Despite the huge positive of another three points, extending our unbeaten start to the season and seeing us move joint second with Plymouth, Saturday’s victory was anything but a walk in the park.
After the 0-0 at home to Accrington a week ago, we were again frustrated by side who went to extreme lengths to deliver their travelling fans with a typical “away” performance – I can’t remember too many other goalkeepers booked in the first half for time-wasting. That said, the Barnet goal came courtesy of a nice flowing move, but one which, after seeing it again on the TV, looked far too simple.
My pre-season fears of our young centre-backs being susceptible to errors given their relative lack of experience as professional footballers were allayed by Matt Clarke and Christian Burgess’ display on the opening day and virtually banished completely by another fantastic showing from Clarke against superior opposition in Derby County, this time alongside Adam Webster.
The two of them showed composure beyond their years with the ball at their feet and also, crucially, dealt well with the lively frontline that Derby brought to Fratton that night. But after conceding three times at home to Morecambe and seeing how easily Martin Allen’s side created space against us, I accept that we may see occasions where their inexperience shows. I’m not blaming an individual error for Saturday’s goal, but it was a little concerning to see us opened up like that.
I feel Webster has been very unfortunate to get the fairly limited game time that he has so far, given that in a central defensive berth, he has looked so good whenever we have seen him. So I was very happy he got another chance on Saturday and bar two fantastic interventions from him, it’s possible Barnet would have been travelling back to London with at least a point, and possibly all three. The concern was the way we continued to give the Bees chances when we only had a one-goal lead.
At half-time, Gary Roberts didn’t re-emerge from the dressing room, and Webster’s introduction saw an unusual switch from Paul Cook to three at the back with Ben Davies and Enda Stevens pushed on as out-and-out wing-backs. Immediately after Barnet were reduced to 10, Cook brought Clarke off in an attempt to try and reassert ourselves with our most familiar formation and with a man advantage. Unfortunately there was little cutting edge and there were some very nervy moments during stoppage time. Without Roberts’ determination and drive, at times our play in the final third was clumsy.
There was the obvious positive of Conor Chaplin, though. His reputation continues to soar and his two goals were both timely and clinical. I was interested he see how he would cope with starting the match, but on that evidence, if given the chances, he will score plenty of goals. Although it will not have done Matt Tubbs any favours. They are both strikers of similar physical stature and the fact that Chaplin marked his first league start with a brace, when Tubbs has struggled up top on his own, doesn’t reflect too well on the more experienced of the two.
It will be interesting now to see how Cook manages Chaplin after such an impressive performance, and whether Webster did enough in the second half to be included from the start for what looks like a tricky trip to Oxford up next.