Wolverhampton Wanderers 2, Barnsley 1
Barnsley were denied a hard-fought and thoroughly deserved point against high-flying Wolves as two stoppage time goals provided a dramatic finale at Molineux.
The home team took the lead 10 minutes from the end of normal time, but the defiant Reds snatched an equaliser in the first minute of time added on only to concede the winner with virtually the last kick of the game.
Reds’ head coach Paul Heckingbottom summed it up perfectly when he observed afterwards: “We deserved a point and thought we’d got it. It was just a moment of switching off.”
The Barnsley players were so overjoyed to see the ball hit the back of the Wolves net that they momentarily lost their concentration when the home team responded and Alfred N’Diaye was given too much room to turn the visitors’ elation into total dejection.
Even Wolves’ boss Nuno Espiriton Santo questioned that his side had merited the three points. “I’m delighted, of course”, he told the media, “but whether we deserved them is another question.”
Once again there was much to commend in Barnsley’s overall performance. Apart from that one vital and costly lapse right at the death they defended well; they made good use of possession; and, as Heckingbottom reflected: “There were not that many things wrong from what we asked the players to do; Wolves only threat was on the counter-attack.”
After their 1-0 defeat by Tottenham Hotspur in the third round of the Carabao Cup at Wembley on Tuesday night the Reds reverted to the same eleven that started the 3-0 home defeat against Aston Villa in the last Championship fixture, with skipper Angus MacDonald, available again after suspension, on the bench.
The first half was very closely-contested with scoring opportunities few and far between. Jota threatened first with a header for Wolves after 14 minutes and three minutes later Tom Bradshaw produced the first effort on target, his header from Brad Potts’ cross being well saved by John Ruddy.
The Reds thought they should have had a penalty when Bradshaw appeared to be pushed by Danny Batth, but referee Jeremy Simpson did not share that opinion and the first half scoresheet remained blank, although dangerman Cavaleiro went close for Wolves and Ruddy had to bring off another smart save from a typical Adam Hammill curler just before the break.
Wolves, no doubt having been on the receiving end of some critical analysis by their manager during the interval, started the second half strongly and Adam Davies, making his 100th consecutive appearance for the Reds, had to make a smart save at his near post from substitute Barry Douglas. Adam Jackson then came to Barnsley’s rescue with a timely tackle on Leo Bonatini, who was homing in on goal.
At the other end substitute Ryan Hedges and Ashley Barnes both had goalbound shots blocked, but it looked very much as though the game was going to remain goalless when, in the 80th minute, a moment of brilliance from Wolves substitute Bright Enobakhare broke the deadlock, the 19-year-netting with a sweetly-timed volley as a cross was delivered into the Barnsley box.
That prompted Heckingbottom to make a double substitution in a bid to salvage something from the game, Cameron McGeehan and Ike Ugbo replacing Potts and George Moncur, and it looked as though a point had been saved when Adam Jackson (pictured) lashed the ball into the roof of the net after Liam Lindsay had headed a Hammill free-kick back across the face of goal in the first minute of stoppage time.
However, two minutes later Senegal international substitute Alfred N’Diaye, who had been on the pitch barely 13 minutes, was allowed too much space in the penalty area, and crowned a frantic finish by sliding the ball home for a dramatic – and from Barnsley’s point of view heart-breaking – winner.
It was Wolves’ sixth league win in nine matches and kept them level with Leeds United and Cardiff City at the top of the table, while for the Reds, with only two victories to their credit, it meant a further fall to fourth from bottom.
There were, however, no signs of that kind of gap between the sides on this occasion. A draw would have been the fairest outcome. And the Reds – and their fans – can take heart from that.
But they do badly need to pick up all three points in their home game with Queen’s Park Rangers on Tuesday night.
Wolves: Ruddy; Batth, Coady, Miranda, Doherty, Saiss (N’Daye, 80 mins), Neves, Vinagre (Douglas, 45 mins), Cavaleiro (Enobakhare, 65 mins), Bonatini, Jota.
Barnsley (4-1-4-1): Davies; McCarthy, Jackson, Lindsay, Pearson; Williams; Hammill, Moncur (McGeehan, 82 mins), Potts (Ugbo, 82 mins), Barnes, Hedges, 70 mins); Bradshaw.
Bookings: Coady, Saiss, Neeves (Wolves); Williams (Barnsley).
Referee: Jeremy Simpson.
Attendance: 28,154 (925 Reds).