Barnsley 1, Shrewsbury Town 2
(SkyBet League One)
Barnsley’s exes have turned up to give them more than their fair share of trouble in the past week.
First it was ex-manager Keith Hill presiding over a 3-0 victory for Rochdale at Spotland last Saturday. Today it was former assistant manager Micky Mellon and ex-player Jordan Clark relishing a last-gasp triumph for Shrewsbury at Oakwell.
It was Clark, deemed surplus to requirements by the Reds a couple of years ago, who scored the winner in stoppage time to provide the newly-promoted Shrews with their first away win on their return to League One.
Clark (pictured in his Oakwell days) is a Barnsley lad and his family were there to cheer him on as he sent his home-town club crashing to their second successive league defeat.
Although there was the usual plaintive reflection that ‘we should have had a penalty’, the Reds, in truth, have no cause for complaint. They were complicit in their own downfall.
After recovering well from falling behind in the seventh minute to equalise, deservedly, seven minutes before the break, Lee Johnson’s side were favourites to take a grip of the game in the second half and go on to secure all three points.
Sadly, however, they failed to build on the platform created by that equaliser. They lacked the urgency and desire, or, to use one of Johson’s favourite words, the energy, to break down a disciplined and hard-working Shrewsbury for a second time.
That is reflected by the fact that they did not test goalkeeper Jayson Leutwiler once throughout the second period.
With 20 minutes remaining Johnson gambled on a double substitution in order to try to rectify the situation.
He replaced the creativity and crossing ability of Conor Hourihane with the height and power of new signing Michael Smith, and the close control skills of will o’ the wisp teenager Dan Crowley with the pace of Kadeem Harris.
It was a controversial decision in view of the fact that Hourihane had provided most of the goal threat in the first half and Crowley had so impressed the fans that they still voted him their man of the match, even though he played only 70 minutes of it!
Ben Pearson was probably more deserving of the award. He worked tirelessly in central midfield, tidying up, making timely interceptions, always making himself available, and setting attacks in motion with simple passes but effective pases.
But he, too, was largely bypassed towards the end of the game.
Johnson himself confessed that the pass and move football that he prefers was replaced by the hopeful long ball punt in the closing stages.
He told the press after the match: “I don’t think we played that badly. In patches we were good. The one criticism I have is that we resorted to going too long ball in the last 15 to 20 minutes. We lost patience and started going forward too early.”
Johnson added: “It’s disrespectful to say it’s a smash and grab from them, but we were the one’s trying to win. They were wasting time, then we got hit with a sucker punch.”
However, this reporter was not the only one to voice an opinion that Shrewsbury looked the likelier side to snatch a winner in the last ten minutes – and it came as no surprise when it arrived.
The visitors’ opening goal was clouded in confusion. A corner from the right somehow ended up in the Barnsley net and very few people knew how it had got there. Recorded action replays showed the ball deflecting off Marc Roberts and being punched into his own net by startled goalkeeper Adam Davies.
Credit the Reds with responding strongly to dominate the rest of the opening half. Hourihane fired in five shots, one of which struck the outside of the post; Marley Watkins was denied by a good save from Leutwiler and then failed to make the most of another chance when cutting in from the right; Roberts and Alfie Mawson headed over from corners; and Crowley was too high with another effort.
Consequently there was a roar of relief as much as approval in the 38th minute when Watkins teed up a chance for Sam Winnall, who sent an expertly executed curler beyond Leutwiler’s desperately groping fingers into the bottom corner of the net for the equaliser.
The expectation was that the Reds would go on to win from there. But they were very disappointing after the break.
It might have been different had they been awarded the 54th penalty that Johnson complained about, when Crowley went down in the box,but that cannot hide the fact that it was the Reds’ own inadequacies that led to their downfall.
There was a warning of what was to come eight minutes from the end of normal time when Davies was forced to bring off a smart save at point-blank range from a header by substitute Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro following a swift Shrewsbury counter-attack.
The warning went unheeded. Deep into four minutes of stoppage time, with Shrewsbury sensing that they could take three points rather than one, Clark, who had earlier just missed the target with a shot with the outside of his boot, this time hit the target, with the aid of a deflection, after deceiving defenders with a neat turn inside the penalty area.
It was another cruel lesson for the young Barnsley team. But lessons are there to be learned.
If they are not – and quickly – a season which was beginning to hold a good deal of promise, particularly after that excellent display against Everton in the Capital One Cup, could peter out into yet another of unfulfilled expectations.
Barnsley (4-5-1): Davies; Wabara, Roberts, Mawson, Nyatanga; Scowen, Pearson, Crowley (Harris, 70 mins), Hourihane (Smith, 70 mins), Watkins; Winnall.
Shrewsbury Town (3-5-2): Leutwiler; Ellis, Grandison, Knight-Percival; Tootle, Weselowski (Cole, 16 mins), Lawrence, Brown (Sadler, 66 mins), Ogogo; Clark, Barnett (Akpa Akpro, 78 mins).
Bookings: Pearson, Hourihane, Scowen (Barnsley); Cole, Clark (Shrewsbury).
Referee: Stuart Atwell.
Attendance: 8630 (437 Shrewsbury).