The Hatters returned to Edgeley Park, but, not, alas to winning ways, as Barnet edged them out under the SK3 lights by the odd goal in three.
A first home goal for Ollie Crankshaw just ahead of half-time cancelled out the visitors’ opener, but they got their noses back in front shortly after the break and ultimately remained on top in a contest that, later in the second half, saw each side lose a player to a straight red card, with Macauley Southam-Hales and Barnet’s Jordan Thomas going for early baths.
There were two changes from the line-up at Notts County three days earlier, as Antoni Sarcevic – making his full debut as a Hatter – and Ben Whitfield replaced Jordan Keane and Scott Quigley, both of whom were named among the substitutes. Manager Simon Rusk also opted to deploy a back four in defence for the first time during the current campaign.
The evening’s inaugural opportunity for each side arrived before five minutes had been played. Firstly, a swift Barnet counter-attack, after County’s opening corner of the night, saw Ephron Mason-Clarke drill narrowly wide of the left post – and moments later, Sarcevic unleashed a right-footed shot that struck the corresponding upright at the other end.
Opposing chances came in a pair again around the quarter-hour mark, when Barnet skipper Harry Taylor’s hooked delivery from the right was headed by Mitch Brundle into the arms of Ethan Ross – before John Rooney fired over, having been teed up by Sarcevic.
County proceeded to fashion attempts – with Paddy Madden seeing his shot gathered up by Aston Oxborough, and Ash Palmer heading a Mark Kitching corner from the right beyond the near upright – but just ahead of the first half’s mid-point, the ‘Bees’ were in front.
Their first corner, taken by Kian Flanagan on the left, swung in to find Joe Widdowson, who made no mistake with his header from close range to give Barnet a 21st-minute lead.
The Hatters had gone more than half the game without creating a further attempt on goal when, five minutes before the break, they not only produced one but also equalised with it. A delightful 40-yard ball over the top from Sarcevic found Crankshaw, who raced from the right on to the ball, struck it on the bounce and buried it in the far-top corner.
HALF-TIME: County 1 (Crankshaw, 40), Barnet 1 (Widdowson, 21).
County went close just a minute following the resumption, after a long clearance by Ethan Ross found Whitfield whose shot from the left was spilled by Oxborough.
But within another five minutes, the visitors were again ahead – and once more following a corner, after Palmer had deflected over a shot by Mason-Clarke. Flanagan’s ensuing set-piece delivery, from the right this time, found Taylor who headed onwards to the back post for Reiss Greenidge, on the turn, to blast home into the roof of the net.
The visitors might have been out of sight just after the hour, but, following a mazy run towards the County box by Ephron-Clarke, the ball fell to Wes Fonguck who fired over.
With 19 minutes remaining, a challenge by Southam-Hales on Widdowson saw the Welshman receive a straight red and his opponent stretchered off following a lengthy spell of treatment. And 13 minutes later, with play resumed, Thomas was sent off for the visitors after dragging back Quigley when the County substitute was through on goal.
Rooney’s free-kick, awarded in the wake of the Barnet red card, flew agonisingly shy of the right post, before 15 minutes of added time were announced – primarily for the interruption following Widdowson’s injury.
The additional quarter of an hour saw plenty of County pressure, albeit without success – as Madden and Ryan Rydel both fired shots wide of the right post, and Quigley and fellow substitute Alex Reid saw efforts blocked by Oxborough.
In the dying seconds, a third red card of the night was shown to Barnet manager Dean Brennan for what was perhaps the shortest-ever banishment to the stands before time was finally called on the contest.
FULL-TIME: County 1 (Crankshaw, 40), Barnet 2 (Widdowson, 21; Greenidge, 51).
Team (4-2-3-1): Ross; Southam-Hales, Hogan (Capt.), Palmer, Kitching (Rydel, 68); Croasdale (Reid, 90 + 9), Rooney; Crankshaw, Sarcevic, Whitfield (Quigley, 62); Madden.
Unused Subs: Collar, Keane.
Booked: Palmer, Sarcevic.
Sent Off: Southam-Hales.
Man of the Match: Crankshaw.
Attendance: 4,363 (79 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.