Bristol City 3, Barnsley 2
An injury to captain Marc Roberts had a big bearing on this Barnsley defeat at Ashton Gate.
With the Reds leading 1-0, the big defender failed to resume after half-time and City took advantage of what head coach Paul Heckingbottom described as ‘schoolboy defending’ by a re-organised back four to stage a spirited comeback and snatch all three points to virtually guarantee their Championship place for another season.
Heckingbottom refused to use the injury as an excuse, but the fact that the Reds lost yet again from a winning position highlights deficiencies in the squad which need to be rectified before the start of the next campaign in August.
Said Heckingbottom: “Roberts’ injury was a game-changer. We had to re-organise oour back line and never looked the same team.
“Our two centre-backs have been holding the back four together at times, and to lose one of them exposes other people’s frailties. It was schoolboy defending. Not just for the goals, but the whole second half.
“However, I am not going to use it as an excuse. Injuries give opportunities to other players and in this case those opportunities were not taken.
“In the end, we got what we deserved.”
The Reds played well in the opening period, dominating much of the play and creating the better chances, but they managed only one goal, and that was never going to be enough against a side still fighting for their Championship lives – especially when Roberts becamer a second half absentee after suffering an injury in first-half stoppage time.
There were two changes in the Reds’ starting line-up, Adam Armstrong replacing Tom Bradshaw and Alex Moffatt being recalled in midfield in place of Matty James, who was attending the birth of his child.
Armstrong was the first to produce an on-target effort which was well saved by City goalkeeper Frank Fielding, but other promising moves broke down in the final third, and City almost made them pay in the 10th minute when Joe Bryan set up a chance for Matty Taylor, who just failed to get the vital finishing touch as he slid in at the far post.
The Reds, however, continued to pose the greater threat only for the end product, as in so many other recent encounters, to be lacking, and they were indebted to a fine save by Adam Davies from Jamie Paterson and a brilliant block by Gethin Jones that they did not fall behind.
Barnsley’s persistence eventually brought reward in the 37th minute when George Moncur, looking more and more like a player capable of being a very influential member of next season’s squad, embark on a thrilling run from midfield, culminating in a shot from 20 yards which deflected off teammate Mowatt and into the net.
Then came the injury to Roberts (pictured) and he had to be replaced for the second period, Callum Evans coming on at left-back and Jones switching to take over from his captain alongside Angus Macdonald in central defence.
The Reds were never the same. And it took City only eight minutes to produce the equaliser, top scorer Tammy Abraham, on loan from Chelsea, sliding in to net from close range, and he almost gave his side the lead shortly afterwards when another attempt was saved by Davies, with help from the crossbar.
A rejuvenated Bristol side were now very much in the ascendancy, but, against the run of play, the Reds regained the lead with a gem of a goal from Moncur, who powered the ball into the roof of the net from the edge of the penalty area after a rampaging run by Armstrong.
It was not long, however, before City were back on level terms, the impressive Paterson outwitting Jones before beating the onrushing Davies with a cheeky chip, and shortly afterward the creaking Barnsley defence was breached again when an unmarked Aden Flint headed home what proved to be the winner from a right-wing corner.
By now the Reds were struggling to escape from their on half of the field. They did produce a late flurry but never really looked likely to salvage a point.
For City head coach Lee Johnson, who had survived a club record eight-match losing sequence similar to the one he had experienced when in charge of playing affairs at Oakwell last season, there was obvious relief as a sequence of only two defeats in 10 matches, including three wins in the last four fixtures, made the Bristol Club all but mathematically safe from the dreaded drop.
As for Heckingbottom, having seen his side pick up only one win in the last 12 matches, this was a further reminder of the task facing him to rebuild sufficiently well – yet again – in the close season in order that the Reds can compete successfully at this level.
Bristol City: Fielding; Little, Flint, Wright, Bryan, Brownhill, Smith, Pack, Paterson (O’Dowda, 89 mins), Abraham, Taylor.
Barnsley: Davies; Janko, Roberts (Evans, 45 mins), MacDonald, Jones, Scowen, Moncur, Watkins, Mowatt (Bradshaw, 75 mins), Kent, Armstrong (Lee, 84 mins).
Bookings: Smith (Bristol); Scowen (Barnsley).
Referee: Scott Duncan.
Attendance: 18,617 (700 Reds).