With Southampton playing a pre-season friendly tomorrow evening at Underhill, it is, perhaps, a suitable time to look back on the career of one of the most exciting players to play for the Bees in the last 10 years. Jason Puncheon moved to Southampton last season from Plymouth Argyle and via three loan spells with MK Dons. If he plays in tomorrow's game against Barnet, it will be his first appearance at Underhill since leaving Barnet in 2008 for £250,000.
Puncheon joined Barnet in the summer of 2006, at first on a month's contract. He had started his career at Wimbledon and made his debut with them in the 2003-04 season. He made 6 first tem starts for the Dons, plus another two appearances as a substitute. At the end of the season, Wimbledon were relegated from Division One (now the Championship), having finished bottom of the table. They also moved to Milton Keynes and changed their name to MK Dons.
The following season, Jason made 10 starts, plus another 19 as a substitute and scored 1 goal for the newly based club, in what was now called League One. MK Dons just escaped back to back relegations on goal difference. The next season, 2005-06, Punch was never really part of the first team scene at Milton Keynes, making only 1 league start for the club all season. He did, however, make his first appearance at Underhill, coming on as an 89th minute substitute in MK Dons' 3-0 win in a 2nd round, LDV Vans trophy match.
Jason gained a bit of a bad reputation at MK Dons and drifted out of the game a little and was released by the Dons in January 2006 and had brief spells with non-league clubs, Fisher Athletic and Lewes. Puncheon turned up at the pre-season trial matches that Paul Fairclough organised in the summer of 2006 and quickly impressed. The first time that I saw him was at the pre-season friendly match at Enfield Town. The first time that Puncheon received the ball, he turned and moved with the ball in a way that immediately showed he had class and I remember thinking that the club should sign him straight away! His performance did not disappoint as he scored one and made another for Giuliano Grazioli in a 2-1 win for the Bees.
He made a very good impression too in the home friendly with Luton Town, scoring another goal. After his initial one month contract, Punch was handed a contract for another month. He made his senior debut for Barnet in the opening game of the new season, coming on as a substitute at home to Torquay. Unfortunately, in the last minute of the game, he was caught on the ball and this lead to Torquay breaking away to score the only goal of the game.
He made his first start for Barnet in the 3-0 home win over Hereford United and scored on his full debut, curling a terrific shot from outside the area past former Barnet keeper, Scott Tynan. Punch eventually earned a one year contract with the club and settled down into a regular place on the left hand side of the midfield, making 9 consecutive appearances before he was sent off in the 2-2 draw at Bury in an off the ball incident. He also scored a 2nd goal for the club in the home match with Notts County, a rare tap-in for Punch, after the keeper had dropped the ball at his feet.
One of Puncheon's most memorable performances was in the 4-1 win over League One opponents, Northampton Town, in the 2nd round of the FA Cup. After going in 1-0 down to a goal from ex-bee Scott McGleish, Barnet tore the Cobblers apart in the second half with Puncheon terrorising the Northampton defence and setting up goals for Dean Sinclair and Magno Veira as well as winning the penalty which Ian Hendon converted for the 3rd goal.
A few weeks later, playing up front as a striker, Punch scored a spectacular winning goal at Shrewsbury, juggling the ball on his knee before hitting a superb volley into the corner of the net from about 20 yards. A few weeks later, Punch helped the side make history as Barnet beat Championship side, Colchester United, 2-1 at Underhill in the 3rd round of the FA Cup, making them the first Barnet team to ever make the FA Cup 4th round.
Again, Barnet came back from being 1-0 down at half time. Ismail Yakubu equalising and then Puncheon sent the home fans wild with a scorching run and drive into the net to send the Bees into the next round. Sadly, Barnet went down 2-0 at home to Plymouth Argyle in the next round. Little must Jason have known than he would be joining them just over a year later.
Despite his talent, Punch tended to frustrate some fans who felt that his talent wasn't always matched by his work rate and he did get some stick from fans, particularly at away games. He ended the season strongly though. He scored a late winner to send League Two leaders, Hartlepool to their first defeat in 24 games, hitting a scorching, left foot drive from outside the penalty area, before running around in front of Hartlepool boss, Danny Wilson, who released him when he was at MK Dons. He followed this with another fine goal in the 1-1 draw at home to Bristol Rovers.
His exciting form and obvious talent had the scouts flocking to Underhill, with rumours abounding of imminent transfers. Punch finished the season with 5 goals from 42 starts and 3 substitute appearances. Many fans felt that he would move to a bigger club in the summer but, though Simon King, Nicky Bailey and Dean Sinclair all moved to higher level clubs, Punch signed a new two year contract with Barnet, loyally, repaying the faith that Paul Fairclough had shown in him.