Barnsley 4, Swindon Town 1
(SkyBet League One)
There were more than a few raised eyebrows at Oakwell this afternoon when the home team line-up was announced – including those of yours truly.
Relegated to the substitutes’ bench were three of the most consistent performers of the current campaign: goalkeeper Adam Davies, central defender Marc Roberts – who has turned in more than one man-of-the-match performance this season – and striker Sam Winnall.
Nominated in their places were George Smith, with only four starts so far this term; Nick Townsend, who had made only two cup appearances ; and Ryan Williams, who had not played at all.
Were these panic changes after the last-gasp home defeat at the hands of Shrewsbury Town seven days earlier?
Head coach Lee Johnson explained his thinking when he spoke to the press after the game.
“We picked a team we thought was going to win today – and they did.”
While that may be perceived as stating the blindingly obvious Johnson went on to say that, while they respected Swindon as a very good team, the visitors had their weaknesses and the Reds had sought, very successfully, to exploit them.
His selection had been based on that premise and the result clearly justifies his decision-making.
However, for some considerable time it did not look as though it would turn out that way.
Indeed, it was Swindon who took the lead after 21 minutes with a goal that must have caused Johnson a good deal of embarrassment.
In his programme notes he had alluded to the fact that the theme of the week in training had been about communication.
“Communication is so important in all walks of life but especially on the football field where pictures and options change by the millisecond,” he wrote. “It’s important we communicate both with and without the ball. Key players in key positions must communicate better as we continue our pursuit of excellence.”
Imagine his chagrin, therefore, when Lewin Nyatanga (pictured) and goalkeeper Townsend went for the same ball lofted into the penalty area and the former ended up heading it past his colleague for a crazy own goal.
Two minutes later, however, Marley Watkins timed his run to perfection as Swindon attempted to play the offside, and the striker coolly slotted the ball past the stranded Lawrence Vigouroux to level matters.
That should have settled Barnsley’s early misgivings, but Johnson then found himself having to find an answer to a problem of his own making. With Williams completely out of sorts and obviously annoyed with himself for not justifying his call to arms, the head coach was forced into hauling the player off with only 28 minutes gone and calling on the discarded Winnall.
It was, at that stage, still touch and go as to whether or not Johnson had got his tactics right, but a stunning strike from Reece Wabara two minutes before the break swung the game decisively in Barnsley’s favour. There appeared little danger when the full-back latched on to the ball 30 yards out but it sped like an arrow past the startled Vigouroux for a memorable first goal for the Oakwell Club.
A delighted head coach commented: “We’ve been trying to get all our players to shoot from range as they all have great technique. If you don’t shoot you don’t score, and I felt we could have had seven today.”
Certainly the Reds created several chances in the second half, two of which were taken to seal a splendid victory over a highly-rated Swindon side who started the game seventh in the table.
On the hour mark Nyatanga atoned for his earlier own goal by this time heading into the opposition net from a Conor Hourihane cross and the latter crowed a man-of-the-match display in the 77th minute by tapping home from close range after a left-foot effort from Josh Scowen had rebounded off the bar.
It was deserved reward for the Irishman who has added another dimension to his game this season. He is showing much more urgency; working harder, tracking back, tackling, but still retaining the creativity and craft which has always characterised his play.
That is almost certainly down to the influence of Johnson, who said of his performance on this occasion: “I thought he was massive in what we did today. He was a captain out there. He recognised everything that needed to be recognised and helped apply pressure on them.”
Although he did not get his name on the scoresheet Winnall proved that he had been unfortunate to be left out of the starting line-up. He was unlucky on several occasions, and looked to have won a penalty when he was upended in the box, denying him a goalscoring opportunity. but referee Darren Bond paid no heed to the heated appeals.
Smith justified his recall at left-back; Townsend was erratic in his judgement in leaving his line on occasions, as witnessed by the confusion over the own goal, but made three good saves; and the pace of Kadeem Harris on the left was always a threat.
Johnson said he was delighted to have secured such an emphatic win. He had several good reasons to be so.
Barnsley ((4-4-1-1): Townsend; Wabara (Bree, 86 mins), Mawson, Nyatanga, Smith; Williams (Winnall, 28 mins), Scowen, Pearson, Harris (Jackson, 79 mins); Hourihane; Watkins.
Swindon Town (4-1-4-1): Vigouroux; Barry, Rossi-Branco, Williams, Turnbull; Traore; Ajose, Kasim (Thompson, 52 mins), Rodgers, Robert (Ojamaa, 45 mins); Thomas.
Bookings: Scowen, Pearson (Barnsley); Thompson (Swindon).
Referee: Darren Bond.
Attendance: 8,227 (381 visitors).