A tribute to Giuliano Grazioli
Feature by Jaybee
Updated Friday, 29th June 2012
2003-04: Barnet reach the play-offs
The first time, I think, that I saw Graz in a Barnet shirt was in a pre-season friendly at Carshalton ahead of the 2003-04 season. He didn't look at all match fit and wasn't, in my opinion, impressive at all. He came off before the end of the game. The next time was at home to Leyton Orient in another friendly and I don't remember him playing that well that evening either, but he did score a very good goal, lobbing over the keeper.
That season, Graz was one of a huge number of new signings as Martin Allen completely rebuilt the side. Like at Bristol Rovers, the previous season, Graz had a wonderful early part of the season. He made his Conference debut at home to Telford United, a game that Barnet won 2-0, though Graz didn't score. He didn't have to wait long though for his first senior Bees goal as the following Tuesday at Farnborough, Graz headed home from a Ben Strevens chip. On the Saturday, Graz added 2 more at Dagenham, an opportunist goal and a penalty, though the Bees went down 5-2!
A fortnight later at Burton, Graz scored twice again as Barnet won their first away win of the season, the first win in what proved to be a run of 7 wins in 8 games that propelled Barnet towards the top of the table and was a prolific period for Graz. His opener at Burton was a stunner, taking a cross from Ismail Yakubu, he slipped but then, on his back, he managed to hook the ball over the Burton keeper and into the net. The following Saturday at home to Halifax, Graz grabbed his first Barnet hat trick in a 4-1 win. Graz now had 8 goals from 5 games.
A fortnight later, Barnet were at deadly rivals Stevenage Borough and were a goal down at half time and a bit lucky not to be even further behind. The second half proved completely different as the Bees took control. Barnet equalised when Graz crashed a shot against the bar and Peter Beadle slotted home the rebound and the it was Graz who got the winner after a fine mark Williams cross was headed against the bar by substitute, Ben Strevens and Graz slid home the ball from right in front of the goal and in front of the adoring Bees fans.
Graz score the winning goal in each of the next three games; a 2-1 win at home to Aldershot, a 1-0 win away at Margate, after missing a penalty and a 1-0 win at Shrewsbury Town. The goal at Gay Meadow was a very fine Graz goal. Simon King hit a long ball out to the right and Ismail Yakubu headed across field for Graz who controlled it and then curled it round the Shrewsbury keeper. The goal capped affine Barnet performance at Shrewsbury and many fans felt after the win that maybe, maybe we might just go up this season.
Graz had now scored 12 goals in 11 games and though this was his most prolific period in the season, he carried on scoring regularly for the first half of the season. His next goal was a late penalty at home to Exeter, when Barnet very nearly rescued a point having been 3-0 down in injury time. The final score was 3-2 to Exeter. A couple of weeks later, he grabbed his second hat trick of the season at Leigh RMI in a 4-1 win. He then scored the only goal of the game at home to Northwich Victoria with a typical poachers goal, before scoring twice at Stalybridge in the FA Cup 1st round to send Barnet through to a 2nd round tie at Yeovil. At this stage, Graz had 19 goals in 19 games and he was still scoring goals, if not quite as regularly as earlier in the season.
Towards Christmas, Graz got an excellent goal at Telford being put clear before curling his shot round the keeper to give Barnet a 2-1 win. January too proved to be very rewarding for Graz in terms of goals as he scored five!! He scored away at Halifax in a 2-1 win, scored twice at home to Dagenham & Redbridge in a 4-2 home defeat and then scored twice in a 3-1 home win over Margate. Graz scored all four goals against the Daggers that season, but unfortunately Barnet conceded 9!
Graz now had 25 goals from 28 games, a sensational scoring rate in his first season at Underhill and the programme for the Margate game had Graz on the front cover. Unfortunately, Graz at this point had a goal drought and didn't score in the next 12 games. Barnet's automatic promotion hopes faded and they stumbled towards the end of the season in the wake of Martin Allen's departure and the arrival of Paul Fairclough. By the final match of the season, Barnet knew a win over 2nd from bottom, Leigh RMI would take them into the play-offs. In a frustrating game in which Barnet could have scored 10, the visitors took the lead through an early penalty. Ismail Yakubu headed home an equaliser soon after but then chance after chance was squandered. Cometh the hour, cometh the man as, in the second half, Graz was put clear and he ran on and clipped his shot past the Leigh keeper to put Barnet ahead and even after a missed Ian Hendon penalty, Barnet were in the play offs. Sadly, the bees lost the play of semi finals to Shrewsbury on penalties, Graz failing to score in either game.
Graz finished the season with 26 goals in 43 games, a terrific performance by any standards, but he had only scored once in his last 15 games leading to comments that he, like Barnet, performed better in the first half of the season and fell away in the New Year. Could Graz prove them wrong the following season? Would he lead Barnet to the Holy Grail (AKA League Two)?Stay posted for Part Three of the Grazioli Story next!!