Villa Lopez 49
Briscoe 24, 50
UNITED ended a dismal run of recent form with an outstanding performance at the leading side in the Vanarama Conference, earning a thrilling 3-2 victory.
The Gulls edged in front through Louis Briscoe and doubled their lead with a scruffy effort from Ryan Bowman that potentially looked like an own goal minutes before half-time.
Substitute Luisma Villa Lopez pulled one back for Barnet immediately after the restart but Briscoe instantly curtailed home hopes with a long-range drive. Bernard Mensah made it 3-2 just after the hour but the Gulls held on for a brilliant three points.
Both managers rung the changes to their starting line-ups and United boss Chris Hargreaves reverted to the experience of Martin Rice ahead of young Jordan Seabright as his goalkeeper of choice after the 2-1 loss at Kidderminster 10 days ago.
Injury to right-back Dale Tonge handed Durrell Berry his Yellow debut and Angus MacDonald is another on the treatment table, with Krystian Pearce the readymade replacement. The defensive depletion offered second-year apprentice, Oneil Odofin, a spot among the replacements.
Briscoe returned from injury to partner Bowman in attack and the other Yellow switch saw Niall Thompson drop to the bench, allowing a return to the starting 11 for Toby Ajala.
Barnet manager Martin Allen made four changes from the side beaten 3-1 by Wycombe in the FA Cup on Saturday. Red cards to Andy Yiadom and Sam Togwell rendered them unavailable, with Villa Lopez and Lee Cook the other Bees missing out.
The new faces started with David Hunt at right-back and then the midfield trio of Mauro Vilhete, Luke Gambin and Adam Mekki, but it was the visitors who opened the game brighter, winning a corner in the early stages.
Barnet responded by earning a free-kick in a dangerous area following a trip by Tom Cruise but Rice was nicely placed to gobble up the cross in a lively first five minutes at the Hive Stadium.
Berry introduced himself to the Yellow public with an excellent challenge to thwart a dangerous Barnet break and the Gulls burst forward at pace, but Bowman was crowded out by an eager home defence.
The game settled into a period of even sparring and the defensive rigidity on display possibly explained the ambitious effort by Bowman that hit the side-netting from a very difficult angle.
From nowhere, a tremendous exchange down the left by Ajala and Luke Young created room for a fizzing cross and Briscoe was in the right place to fire the Gulls into a fabulous lead.
Referee Steven Rushton then scuppered the chance of a quick-fire double by calling for a foul on Bowman, who was racing clear for a run on goal and surely a case when the officials had to play the advantage.
Despite the joy of going ahead, the Gulls were immediately frustrated by the decision from Rushton and the man in the middle hardly added to his chances of a Christmas card from TQ1 when he harshly booked Cruise moments later.
Barnet responded by making a swift change, removing the injured Mekki for the Spanish winger Luisma, but United remained the side on top, as Courtney Richards forced Graham Stack into a decent save after a half-cleared cross.
Stack was then left completely bamboozled by a dazzling free-kick from Young and Bowman darted in front of the hapless goalkeeper to notch a massive second goal for the Gulls, although defender David Stephens may have been guilty of the final touch.
Either way, United had gone two goals ahead at the league leaders and the contended cries of ‘Yellow Army’ around the Hive told the story of an excellent first-half performance.
Barnet needed to come out of the blocks quickly after the break and the Yellow strategy was to maintain the status quo, but a long throw caused a huge problem in the visiting defence and Luisma was on hand to profit.
It was game on again, but only for a matter of seconds, as Briscoe instantly restored United’s two-goal advantage after a sharp turn and a fizzing low drive from distance that completely confused the struggling Stack.
An incredible start to the second period and well done to Briscoe for having a punt, but the Bees were rightly furious that their foothold back in the game had been so swiftly extinguished.
Allen turned to his bench, removing Vilhete for the attacking instincts of Mensah but he was facing a United defence of Pearce and Aaron Downes enjoying a solid evening in north London. The Bees had now made their final change after earlier introducing Cook for Gambin.
Just as all was looking comfortable, a slip by Pearce allowed Mensah a run down the left channel and he showed terrific composure to beat the advancing Rice, once again reducing the deficit to the one goal.
Barnet suddenly had the wind in their sails and a towering flick from John Akinde almost created another chance for Mensah, but Pearce achieved a modicum of redemption with an outstanding covering tackle.
A breathless game and the Bees were playing a very direct game to heave the pressure on United’s backline. The Gulls were facing an aerial barrage and a test of their physical strength to withstand the siege.
The frenetic pace showed no sign of relenting and Hargreaves opted to mix up his tactics by introducing Duane Ofori-Acheampong for the excellent Briscoe, but Rice was the hero at the other end, sticking out a palm to divert a threatening cross.
United responded with a clever break and a pass from Bowman picked out Ofori-Acheampong, but the big striker was unable to convert from close range. The pace of Thompson then came on for a tiring Courtney Cameron.
The Gulls were causing major problems on the break and Ofori-Acheampong battled his way down the wing before squaring to the unmarked Ajala, who had time to take a touch before steering his shot agonisingly wide.
There was barely time to take a breath, as Barnet immediately went back on the attack and a nasty cut for Downes, which, while painful for the Australian defender, gave everybody a chance to regroup for the final 10 minutes.
United were creating numerous opportunities and Ofori-Acheampong did well to skip around his marker, but Stack held the shot, prompting yet another counter from Barnet, only for Bowman to come back with another stride forward and the Bees’ custodian was again in the right place.
The home side continued their industrial approach to rescuing a point, launching the ball forward at every opportunity, but credit to Downes and the rest of his defensive unit for standing strong.
Four minutes of injury-time was excruciating to watch but the side playing the better football deservedly won the game, and United can now look forward to the visit of Forest Green Rovers on Saturday.
Barnet (4-4-2): 1 Graham Stack; 28 David Hunt, 6 David Stephens, 5 Bondz N’Gala, 3 Elliot Johnson; 16 Mauro Vilhete (31 Bernard Mensah 56), 18 Luke Gambin (11 Lee Cook H-T), 8 Curtis Weston, 23 Adam Mekki (15 Luisma Villa Lopez 32); 9 John Akinde, 10 Charlie MacDonald. Substitutes (not used): 4 Jack Saville, 20 Jon Nurse.
United (4-4-2): 1 Martin Rice; 29 Durrell Berry, 5 Krystian Pearce, 4 Aaron Downes, 3 Thomas Cruise; 10 Toby Ajala, 8 Luke Young (capt), 16 Courtney Richards, 11 Courtney Cameron (15 Niall Thompson 76); 7 Louis Briscoe (24 Duane Ofori-Acheampong 72), 9 Ryan Bowman. Substitutes (not used): 14 Ashley Yeoman, 23 Jordan Seabright (GK), 30 Oneil Odofin.
Booked: Cruise 27, Ajala 34, Ofori-Acheampong 88
Referee: Steven Rushton