley Wood (c); Tom Shaw, Andi Thanoj, Jordan Keane, Daniel Bradley (Luke Sheridan 45); Massiah MacDonald (Lawrence Gorman 66), Joe Ironside (Benny Igiehon 78).