Saturday 30th September and in the warmest weather for quite a while, Rangers U18’s lined up at the Gosling Sports Park in Welwyn Garden City to face Barnet, or did they ? The team named as Barnet U18’s is not mentioned on their official website and nor do any details of it appear on any Barnet FC related website that I could find whatsoever. All very strange ! It appears that although they are called Barnet FC they are actually a team produced by a private company called Protec Football Development School and appear as representatives of Barnet (assumingly with their permission) as the club does not run a team at this or any other junior level of its own. And this game was played in what must be the most multi-purpose of sports stadiums in the country with a huge banked cycle track surrounding a six lane athletics track with the football pitch inside this, meaning that any football spectating was done at a vast distance from the play itself.
Add to this the strange fact that both teams had a warm-up outside a gym high above the stadium as access to the arena was not allowed until 15 minutes before kick-off due to the large amount of cyclists using the facility (no doubt buoyed by the recent Olympic successes) All players and officials (and me) then had to scramble down a steep, narrow and very rocky incline to get into the place and get settled before the game could start. Anyway, once we got going and whoever we were playing against, the Rangers team lined up as follows: Niki-Lee Bulmer was in goal behind a back four of Michael Harriman, Ed Harris, Michael Wright and Femi ilesanmi. A midfield quartet of Max Ehmer, Terry Smith, Danny Davenport and Christian Nanetti with Antonio German and Cyrus-Sylvain Vanterpool up-front.
After a fairly quiet start, the highlight of which was a swerving run and shot that flew well wide from the excellent ilesanmi. The first real chance of the game fell to the R’s in the 12TH minute when Ehmer slightly over-hit a pass through to Vanterpool following some nice midfield interchanges. Vanterpool just failed to get on the end of it and the chance was unfortunately gone as the keeper fell on the ball. To be fair, Rangers had struggled in the early part of the game both with the overly long grass and the fussiness of the referee who liked the sound of his whistle seemingly after every challenge. Barnet had their first attempts on goal three minutes later when Bulmer caught a high ball in his six yard box under great pressure from their forwards and then neatly held a 25 yard drive from mega-dreadlocked striker Ezekiel Brown.
Christian Nanetti then burst onto the scene with a mazy run passed three hapless defenders but his 25 yard shot was deflected wide. He then spun in a vicious free kick from out on the wing that just evaded the on-rushing Rangers players and drifted harmlessly out for a corner. The best chance of the game so far occurred in the 22nd minute when Nanetti stole the ball from a defender and dribbled along the bye-line looking for an opening. His ball inside intended for German was a poor one though and the keeper managed to smother it comfortably. German then missed a fairly good chance, again from a delightful through ball by Nanetti when his fierce shot from just inside the box was a yard wide of the post.
Quite out of the blue, QPR then fell behind in the 27th minute when Max Ehmer unwisely decided to tug on the shirt of Barnet’s David Green with the ball flying harmlessly wide of the goal and the eagle-eyed referee pointed to the spot. The delightfully named Chauncey Dash tucked the penalty away despite a great attempt by Bulmer to reach it low to his right. Rangers were only behind for 3 minutes though when Vanterpool collected a fine pass from the midfield, skipped past two challenges on the edge of the box and slotted the ball neatly under the advancing keeper and into the net for the equaliser. A minute later he could of put the R’s in front when he received a long ball out from Bulmer but this time their keeper saved well from his 25 yard effort. The first of Barnet’s players to be booked for fouling Nanetti allowed more pressure to be put on the home team’s goal but two attempts from the diminutive winger came to nothing. Nanetti himself was then booked on the halfway line for a foul on Barnet’s Stephen Bull. The 1st half finished with Max Ehmer driving a long range free kick over the bar after a crude foul on Terry Smith, a good thirty yards from goal. Half time: 1-1
Barnet started the 2nd half as the brighter of the two sides with Bulmer having to make two smart saves to keep them out. But you couldn’t keep Nanetti out of the game for long and in the 58th minute, he set up what would turn out to be the winner. With a beautiful swerving run through the middle that took him past no less than three stuperfied Barnet defenders. The fourth one in line savaged the Italian to the ground and with everyone in the rambling stadium expecting the referee to blow for a free kick, the ball ran wide to R’s skipper Danny Davenport who launched a magnificent chip over the stranded goalie and into the unguarded net from fully 25 yards. Either of these teams will struggle to score a better goal all season and all the arguing in the world by the Barnet defenders only led to yet another one seeing a yellow card for his original challenge on Nanetti.
The last half hour was true end-to-end football with Bulmer playing his part magnificently, thwarting all attempts from the home side to get back into the game. Antonio German was having a good game and could have put the game away on 63 minutes from the edge of the box but he couldn’t quite get his foot on the ball with an unmarked Vanterpool screaming for a pass. Vanterpool hacked the ball over an open net and Wright headed over a great cross by Davenport after a brief period of Rangers pressure, but it has to be said that more of the action was happening at the other end of the pitch. Bulmer took a good hard whack after diving in yet again to clear the danger and had to receive quite lengthy attention for it. It didn’t seem to hamper him though as he almost immediately saved a 30 yard drive.
Max Ehmer was replaced after 77 minutes by defender Aaron Waters and a few minutes later, Michael Wright made way for Danny Bailey as QPR shuffled things about a bit at the back. German thought that he had made the game safe soon after these changes when he flicked home a free kick only to be unluckily given offside. With play once again switching to the other end, Bulmer saved his side twice in fairly quick succession. The home side came so close to an equaliser in the 89th minute when an unmarked header was brilliantly turned around the post by Bulmer who ended up on the floor in a tangled heap that led to Ed Harris having to go off for treatment. Curiously enough, Harris appeared to be booked soon after re-entering the field of play without the referee’s permission, although he had been back on the field for 2 or 3 minutes before the official seemed to notice.
At this stage, Rangers only real outlet to relieve the pressure was several balls up the right hand side to Nanetti and when a third Barnet player was booked for clattering into him, the Latin winger shuffled off the pitch to be replaced by Danny Fernandez. The R’s managed to play out the rather astounding seven minutes of injury time with no other major scares and Antonio German was holding the ball up well in the final third of the pitch to frustrate the Barnet players on a number of occasions. All in all it was a good win against a decent side. Final Score: Barnet 1 – QPR 2.
Man of the match: Great goal by Danny Davenport and an excellent all-round captain’s performance. Another lovely display by Christian Nanetti despite severe intimidation but the plaudits must go to Niki-Lee Bulmer who saved his team on many occasions in the 2nd half when Barnet were pressing for an equaliser.