Barnet return to the top with excellent win over Eastleigh.Barnet returned to the summit of the Vanarama Conference on Saturday thanks to a superb 2-1 win over promotion-chasing Eastleigh at the Silverlake Stadium.
A first half strike by Curtis Weston followed by another for John Akinde early in the second period were enough to give the Bees all three points against the high-flying Spitfires, although a late penalty from Ben Strevens did set up a nervy finish.
Ahead of the game, Martin Allen made four changes to the side that lost at home to Forest Green Rovers last time out.
Bondz N’Gala returned to the heart of the Bees’ defence in place of Jack Saville with Sam Muggleton coming in at left-back as Elliott Johnson pushed forward into midfield.
Mauro Vilhete lined up on the opposite wing, with Sam Togwell returning in midfield and Curtis Weston supporting John Akinde in attack as part of a 4-4-1-1 formation.
Heading into the game Eastleigh were on a four-match winning run, and both sides certainly made a confident start during a bright opening that nearly saw both teams score within the first five minutes.
Firstly Andy Yiadom met a corner from the left with a glancing header that looked destined to find the back of the net only for the ball to be hooked off the line at the far post by Jai Reason.
Barnet then had a heart-in-mouth moment of their own two minutes later, as Graham Stack produced a superb diving save at full stretch to keep out a header from Jack Midson – what would turn out to be the first of a number of crucial interventions from the goalkeeper.
However, Barnet continued to look to get on the front foot with a high press that saw plenty of the game take place in the Eastleigh half, and their persistence was rewarded shortly before the half-hour mark when they took the lead.
A ball into the box could only be headed to Curtis Weston – stepping in as skipper once again for the injured Charlie MacDonald – on the edge of the penalty area, as his low first-time volley took a wicked deflection to completely wrong-foot Ross Flitney in goal and nestle in the opposite corner.
The visitors did have the ball in the net again five minutes before the break when Elliott Johnson was sent through on goal, although he was denied by the linesman’s flag moments before producing a deft lob over the keeper and into the unguarded goal.
However, it would be Johnson who created Barnet’s second goal out of nothing just a minute after the break by chasing what appeared to be a lost cause in a ball that was bouncing out for a goal kick, hooking the ball away from the defender and feeding Akinde who turned and gratefully lashed it into the far corner for his 30th goal of the season.
By this stage the Bees were flying, and after Mauro Vilhete headed straight at the goalkeeper from a set piece, they came even closer to extending their lead just after the hour mark with a triple chance that somehow stayed out.
Yiadom was the creator, bursting down the byline before cutting the ball back to Weston whose point-blank drive was somehow palmed away by Flitney. The rebound fell to Conor Clifford, but although the Irishman could not get any purchase on his shot the ball did roll into the path of John Akinde, as the covering defenders stopped him converting from close range.
However, despite Barnet appearing to be in complete control of the game Eastliehg were handed a way back into the contest when they were awarded a penalty on the linesman’s advice with fifteen minutes remaining for a foul by Sam Muggleton on Jai Reason right on the corner of the penalty area.
It was eventually converted by former Bee Ben Strevens following a stoppage that saw Elliott Johnson receive treatment for an injury that would ultimately force him from the pitch as he was replaced by Jack Saville for the closing stages.
The goal buoyed the hosts who piled forward in search of an equaliser to boost their play-off aspirations. They looked to have found one on 80 minutes when substitute Craig McAllister headed on goal through a crowd of bodies, only to be denied by a sprawling Stack as the home crowd thought that the ball had crossed the line.
They came even closer with just a minute of normal time remaining after McAllister lobbed Stack only for a desperately backtracking Jack Saville to hook the ball off the line at the last moment, colliding with the post in the process.
The danger was still not cleared however, and after the ball was played back into the penalty area at the start of six minutes of added time Stack was called into action for one final time, beating away a ferocious drive by James Constable to cap an excellent performance and protect a vital three points for the Bees.
The result means that Barnet have returned to the top of the table on goal difference after Bristol Rovers were only able to rescue a draw away at Halifax – the destination of the Bees’ next game on Tuesday night as they look to stretch their lead with their game in hand at The Shay.
Eastleigh FC: Ross Flitney; Dan Spence, Dean Beckwith (c), Joe Partington, Michael Green; Ben Strevens, Craig Stanley (Dan Walker 69), Harry Pell (Brian Howard 69); Jai Reason; Jack Midson (Craig McAllister 76), James Constable.
Barnet FC: Graham Stack; Andy Yiadom, David Stephens, Bondz N’Gala, Sam Muggleton; Mauro Vilhete, Sam Togwell, Conor Clifford, Elliott Johnson (Jack Saville 80); Curtis Weston; John Akinde.
Attendance: 2,034 (436 Barnet).