Date: 31st August 2007 at 1:04pm
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Barnet have totally revamped their squad this season and with the transfer deadline now less than 12 hours away, Vital Barnet looks at Paul Fairclough’s new Bees.

There’s no doubt after a flurry of players being released in the close of the 2006/07 season and a few sold onto higher league clubs, Fairclough was always going to be under pressure from supporters to add to every area of the squad.

Fans have been more anxious than otherwise this summer thanks to Fairclough’s small budget, tight wage package to deal with and therefore natural late signings rather than other clubs who start dipping into the transfer market as soon as possible.

But Fairclough has done well to secure some of the players he has and like he said himself, it’s a ‘new squad’ that will be able to cope with League Two better than the sides who played for the last couple of seasons, who probably have better technical abilities hence why the likes of Dean Sinclair, Nicky Bailey and Simon King have moved into the Championship and League One, respectively.

And so, as expected, Fairclough has signed five players in the past week meaning the incoming footballer tally now stands at fifteen; nine remain at the club from last season.

So is all this change good for the club? Based on the performances displayed in the four games played so far, yes. But more crucially, the results? No. Barnet have taken just one point from three league games and are out of the Carling Cup at the first hurdle.

Discpline is a major problem in the squad, having totalled three red cards already, and Fairclough has had, and continues to have, numerous injuries to deal with.

But after midnight today, with the exeption of players without a club who can still be signed up on a free transfer, Fairclough must be able to look at his squad and see enough ability there to take them through until May (excluding the potential for transfers in January which will probably not be at a premium) and find themselves in a top-7 position to live up to his own high standards and expectations of promotion to League One.

So do Barnet have the players to do it? The short answer is yes; that’s only because all teams bar half a dozen or so in this division have what it takes to finish in a play-off spot, at least. Every season the league has been so tight, and a point really is crucial in every game, hence why Barnet may be forced to look back at the opening three league games they’ve played and blame themselves for not picking up more points – conceding three penalties and receiving three red cards is not going to get you points easily.

So what it comes down to it week in, week out, the players doing the job on the pitch and that simply must start tomorow against Bradford. Come May, you can’t blame suspensions and injuries for a failure to get promotion, nor an incompetant referee whom Barnet have witnessed on two or three occassions already. It’s about getting the result, and if you can put in a nice performance on the way, all the better.

Lee Harrison will be a regular in goal this season unlike the last couple of seasons where goalkeepers have been rotated, especially in the opening couple of months in the season, so at least fans will be going through the turnstiles knowing whose between the sticks. Unfortunately, Harrison’s slightly injury-prone which may allow Robert Beckwith to get a few appearances under his belt. Like always with new signings, it’s hard to judge what impact he’ll make when called upon but if he shows the same kind of form that had him linked to Arsenal when he played for Luton, he’s a safe pair of hands that supporters shouldn’t be too concerned if he finds himself in goal.

Joe Devera will feature regularly at right-back this season having displaced Ian Hendon in the latter stages of the last campaign. He will only get better as his career continues because he’s only young. Meanwhile Hendon will be second-choice at right full-back if needed though Fairclough will be hoping he won’t have to call upon his no. 2 too often. Other options there is Joe O`Cearuill and Max Porter though they will not want to play there, especially the latter, with their natural positions being centre-half and central midfield, respectively.

Fairclough strengthened the back last week and now has a good choice of four players, plus graduate James Cole who signed a professional deal from the Protec academy this summer. Being skipper, Ismail Yakubu will be a regular, along with vice-captain Sagi Burton, although a good run of form from O`Cearuill or Stevland Angus would see Burton waiting on the sidelines for his return to the side.

At left-back, Nicky Nicolau has been a regular so far this season, although Kenny Gillet will be putting pressure on his position having signed last week and getting settled in London having come from France, this week. Gillet looked very comfortable in his pre-season trial but Gillet will probably put in his first appearance for Barnet if Nicolau gets injured on suspended, and then will have a chance to claim his place.

With the defence seemingly sorted for the season, the midfield has had a complete overhall, only Jason Puncheon remaining from last season, just like Fairclough did in the transfer window before Barnet’s Conference-winning season, three years ago.

Puncheon, who always puts in excellent performances wide on the left, will be a regular for the season and not even a good run of form from his replacement, likely to be winger Stephane Seanla, would keep Puncheon out of the side when he returns from a potential suspension or injury. Expect more spectacular goals from the best player on the pitch, Puncheon, who never scores a bad goal. He’s already netted three times this season and could very well find himself as the club’s top scorer come the end of the season and Barnet will be very very fortunate if they manage to hang onto him for the entire season, because he clearly, not just from the point of view of Barnet fans, but from anyone, he has the ability to play in the Premiership.

If needs be, Puncheon can also play on the right wing and in the centre, but with the recent signings, he shouldn’t be forced to play out of position. Seanla, meanwhile, probably has a best position of wide left, although he can also play on the right, where he may feature a few times this season as understudy to right-winger Ashley Carew. Carew and Puncheon will be the regular wingers for the Bees this season with Seanla the second-choice to both flanks. What’s nice and interesting to see on the pitch is the duo’s ability to switch flanks if needs be, and we may see that on a few occassions this season if one of both of the wingers are having trouble with their full-backs. That was deployed successfully in pre-season and it nice to see both winger able to play on both sides of the pitch.

Barnet’s other winger, Danny Hart could be used as a substitute on rare occassions this season, although Fairclough has said he signed him as ‘backup’ to the squad and is clearly one for the future – we’ll see him more regularly next season, most certainly, when he gains enough strength to play regular League Two football, although again he’ll find the bench as his best spot.

The engineroom of the squad now has five players battling for a starting place. No-nonsense Michael Leary and all-action Neal Bishop have been Fairclough’s prefered pairing this season although a three-match suspension to Bishop and a two-month lay-off for Leary forces Fairclough to reconsider the duo he picks. Max Porter has been chosen, although recent signing Paul Smith and loan signing Josh Wright will add competition. Wright and Porter would make a nice diamond formation for Barnet, with the latter going forward and Wright’s playmaking creating opportunities for the Bees. It will be interesting to see who Fairclough choses on when all are fit and available for selection.

Finally the striking department has just one summer addition, Anthony Thomas who has looked quick and sharp this season having been a regular starter alongisde Adam Birchall. The attacking area is Barnet’s weakest area of the pitch though I think it’s only a matter of time before Thomas gets off the mark and starts banging in the goals. Liam Hatch offers a different dimention to Barnet’s strikeforce although he won’t get the Bees the goals needed, whilst fans are waiting for the return of Giuliano Grazioli to see what kind of form he is in. Both the latter forwards are transfer-listed but I don’t expect either of them to be leaving Barnet before midnight and they’ll be in for one final year at Underhill before leaving this summer.

A big frontman is the one type of player Barnet really do need, simply a version of Liam Hatch that will score goals regularly, especially since Barnet have only scored one goal from their strikers so far this season – the other three coming from Puncheon. Seanla played as a striker when he was at the books with his previous clubs, such as Watford, so he may be a good option to give a go up front although I have a feeling we won’t be seeing him there this season.

So that’s the Barnet squad as it is, with only another striker really needing adding. Fairclough has said in the past weeks he is looking for another striker and after the failure to capture Ben Wright when he rejected the Bees for Lincoln, Fairclough should still be searching for a striker. It’s doubtful one will come in before the Bradford fixture tomorow although a loan singing may be a smart option if he choses not to sign up somebody who’s not on the books with any club currently. Time is ticking, however, and the sooner Fairclough can find his man, the better.

Where will we finish? Before the season started I would’ve said a top-7 finish but after a poor start, I’m not so sure. I do think, however, we’ll once again finish in a higher league position that last season, which would make it six consecutive seasons getting higher league positions.