Barnet maintained their position at the top of the table on a thrilling afternoon in the Vanarama Conference on Saturday, drawing 1-1 away to Kidderminster Harriers.
The Bees had trailed to a first-half header from Danny Wright, but an equaliser from substitute Luisma Villa twenty minutes from time was enough to keep them at the summit thanks to Dover levelling against Bristol Rovers with two minutes to go at The Crabble.
Ahead of the game Martin Allen named an unchanged side to the team that ran out 3-0 winners against Halifax at The Hive last weekend, with Mauro Vilhete and Conor Clifford lining up on either side of midfield and Michael Gash partnering John Akinde in attack.
The game struggled to settle into any rhythm on a blustery day at Aggborough, with both sides failing to keep possession during a scrappy opening period.
Barnet had the first real chance of the afternoon on 26 minutes when Sam Togwell floated a free-kick onto the head of Andy Yiadom at the back post but the full-back saw his effort blocked in a crowd of bodies.
The hosts had loud appeals for a penalty waved away on the half-hour mark, when Lee Hughes received the ball out wide before cutting inside and tumbling over a trailing Elliott Johnson leg. However, referee Nicholas Kinseley was unmoved and instead chose to book the striker for dissent at his decision.
The Bees then came agonisingly close to taking the lead a minute later following a free-flowing move that set Mauro Vilhete free between the midfield and defence, who played the ball into the path of the onrushing Yiadom who burst between both centre-halves before seeing his shot cleared of the line. John Akinde gathered the ball and shot on the rebound, but with his effort rolling wide Michael Gash was just unable to poke home at the back post as the chance escaped the Bees.
They were made to rue the missed opportunity as Kidderminster took the lead five minutes before the break when Kevin Nicholson curled a free-kick towards the near post which Lee Hughes flicked backwards for strike partner Danny Wright to force into the net and ensure that the hosts went in ahead at the break.
Barnet started brightly following the interval and were denied by goalkeeper Danny Lewis three times during the opening stages of the second period. First the keeper leapt high to keep out a rising drive from Andy Yiadom before palming down a stinging effort from Mauro Vilhete and finally rushing out to smother at the feet of John Akinde all in the space of ten minutes.
With the Bees pouring forward in search of an equaliser Kidderminster continued to look dangerous on the break, and had a glorious chance to stretch their lead on 62 minutes when Danny Wright ran from just inside his own half to beat the offside trap and go clear on goal, only for Graham Stack to block his effort for a corner.
Having come to the rescue on that occasion the Bees keeper then had a nervous moment shortly afterwards after coming to the edge of his box to collect a bouncing ball forward only to handle just over the line under close attention from the Kidderminster attacker. Yet despite the protestations of home players and supporters the referee deemed a yellow card sufficient as Kevin Nicholson blazed the resulting free-kick over the bar.
The breathless nature of the match still did not subside, as Barnet went straight up the other end and came within inches of drawing level as John Akinde saw a header from point-blank range rattle back against the crossbar. To add insult to injury, at exactly the same time it emerged that Bristol Rovers had taken the lead at Dover, meaning that the Bees now found themselves in second position.
Having already introduced Charlie MacDonald for Michael Gash on the hour mark, Martin Allen made two more attacking substitution in quick succession with Luke Gambin replacing Vilhete before Luisma Villa came on for Sam Togwell.
The added impetus that they provided was finally rewarded on 72 minutes as Conor Clifford split the Harriers defence open with a perfect through-pass for Curtis Weston who checked back inside before squaring for Luisma to find the back of the net within minutes of coming on and level the scores at 1-1.
Barnet did not relent, and put the hosts under immense pressure during the closing stages with Akinde having two golden chances to win it – the first with a glancing header that skidded wide and the second a one-on-one with Lewis that the goalkeeper managed to block after diving at his feet.
Yet as the game ticked into five minutes of stoppage time news filtered through that Dover had scored a late equaliser to ensure that with both teams drawing 1-1 on the day Barnet would preserve their one-point lead at the top of the table.
It means that the Bees head into next weekend’s final game of the season at home to Gateshead at The Hive knowing that a win will see them promoted as champions of the Football Conference, as an enthralling season enters its final drama.
Kidderminster Harriers: Danny Lewis; Jared Hodgkiss (c), Jamie Grimes, Jordan Tunnicliffe, Kevin Nicholson; Jake Green (Keyon Reffell 56), Jack Byrne, Josh O’Keefe (Luke Maxwell 82), Nathaniel Kelly; Danny Wright, Lee Hughes (Craig Reid 63).
Barnet FC: Graham Stack; Andy Yiadom, David Stephens, Bondz N’Gala, Elliott Johnson; Mauro Vilhete (Luke Gambin 66), Sam Togwell (Luisma Villa 70), Curtis Weston (c), Conor Clifford; John Akinde, Michael Gash (Charlie MacDonald 60).
Attendance: 2,540 (868 Barnet)