Date: 11th January 2012 at 4:26pm
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Just under 4000 supporters packed into Underhill last night as Barnet and Swindon played out an entertaining 1-1 draw in the first leg of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy southern area final.

Marcus Flint’s powerful header nudged the away side in front on the stroke of half-time before Mark Hughes met a free-kick to level the tie with 20 minutes remaining.

Following their excellent 2-1 victory of Premier League Wigan at the weekend, Paulo Di Canio made 3 changes to his starting line-up as Kennedy, Connell, and De Vita made way for Cibocchi, Gabilondo and Magera respectively.

With the luxury of a prolonged break since the 2-0 victory over Bristol Rovers, Lawrie Sanchez named an unchanged side as Deering, Marshall and Holmes supported McLeod in his lone role up front.

With both sides only 180 minutes from Wembley, the game started at a frantic pace. Neither side were able to control the midfield as the players got to grips with the pitch and the occasion.

Following a couple of bright openings from the visitors, Barnet gradually grew into the game and fashion a couple of half-chances as Kamdjo flashed a shot well wide.

By contrast, Swindon looked a little flat. Despite his excellent delivery from wide, Matt Ritchie’s driving runs in particular were notable by the absence.

Amidst the hustle and bustle, there were glimpses of quality. A sharp interchange between Ritchie, Magera and Ferry saw the Scottish midfielder burst through on goal only to disappointingly drag his shot wide of the onrushing Brill.

One of the game’s turning points 5 minutes occurred before the interval. The excellent Danny Senda stretched to tackle Gabilondo in the area and fell awkwardly on his knee. After a prolonged pause for treatment, the popular right-back was stretched off with a dislocated knee-cap to universal warm applause. It was a sad way for the 30 year-old to end his season in a career that has been plagued by injury and misfortune.

The subsequent reshuffle saw Kamdjo moving to right-back, Deering dropping into central midfield and Taylor entered to join McLeod up front in a 4-4-2.

Moments later, a corner from the right wasn’t clearly properly and in the ensuing scramble, Flint powered home a header from close range to Swindon a slender lead at half-time.

In 5 minutes Barnet has lost their shape and found themselves a goal down against a confident and in-form Town side.

The early exchanges of the second half indicated that it could be a familiar story for the Bees. Unable to adapt without the dominating presence of Kamdjo in midfield, Barnet were being stretched by the clever runs of Murray, Ritchie and Gabilondo. A second goal looked likely a the visitors created several threatening opportunities, Murray in particular was guilty of missing from 3 yards when it seemed easier to score.

However, despite some dissenting supporters, the Bees side this year have a stronger spine and steel than previous campaigns. Gradually they hauled themselves back in to the match and Hughes’ excellent header with 20 minutes remaining was a just reward for their character and spirit.

From then on, Barnet took a strong hold on the game as Swindon began to visibly tire. Charlie Taylor and Mark Marshall missed several excellent chances – the latter in particular continuing his poor form as his decision making left a lot to be desired.

For all the end pressure, Barnet couldn’t secure a break through and the game ended level heading into the second leg.

Undoubtedly Swindon now remain firm favourites to progress having lost only once at home all season.

Nevertheless, there is a certain attitude pervading the Wiltshire club typified with captain Paul Caddis choosing to celebrate his goal in front the home fans instead of the strong and vociferous away following.

Di Canio has both the passion and ample resources to take Swindon both the Wembley and into League 1 – but his captain’s celebration was interesting and showed both the pressure on the Robins at the moment, as well as a focus on the opposition rather than themselves.

Undoubtedly Barnet will need to defend outstandingly and take a slice of luck to make Wembley. However, with Downing and Hector looking solid at the back, Hughes enjoying his best season in the centre, the creativity and trickery of Deering and Holmes, the point that Marshall has to prove against his former club, and the mercurial McLeod spearing the attack, Barnet are underdogs with bite.

February 7th will be interesting if nothing else