Barnsley 1, Ipswich Town 1
It should have come as no surprise when Ipswich snatched an equaliser with virtually the last kick of the game. After all, they had drawn their previous five matches, why should this one be any different?
Yet it still came as a sickening kick in the teeth for a Barnsley side who had worked so hard and tirelessly against the very disciplined and well-organised Tractor Boys to put themselves in a winning position at the end of the scheduled 90 minutes.
According to former Oakwell legend Mick McCarthy (pictured), now the Ipswich manager, victory would have been no more than his home-town club deserved.
In a typical no-nonsense appraisal he told the assembled media: “It’s the first thing I’ve stolen from here. I was here for a long time and never took a paper-clip, pen, piece of paper or anything else, but we burgled a point today.
“It’s part of the game. It goes for as long as the referee adds time on. We were poor today. They were much better.
“Did we deserve it? Did we hell! But I’ll take it.”
Surprisingly that was not a viewpoint shared by Barnsley head coach Paul Heckingbottom, who observed: “I always say you only get what you deserve and we didn’t kill them off, simple as that. Ipswich showed what they’re all about, which is why they’ve not been beaten for so long. They are resolute and keep going to the very end. Our disappointment today is we didn’t put the game to bed earlier.”
He was, however, pleased with the overall performance of his side, and went on: “It’s not nice when you concede like that, but we’re about performances. Things have been good in the last few games, and today, with regards as to how we want to control the game and dictate the opposition, we did what we wanted – except score goals.”
It is true that the Reds, not for the first time in recent weeks, had sufficient chances to have secured the points long before the stoppage time sickener, and their failure to convert opportunities into goals must remain the primary concern.
Nevertheless, with 51 points now safely in the bag, they have surely secured their Championship place for next season and the saving grace is that Heckingbottom can already begin to map out his plans and strategy for what promises to be a very active summer in preparation for the 2017-18 campaign.
He is faced with the task of re-building yet again, but no-one doubts his ability to bring about further improvements.
What was particularly commendable about Barnsley’s showing on this occasion was that they did not play like a team left with so little at stake for the rest of the current campaign. Everyone put in a full shift against a very difficult to beat Ipswich side.
The Reds were tight defensively, combative in midfield, and swift on the counter – but they were not clinical enough in the last third of the pitch and the price they had to pay was two points dropped, which would have lifted them back into tenth place in the table.
Right from the start he pace and persistence of twin strikers Tom Bradshaw and Adam Armstrong put pressure on the Ipswich defence, as did some teasing crosses from Adam Hammill, revelling in his recall to the starting line-up.
Unfortunately, however, the Reds’ lack of height up front rendered these totally ineffective and one wondered just what havoc Bradshaw and Armstrong might have created had they had a big target man to feed off.
Even so, Barnsley should have taken the lead in the 12th minute when a free-flowing five-man move ended with Armstrong heading over from only a few yards out when he should have scored.
Four minutes later Andy Yiadom, putting in yet another impressive stint at right-back, fired over after Hammill had pulled the ball back to him from a free-kick, but then Ipswich, having forced a series of corners, were denied by a double save from Adam Davies in the Barnsley goal.
First he parried a well-struck shot from David McGoldrick and then dived bravely at the feet of Cole Skuse who seemed certain to ram home the rebound.
Armstrong tried his luck with shots from distance, one finding the target but hit with insufficient power to worry goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowksi and another fizzing over the bar.
The home team continued to call the tune, Josh Scowen firing over the top following a short corner and Matty James, at full stretch, also just clearing the bar from Hammill’s teasing cross.
Just before half-time, however, Ipswich almost snatched the lead when Angus MacDonald was inches away from conceding an own goal as he attempted to cut out a low cross from McGoldrick, the ball ricochetting away for Ipswich’s fifth corner.
Twelve minutes after the interval the Reds found the goal they had been searching for and it came, typically, from a swift counter attack.
They were under pressure from Ipswich when James won possession just outside his own penalty area. He played a superb pass out of defence to set Marley Watkins off on a run from well inside his own half and the winger shrugged off the challenge of two chasing defenders before sliding the ball past the goalkeeper.
Not only did the Leicester City loanee display his creativity by setting up the goal, he repeatedly tracked back to help out in defence; was tireless in his midfield role; and displayed a welcome willingness to have a crack at goal with three vicious volleys which lacked only in accuracy, the one that did find the target being straight at the goalkeeper.
Ipswich continued to defend resolutely, their 5-3-2 system denying the Reds space and time, and using their physical attributes when necessary.
They were, however, caught out again nine minutes from time, substitute Ryan Williams this time leading the break and providing the incisive pass which set Hammill free on the left.
The winger, showing signs of returning to last season’s form, seemed certain to double his side’s lead, but his attempt to curl the ball into the opposite corner of the net was thwarted by Bialkowski, who brought off a splendid, and, as it turned out crucial, save.
Seconds later Davies had to stretch to save a header from substitute Grant Ward at the other end – but Ipswich were not to be denied.
In the third minute of stoppage time another substitute, Brett Pitman, sent over a cross from the left and, for once, there was no Barnsley player in the right spot at the right time to prevent Tom Lawrence from scrambling the ball over the line for his 11th goal in as many games.
There was just enough time left for the game to restart before referee Stephen Martin blew the final whistle.
For Barnsley it felt like a defeat. Ipswich celebrated as if it was a win.
The visitors thus maintained their eight-game unbeaten run while the Reds’ failure to land a knock-out blow means that they have now picked up all three points only once in the last nine games.
But that is the kind of downturn in fortunes which is almost inevitable when your most creative player and your top scorer – not to mention an outstanding defender – fly out of the transfer window one after the other.
Barnsley (4-4-2): Davies; Yiadom, Roberts, MacDonald, Jones; Watkins, Scowen, James, Hammill; Bradshaw, Armstrong (Williams, 78 mins).
Ipswich (5-3-2): Bialkowski; Spence, Chambers, Berra, Knudsen, Kenlock (Sears, 62 mins); Skuse, Diagouraga (Ward, 51 mins), Huws (Pitman, 84 mins); McGoldrick, Lawrence.
Booking: Skuse (Ipswich).
Referee: Stephen Martin.
Attendance: 11,836 (742 away).