The Hatters suffered their first defeat of the Sky Bet League Two season at The Hive as Barnet grabbed an injury-time winner to take all three points from a game of few chances this afternoon.
Home goalkeeper Jamie Stephens proved a key man in preventing Town left-back Dan Potts opening his account for the campaign when his first-half header was tipped onto the crossbar.
Then, after substitute Jack Taylor had curled in the 91st-minute goal that finally broke the deadlock, the home stopper proved equal to a header from Elliot Lee, acrobatically tipping the Town sub’s effort over the bar and into the travelling contingent of around 2,000 Hatters who made up more than half of the 3,555 crowd.
Manager Nathan Jones had gone with exactly the same starting XI that had beaten Yeovil 8-2 last Saturday, with the only change to the 18-man squad being new signing Harry Cornick coming onto the bench in place of Jack Senior.
Marek Stech was in goal with a back four of Jack Stacey, Scott Cuthbert, Alan Sheehan and Potts, a midfield made up of Alan McCormack, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Olly Lee - who scored the winner here last year against his old club - and Andrew Shinnie, with James Collins and Isaac Vassell as the front two.
Barnet started brightly, Jamal Campbell-Ryce tricking his way past Olly Lee to deliver a dangerous cross that Potts did well to head behind, but it was the Hatters who had the first sight of goal after a quarter-of-an-hour, McCormack picking up the loose ball in the centre circle and spreading it wide right to Vassell, who combined with Stacey to tee Mpanzu up for a 20-yard shot that went just wide.
Two minutes later and only a flying save from Stephens and the woodwork prevented the Town taking the lead, Potts meeting Sheehan’s left-wing corner with a firm header that the home stopper diverted onto the bar.
The Town were soon forced into a change, with skipper Cuthbert staying down injured after dealing with the threat of Shaquile Coulthirst trying to get onto a long ball over the top. Glen Rea came on at centre-half with Sheehan taking the armband.
The change didn’t seem to affect the growing control Jones’ side were exerting on the game, more good build-up play down the right ending with Shinnie’s left-foot shot flying well wide.
Sheehan had a free-kick deflected over just before the half-hour, after Mpanzu had been brought down right on edge of box, then the centre-half’s corner found its way to his fellow Irishman McCormack, whose shot from 20 yards went the wrong side of the post.
Barnet, who had already lost left wing-back Elliott Johnson in the opening five minutes to injury, then had to replace right-sided centre-half Harry Taylor with his brother, Jack, as the casualty list grew.
Save for a free-kick that Mauro Vilhete stood up to the far post, with Potts proving his worth in an aerial capacity once more by heading clear, the Hatters were still making all the running – Mpanzu to getting to the left byline just before half-time and curling a cross to Vassell, who couldn’t quite get the ball under control to get his shot away.
Goalless at the break, the hosts came out quickly again with Campbell-Ryce flashing a shot across the face of the Town goal that drew a gasp from the home crowd, but bounced off the corner flag for a goal-kick.
Potts then got his head on another corner, this time from Olly Lee, but his 49th-minute header looped wide of the post.
Stech had been a virtual spectator for most of the opening 55 minutes, but the Czech keeper had to be alert to keep out Campbell-Ryce’s low shot from the edge of the box, then get down low to gather Vilhete’s effort after the resulting corner was half-cleared.
A free-kick from wide on the left, delivered by Olly Lee, caused consternation in the Barnet box just before the hour when Shinnie’s flick went high in the air, but referee Kevin Johnson penalised Potts for his challenge on keeper Stephens as Rea lashed the loose ball over the bar.
McCormack started a sweeping 68th-minute move down the left that saw Potts send Collins racing into the penalty area, but the striker’s cross-shot flew through the six-yard box and out for a throw by the tunnel.
Jones made his second substitution with 20 minutes to go, bringing Jordan Cook on in place of Shinnie, but it was another midfielder – Mpanzu – who earned the visiting supporters’ applause for a surging run into the left corner five minutes later.
Rea went into ref Johnson’s notepad for a foul on Jack Taylor with just under ten minutes to go, then Potts produced a perfectly timed tackle in the box to prevent Vilhete as the Bees’ left-back prepared to pull the trigger after good work from Taylor on the left.
Elliot Lee was thrown on with a minute to go, Vassell the man replaced, but it was Barnet who got the vital breakthrough as we entered injury-time, Taylor picking up the loose ball after McCormack appeared to have been fouled, and curling around Stech from the edge of the box.
The Hatters attempted to find a way back, Potts seeing a shot blocked and Elliot Lee meeting Sheehan’s left-wing corner with the thumping header that Stephens turned over the bar.
But that proved the final opportunity as ref Johnson blew his whistle just as Mpanzu prepared to shoot when Sheehan’s next delivery was half-cleared, bringing a disappointing afternoon to a close for the Town.
TOWN: Stech, Stacey, Cuthbert © (Rea 20), Sheehan, Potts, McCormack, Mpanzu, O Lee, Shinnie (Cook 70), Collins, Vassell (E Lee 89). Subs: Mullins, Cornick, Gambin, Shea
BARNET: Stephens, Johnson (Clough 5), Santos, Nelson ©, Weston (70), Campbell-Ryce, Coulthirst, Tutonda, H Taylor (J Taylor 36), Vilhete, Akpa Akpro. Subs: Ross (GK), Akinola, Bover, Amaluzor
Yellows: J Taylor, Campbell-Ryce
GOAL: J Taylor 90+1