Barnsley 1, Huddersfield Town 1
Barnsley’s magnificent number one denied Huddersfield their magnificent seven in a typically hard-fought derby at Oakwell.
Bidding for a seventh successive League victory as their push for an automatic promotion place gathers momentum, the Terriers were thwarted by a man-of-the-match performance by home goalkeeper Adam Davies, aided by some heroic do-or-die defending.
Davies made a series of saves, ranging from the routine to the exceptional, which brought praise even from opposition head coach David Wagner, who observed: “Everyone has seen that we deserved more from that performance, but that’s football. Sometimes you play against a goalkeeper who has his best match of the season.”
Barnsley head coach, Paul Heckingbottom, had a different point of view, in more ways than one. Forced to watch the game from the stands after receiving a touchline ban for an incident in the home game against Wolves, he thought that his side merited the draw.
“We weren’t at our best today,” he admitted, “but we battled hard and deserved the point.”
There is some truth in both assessments, but the reality is that Huddersfield were much the better side overall, and, despite the commendable efforts of Davies and company – Heckingbottom was keen to emphasise that everyone contributed to the cause – they would still have won comfortably had they been more clinical with their finishing.
In the first half they simply over-powered the Reds, who were relieved to go in at the break trailing by only one goal. The visitors were physically strong; they played at a very high tempo; they were bright and positive; they produced passages of slick inter-passing play; and they were a dominant and compelling force.
Heckingbottom conceded that his side were not at their best, particularly in the first half, but sometimes you have to give credit to the opposition. The fact is that Huddersfield are a very good side.
And that is all the more reason to pay tribute to the way Barnsley stuck manfully to their task when under severe pressure in the first half; showed improvement after the interval – and then had the temerity to snatch an out-of-the-blue equaliser in the closing stages.
Despite the Terriers’ first half dominance, it was the Reds who produced the first threatening moment in the 14th minute. Josh Scowen sent Ryan Kent scurrying into the18-yarder chased by Michael Hefele and there were shouts for a penalty when the winger went down under the challenge. Referee Tim Robinson, however, remained unmoved.
Three minutes later Huddersfield took the lead. A dipping free-kick from Chris Lowe was deflected for a corner and from the resulting flag-kick Hefele rose to power home a thumping header.
The Reds responded almost immediately and were unlucky when a fierce drive from Andy Yiadom struck team-mate Alex Mowatt and diverted for a goal-kick.
Then MacDonald produced his side’s lone on-target effort of the first half, his header being claimed by Dany Ward at the second attempt.
Just before the break Davies made his first vital contribution, making saves in quick succession from Izzy Brown and Aaron Mooy as the Reds continued to struggle to contain the highly impressive visitors.
The second half brought some improvement by Barnsley, even though they were forced to play second fiddle for the most part. They closed Huddersfield down much better; they were more aggressive; and they began to pose the visitors one or two problems of their own, especially after a double substitution around the hour mark which saw Adam Hammill and Tom Bradshaw replace Kent and Mowatt respectively.
Both were involved in the action immediately. Bradshaw had a header punched away by Ward and then, in the 74th minute, Hammill hit a low cross to the near post area and Marley Watkins found just enough space to squeeze a reaction volley past the goalkeeper.
Huddersfield’s response to the stunning set-back was instant. They surged forward with even greater ferocity and the Reds, defending as if their very lives depended on it, had a series of remarkable escapes.
Izzy Brown, on loan from Chelsea, seemed certain to score after rounding Davies, but Mark Roberts was in the right place at the right time to make a crucial goalline clearance and, when the rebound fell at the feet of Collin Quaner, Andy Yiadom and MacDonald reacted quickly to block the follow-up shot.
The onslaught continued. Five minutes later Davies made a brilliant save from a vicious Quaner volley and then there was yet another goalline clearance, this time by Matty James from a Hefele header.
Remarkably, having survived all this, the Reds still had sufficient recuperative powers to come within an ace of snatching an unlikely victory themselves when a Bradshaw header struck the goalkeeper on the chest before being scrambled clear.
Finally, in the dying seconds, Davies crowned a superb individual performance by saving at point-blank range from Brown.
Huddersfield head coach Wagner remained mystified at the conclusion as to how his side had failed to achieve that seventh successive victory which would have kept his side hot on the heels of Newcastle United and Brighton at the top of the table
The seven-up theme was repeated when he suggested that the scoreline could have been 7-1, so dominant had the Terriers been, and while that may be stretching the imagination a little bit too far, there is no doubt that, on this evidence, Huddersfield are well capable of ousting one of their top two rivals and earning automatic promotion to the Premiership.
As for Barnsley, they admirably continue to defy the odds. This result means that they have slipped to 10th place, but that is way beyond what any supporter had a right to expect at the start of a first season back in the Championship, and even more so after the Reds lost three of their best players in the January transfer window.
And that achievement is down to Heckingbottom. His philosophy does not include negatives.
The Reds have done extremely well to limit a very tough five-match February to only one defeat – at home to second-from-top Brighton – but it gets no easier in March, with three of their four fixtures away to Derby County, Queen’s Park Rangers and Norwich City, the lone home encounter being with Mick McCarthy’s Ipswich.
That doesn’t faze Heckingbottom. Addressing the media after the game he said: “If you limit yourself to just staying up, you’re probably going to finish fourth bottom.
“As far as I, the staff and this group of players are concerned, it’s all about winning as many matches as we can – and we’ve got another 12 to go.”
Barnsley (4-4-2): Davies; Yiadom, Roberts, MacDonald, Jones; Mowatt (Bradshaw, 61 mins), James, Scowen, Kent (Hammill, 61 mins); Watkins, Armstrong (Williams, 90+2 mins).
Huddersfield (4-4-2): Ward; Smith, Hefele, Schindler (Stankovic (50 mins), Lowe; Kachunga, Mooy, Whitehead (Billihg, 67 mins), Van La Parra (Lolley, 81 mins); Quaner, Brown.
Bookings: Davies, Jones (Barnsley); Smith, Whitehead, Mooy, Brown, Billing (Huddersfield).
Referee: Tim Robinson.
Attendance: 18,075 (4,619 away).