Barnsley 0, Leeds United 2
It is a long time since Barnsley played as poorly as they did in the first half of Saturday’s televised Yorkshire derby at Oakwell.
They were so woeful that even head coach Paul Heckingbottom’s admission that his side were ‘second best’ seemed a massive over-assessment.
Maybe, with such a young and inexperienced squad, it was inevitable that such a performance would crop up somewhere along the line this season, but for it to do so in a big-match atmosphere with millions more watching on the box, it was particularly hurtful.
It seemed as though the entire team was over-awed by the occasion.
One exiled Reds’ supporter, now living in Cambridge, who had journeyed up for what is, these days, a rare visit to see his home-town team, had been chatting before the kick-off to a regular fan who had told him how well the team was doing, improving bit by bit as the campaign progressed and definitely on the right track after yet another re-building process.
The former had seen the 1-1 draw at Norwich the previous Saturday and the performance there suggested that his acquaintance was spot on with his analysis.
Both of them sat there dumbfounded at the final whistle, hardly able to believe what they had seen.
The home team struggled from the start to string two passes together; they repeatedly lost possession or gave the ball away; their play was littered with errors; all the 50-50 challenges went the way of the visitors; there was no closing down; no fight; no cohesion. Nothing.
There was a lack of quality, but more worryingly there was a lack of pride, a lack of passion, a lack of and determination.
Leeds, on the other hand, were obviously desperate to eradicate the memory of their 4-1 mid-week mauling by Wolves and they took total command from the first whistle.
They forced four corners in the first ten minutes and the writing was on the wall even at such an early stage.
In Samuel Saiz they had a player who was a class above anyone else on the pitch and it was he who put United in front with 22 minutes gone, although he was given a big helping hand by the opposition.
He fastened on to the ball in midfield, ran forward unchallenged, was allowed the time and space to shoot, and and found a way past retreating defenders as well as goalkeeper Adam Davies, who will probably feel he ought to have done better with his attempted save.
As Leeds continued to dictate matters Kalvin Phillips wasted another opportunity and Saiz just cleared the bar.
Around the half-hour mark Harvey Barnes was fortunate to escape a second yellow card with a frustrated rugby tackle, having already been booked following an altercation with Luke Ayling, who the Barnsley player had accused of simulation in an attempt to win a penalty.
It did look like a dive, but to be fair, the Leeds defender leaped to his feet almost immediately, as if having second thoughts about his actions and the interpretation that was bound to be put on them, and there was no penalty appeal from him.
Barnes survived another talking-to by referee Andy Madley as half-time approached and at that stage any further contribution to the game by him was hanging by a thread, which is no doubt part of the reason why he was one of the players hauled off in a double substitution after the interval, George Moncur being the other player to depart the scene.
Just when it seemed that the Reds were going to escape with only a one-goal deficit to overcome in the second period some more tentative defending led to a second United goal with virtually the last kick of the opening session..
As the ball was played into the penalty area Barnsley failed to clear their lines and Azgjan Alioski, like Saiz before him, was allowed far too much time and space and took full advantage with a beautifully curled shot into the far bottom corner of the net.
Heckingbottom apparently took exception to the over-exuberant celebrations by the Leeds bench, but they knew at that moment, unless there was some dramatic improvement by the home team in the second half, the three points were in the bag.
There was improvement. But it was nowhere near enough. Not for one moment did the Reds suggest that they might fight their way back into contention.
Not until the hour mark did they produce an attempt on target – a weak header from substitute Ike Ugo – and it was the 90th minute before recalled Leeds goalkeeper Felik Wiedwald was forced into a noteworthy save.
That came from another Barnsley substitute Ryan Hedges (pictured), who hammered the ball goalward from an acute angle after cutting in from the left and Wiedwald had to beat the shot away.
Hedges certainly made an impact after replacing Adam Hammill and did more in the 14 minutes he was on the pitch than any of his colleagues had done in the entire 90, one of his low crosses in particular just begging for someone to ram it home. But there was no one in touching distance.
It is to be hoped that this performance was just a blip. Because many more like this and the Reds will be in serious trouble.
Two home defeats in the space of four days have undone all the very good work that was done in a seven points out of nine haul prior to the international break, and with two successive away fixtures to come – against Reading on Tuesday and Bolton Wanderers next Saturday – it will be no easy task to get back on track.
Barnsley (4-1-4-1): Davies; Yiadom, MacDonald, Lindsay, Fryers; Williams; Hammill (Hedges, 76 mins), Potts, Moncur (Gardner, 45 mins), Barnes (Ugbo, 45 mins), Bradshaw.
Leeds United: Wiedwald; Ayling, Jansson, Cooper, Berardi, O’Kane (Shaugnessy, 58 mins), Phillips, Alioski (Grot, 88 mins), Saiz, Hernandez, Ekuban (Roofe, 80 mins).
Bookings: Hammill, Barnes (Barnsley); Ayling, Jansson, Hernandez (Leeds).
Referee: Andy Madley.
Attendance: 16,399 (4,430 Leeds).