Football: Bees stung by Mettioui's final strike for Stafford: Phil Shaw watches a recently reprieved club alive and still kicking despite an away defeat

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BARRY FRY once described being manager of Barnet as 'like living with a double-decker bus on your head'. Gary Phillips, who assumed the post yesterday, does not yet have a coach, let alone a bus, and only five registered players, but saw his hastily assembled team beaten only by the final kick of last night's friendly at Stafford Rangers.

While Barnet were stunned when Ahmed Mettioui, a Moroccan international no less, made it 4-3 for the Vauxhall Conference club, this was one of those rare occasions when taking part really was more important than winning. Three weeks ago, Barnet's very existence was in jeopardy, so their mere appearance was greeted enthusiastically by their fans in a gathering of 344.

Phillips actually kept a clean sheet. Unfortunately, he limped off on the half-hour and Andy Pape was beaten twice in the next six minutes. Nicky Evans headed Barnet back into contention before Stafford restored the two-goal margin, but Mark Carter scored twice in the last 17 minutes to give the Football League side hope that was ultimately dashed.

A summer of cliffhanging that Sylvester Stallone would have envied means Barnet are having to compress an entire close season into a fortnight before they start their first Second Division campaign at home to Hull a week tomorrow. And in the build-up to Stafford, with whom they once contested the FA Trophy at Wembley, things belatedly began to fall into place.

Overnight, the League lifted the embargo preventing them from recruiting new blood and Phillips promptly signed Brian Marwood, four years after the former Arsenal winger played for England. But the continuing state of flux was highlighted when Kenny Lowe, last season's playmaker, simultaneously exploited his freedom of contract to join Stoke City.

In the meantime Phillips, the 31-year-old goalkeeper, was confirmed as player-manager. According to custom and practice established by Fry, Phillips will have to paint the touchlines and remortgage his home to keep them in business. As one of several Barnet players who sought free transfers at a time when he was also caretaker-manager, he has the requisite quirkiness.

Before last night, which was regarded by staff and fans as the first 'official' fixture of the new era, a Barnet side sprinkled with triallists had lost 6-2 at Berkhamstead. This was hardly calculated to inspire confidence for a stiff start to the campaign proper: after Hull they visit Fry's Southend in the League Cup and the promotion favourites Port Vale.