Barnet stretched their lead at the top on Tuesday night with a convincing 3-0 victory over Braintree Town at The Hive.
In the evening’s only fixture in the Vanarama Conference, two spectacular first-half strikes from Luisma Villa as well as a goal for Luke Gambin from the bench during the second period were enough to wrap up a vital three points for the Bees that takes them eight points clear – their largest margin this season.
Martin Allen made just one change to the side that beat Gateshead at the weekend, recalling Jon Nurse to start up front alongside John Akinde in a 4-4-2 formation.
Mauro Vilhete was the man to drop to the bench as Elliott Johnson reverted to the more familiar position of full-back. On loan striker Sam Hoskins also returned to the squad having recovered from a minor knock suffered against Kidderminster.
Meanwhile, an injury to Braintree captain Kenny Davis during the warm-up meant that he was replaced in the starting line-up by striker Jordan Cox, who netted the Iron’s equaliser against Barnet in the reverse fixture at Cressing Road just three weeks ago.
Having taken the lead after just four minutes against Gateshead at the weekend, Barnet nearly went one better by opening the scoring with just three minutes gone. Excellent harrying by Nurse and Luisma helped regain possession out by the right-hand touchline, and after feeding Weston the captain was just unable to latch onto a neat one-two with Akinde inside the box.
Akinde went close himself six minutes later, racing into the box after collecting Nurse’s neat knock-down before seeing his near post shot saved by Nick Hamann.
The one real moment of panic for the hosts came midway through the first half, when a first-time flick by Sean Marks sent Cox through on goal but Graham Stack was quickly off his line to clear the danger.
Barnet did find the breakthrough on 26 minutes, and it was another spectacular strike from Luisma Villa that opened the scoring after the Spaniard fashioned a yard of space outside a crowded area before curling a low shot inside the near post.
Things went from bad to worse for the visitors two minutes later, as stand-in skipper Sean Marks saw red for a swinging arm on Bondz N’Gala that incensed both the Barnet supporters and players alike as the referee was forced to diffuse a minor melee before brandishing the red card.
With Braintree reeling from a disastrous two minutes, Barnet quickly extended their lead on 36 minutes with Luisma finding more joy having switched to the right wing.
David Stephens did well to collect the Spaniard’s deflected cross, before laying the ball back for the winger to bend another curling effort into the far corner as Hamann could only get fingertips to it.
Graham Stack was forced into his first save two minutes before the interval, producing a diving stop to keep out a long-range shot from Dan Walker.
Barnet made one change at the break by bringing on Luke Gambin in place of Lee Cook, and the substitute nearly made an immediate impact by connecting with Elliott Johnson’s cross across the six-yard box before a last-ditch sliding tackle ensured that the player ended up in the net and not the ball.
Gambin was not to be denied shortly before the hour mark however, collecting Any Yiadom’s precise pass before dribbling between the centre-backs and firing a low shot into the net from just inside the area to make it 3-0.
Even with a three-goal lead the Bees were not sitting back, having brought on another attacking threat in Adam Mekki in place of John Nurse.
The hosts had strong shouts for a penalty turned down just one minute later when Andy Yiadom appeared to be tripped inside the box following a good move, but referee Dean Treleaven waved away their vociferous appeals.
Mekki was the next to go close, showing both pace and power to hold off his marker during a gliding run that ended with a dangerous shot that Hamann could only tip away for a corner.
It was the closest that the Bees came during the closing stages, as they comfortably saw out the game to secure a vital victory that adds another three points onto Barnet’s lead at the top of the table.
It means that Barnet sign off from the league in style with two wins in four days ahead of their trip to Chelmsford in the fourth qualifying round of the FA Cup at the weekend.
Barnet FC: Graham Stack; Andy Yiadom, David Stephens, Bondz N’Gala, Elliott Johnson; Luisma Villa, Sam Togwell, Curtis Weston (c), Lee Cook (Luke Gambin 46); John Akinde, Jon Nurse (Adam Mekki 56).
Braintree Town: Nick Hamann; Ryan Peters, Alan Massey, Mitch Brundle, Steven Smith; Dan Sparkes (Ryan Case 65), James Mulley, Chez Isaac, Dan Walker; Sean Marks (c), Jordan Cox (Simeon Akinola 71).