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Friday, April 01, 2011

Mad World

Nobes wonders whether Barnet's controversial decision to re-employ Martin Allen really can save the struggling Londoners from relegation to the Conference.

Martin 'Mad Dog' Allen has returned to Underhill seven years after leaving

Nothing should really surprise us when it comes to Martin Allen. Yet, somehow, it never fails to. It's a classic tale of a complex man.

The 45-year-old is certainly one of the lower league's most colourful and recognisable characters. Extroverted, eccentric, passionate. The man revels in ruffling feathers, no matter who they belong to.

He took to life at Brentford like a duck to water, yet was like a fish out of it during a miserable spell at Cheltenham. At Leicester he barely lasted long enough to find his feet under the table, and he failed to get Milton Keynes off the ground.

And then there was Barnet - where it all began for Allen and where he has now returned, seven years after walking out on the Underhill club to join Brentford.

Back then, he was seeking to turn around their fortunes and ensure Barnet weren't a Non League club. With seven games of the season remaining, his mission is pretty much the same. Perhaps some things never do change.

Many at Underhill credit him with laying down the foundations for their eventual success under his successor Paul Fairclough who led the Bees to the 2005 Conference title and promotion back to the Football League after four years away.

Now Fairclough, a temporary stop gap himself after the dismissal of Mark Stimson on New Year's Day, has stepped aside for Allen to return to Underhill.

It was a controversial decision, and arguably speaks volumes about the dire situation the League Two strugglers find themselves in.

They currently lie second bottom of the basement division, five points adrift of 22nd placed Burton, although the Brewers hold three games in hand over them.

In their hour of need, they have called on the services of the man who preached loyalty yet deserted them when a bigger club came calling. Desperate times call for desperate measures indeed.

For a club in a perilous position though, in a strange way Allen finds himself in an almost no lose situation. A tarnished reputation and damaged relationship both have a chance to be repaired.

Keep them up, and he will be hailed as a miracle worker. Put up a brave fight and still go down, and he may well be handed the chance to restore them back into the League at the first time of asking.

No blame will be attached to Allen for failing to turn around a ship that was sinking fast and without a fight after a nightmare campaign that always appeared to be doomed.

The choice of Stimson to guide one of the League's smallest clubs was always a gamble. He had two relegations on his CV at Gillingham, and his principled approach to playing a passing game had to be called into question.

Stimson was shown the door with the Bees staring relegation in the face

A radical overhaul of the playing staff over the summer only served to equip the Bees with a squad which, while high on technique, struggled to meet the physical and robust challenge of more agricultural basement division opponents.

They haven't been higher than 17th all season and failed to win a single away match under Stimson before a loss to Aldershot saw him relieved of his duties at the start of 2011.

Despite since securing two wins on the road, Barnet only managed three wins from 16 games under Fairclough, prompting chairman Tony Kleanthous to now call on Allen to try and achieve the impossible.

It's not an unfamiliar scenario to him either. When he left Barnet to join Brentford, he took on a relegation battle in League One at Griffin Park - managing to preserve their third tier status before leading them to successive play off finishes.

He also joined Cheltenham in 2008 with the Gloucestershire side in trouble at the bottom of League One, but this time was unable to beat the drop as the Robins slumped back to the basement division.

Judging by Barnet's heroic fightback from 2-0 down to claim a share of the spoils against runaway leaders Chesterfield at the weekend, Allen hasn't lost his touch of instiling some fighting spirit into a squad.

He will need plenty of it, allied to some quality, to haul them out of the relegation zone and avoid bringing an end to their second stint in the 92 club after just six seasons.

The fixture list hasn't been particularly kind, with remaining games against play off chasers Accrington, Oxford, and Port Vale as well as Gillingham and Bury sides aiming for automatic promotion.

Only Crewe would appear to provide opponents with little to play for, and then there's the small matter of a crunch game tomorrow at Burton.

A win and the Bees will be dreaming of a great escape. Defeat, and the game will be as good as up for a club who only narrowly avoided relegation last season.

One thing is for sure, Allen is continuing to live up to his reputation.
Life really is never dull when Mad Dog's around.

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