Barnsley 0, Preston North End 0
From an entertainment point of view this game was as forgettable as a wet weekend in Withernsea.
It was not that the two teams involved lacked the desire or the passion to make a success of it, but they both were found wanting in terms of the quality necessary to make it a sunshine occasion.
Not until the second minute of stoppage time was either goalkeeper called upon to make a save worthy of note, Adam Davies (pictured) celebrating his contract extension with a splendid reaction save to rescue his side from what would have been a very harsh defeat.
If either side deserved to win it was the home team, who had more of the play, more shots at goal, more shots on target, and more corners than their opponents, who statistically came out on top only on the fouls count.
It was a very keenly-contested affair and both teams were still seeking a decider in the closing minutes, but there remained a distinct lack of the flair and finesse necessary to complement all the hard work.
Plenty of endeavour, then, but remorse at the absence of the kind of goalmouth action necessary to turn it into a thriller.
The Reds displayed commendable energy; they tried to play at a high tempo; there was pace throughout the side; and some intelligent running off the ball, but it never quite knitted together.
There was, most notably and crucially, the lack of an end product. And there does remain concern as to where the goals are going to come from in the absence of the departed Sam Winnall and Conor Hourihane, who conjured up so many between them.
You cannot fault any of the remaining Barnsley attackers and midfield players for their work-rate, but where amongst them is a 15-20 goals a season marksman?
The big problem faced by frustrated head coach Paul Heckingbottom is the fact that, having assembled a side capable of challenging for the play-offs, the comings and goings of the January transfer window has left him with the unenviable task of starting his team-building all over again.
In the last two matches alone five new players have made their debuts for the club, Callum Elder and substitute Ryan Hedges on this occasion.
Heckingbottom referred to it himself after the game when he told the media: “We’ve got a new side with lots of new players and I could see that in the performance today. The energy and effort was there but we’ve got lots of work to do to get back to the levels of where we were – and even better.”
Having said that, he was, in the circumstances, satisfied with the way his side stood up to the challenge posed by the visitors.
“They were a big, physical side and were very direct in their play.” he said. “I thought we coped with that well, but in possession we didn’t do enough to win the game. We huffed and puffed but didn’t have enough quality in the final third.”
Barnsley were the first to have an attempt on goal when Adam Armstrong headed wide from a Marley Watkins’ cross in the third minute and they produced the one real moment of class of the opening period 10 minutes later with a clever free-kick routine involving Ryan Kent and Josh Scowen which resulted in the latter’s angled drive being deflected for a corner.
One of the recent newcomers, Matty James, fired narrowly wide, but it was Preston who produced the first attempt on target, Simon Makienok’s header arrowing straight into the welcoming arms of Adam Davies.
Jordan Hugill then broke clear down the right only to send his cross-shot beyond the far post.
That was just about it as far as noteworthy first half incidents were concerned until just before the break when both teams had justifiable shouts for a penalty which left referee Oliver Langford unmoved.
Within seconds of the restart the Reds finally forced Chris Maxwell into a save, although Armstrong’s weak attempt was never likely to cause him the slightest concern.
Barely a minute Marc Roberts got a vital touch to a cross at the other end with the ever-dangerous Hugill waiting to pounce at the far post.
A good inter-change of passes involving Armstrong, Bradshaw and Kent ended with the latter shooting high and wide and in the 68th minute Bradshaw had an effort cleared off the line.
Both teams attacked in turn during four minutes of stoppage time, keen to add the two points which would give their respective play-off challenge a big boost, and it was then that Davies, a spectator for much of the game, produced a top-class save to deny Preston the spoils.
Hugill again provided the threat with a header which seemed destined for the top corner until Davies launched himself to palm the ball to safety.
There was still time for substitute Adam Hammill to fire in a trademark free-kick, but on this occasion it found the gloves of the goalkeeper rather than the back of the net and both teams had to be content with a point.
Supporters once again voted Scowen as their man of the match. And rightly so. He is literally in the running every time. No-one ever gives more in the team cause. Mr 100 per cent, that’s him!
The Reds now face a very tough February, with matches against three of the top five teams – Reading away and Brighton and Huddersfield at home – as well as a trip to a resurgent Aston Villa.
They do so with Heckingbottom still in the process of rebuilding his side.
As he himself said: “I knew before today’s game started that my priority, with lots of new players, would be how to make our team better as quickly as possible.”
It’s a tough call. But he has already shown that he is capable of re-shaping a team and making a memorable success of it.
Supporters will hopefully remain loyal to ‘one of their own’ when there are the inevitable setbacks.
Barnsley (4-4-1-1): Davies; Jones, Roberts, MacDonald, Elder; Watkins, James, Scowen, Kent (Hedges, 82 mins); Armstrong; Bradshaw (Hammill, 68 mins).
Preston North End (4-4-1-1): Maxwell; Browning, Clarke, Huntingdon, Cunningham; McGeady, Pearson, Browne, Gallagher (Robinson, 66 mins); Makienok (Beckford, 72 mins); Hugill.
Referee: Oliver Langford.
Bookings: Scowen (Barnsley); Cunningham, Browne, McGeady, Pearson (Preston).
Attendance: 12,590 (1,269 visitors).