Barnet 2-1 TownThe Hatters play-off charge was dealt a last gasp sucker-punch as John Akinde’s 96th-minute penalty gave Barnet all three points at the Hive.
The striker confidently slotted home following Scott Cuthbert’s handball in the Town area, despite the visitors looking favourites to snatch a late victory following Cameron McGeehan’s equaliser.
It was McGeehan’s 13th of the season, smashing home Cuthbert’s knock-down to level the game following Luke Gambin’s opener early in the second half.
But Akinde’s winner kept the Town eight points off the play-offs, following just a second away defeat in seven travels for the Town.
Injuries forced Nathan Jones into three changes from the win at Plymouth nine days ago. Magnus Okuonghae came in for Dan Potts, with Alan Sheehan switching to left-back, while Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu and Paul Benson replaced Paddy McCourt, who was on the bench, and Craig Mackail-Smith.
The unfavourable conditions ensured it was a back-to-the-wall first half for a Hatters side against the wind, forced to deal with numerous Sam Muggleton long throws early on, ably dealt with by Jonathan Mitchell on his fourth Town appearance.
Despite dominating the opening, chances were at a premium for Barnet, only testing Mitchell on occasion as Michael Nelson nodded a deep free-kick well wide.
The Hatters developed as the half went on, defying the conditions to pass the ball around aptly, with Jack Marriott finding a spare yard on the edge of the area to strike a snapshot which Graham Stack fumbled out of harm’s way.
Mitchell looked rather untroubled before the break, but was almost left red-faced when Andy Yiadom’s speculative diagonal free-kick from halfway inside the Town half drifted just a couple of yards wide with Mitchell himself scrambling across his goal-line.
And the Town had the best chance of the half just four minutes before the interval. Intricate one-touch passing from the back through six Hatters players gave McGeehan an opportunity from the edge of the box, driving at Stack who did well to avert the danger.
Conditions were expected to switch to the visitors' favour post-interval, but it was Barnet who took the lead through Gambin. The winger took advantage of a hole in the back four to drive at the defence before cutting inside from the right to fire past Mitchell from just inside the box.
But just moments later, the Hatters thought they had an equaliser. Ruddock’s sumptuous through ball found Marriott on goal, but as he superbly touched over Stack, the flag brought a premature end to celebrations.
That disappointment sparked the visitors into life, with Nathan Jones delivering his first change to replace the booked Jonathan Smith with McCourt.
The move almost paid immediate dividends when McCourt swung in a delivery from the right-hand side following a short corner. The ball didn’t reach his intended target, but fell to Glen Rea whose 12-yard shot looked destined for the top corner only to be remarkably headed off the line by James Pearson.
The Town upped the pressure heading into the final 20 minutes, McGeehan the latest to take aim from distance, yet his zipping shot could only coast over the bar, before McCourt stung Stack’s palms with an in-swinging free-kick deep on the left.
Still in arrears, the Hatters threw on Joe Pigott and Danny Green in a bid for the equaliser, with Barnet doing everything in their power to slow the game up as much as possible.
But the Town were not to be denied a goal with just five minutes remaining. With Green’s free-kick charged down, the same man got a chance to float in a delicious cross, which for all money looked set to be nodded home by Cuthbert. The captain got his head to the ball, but Stack’s intervention was in vain as McGeehan blasted into the empty net to send the 1,800 Hatters fans into raptures behind the goal.
The Bees fought back heading into five minutes of added time with a corner of their own, but that launched a superb counter-attack for the Town. McGeehan fed Green, who beat his man to drive through on goal, executing an audacious chip to lob Stack but, unfortunately for the Hatters, also the bar.
It seemed the Hatters were the only side to win this game, but disaster struck. A hopeful free-kick from deep struck the outstretched arm of Cuthbert in the area, and Akinde made no mistake in striking past Mitchell for an added-time killer-blow at the Hive.
Hatters: Mitchell, O’Donnell, Cuthbert, Okuonghae, Sheehan, Rea (sub Green 80), Smith (sub McCourt 63), McGeehan, Ruddock Mpanzu, Benson (sub Pigott 73), Marriott
Subs not used: Justham, Lawless, McQuoid, Lee,
Attendance: 4,008 including an excellent 1,823 following the Hatters