Barnsley 1, Reading 1
Ethan Pinnock could hardly have chosen a better time to score his first goal for Barnsley.
The Reds were trailing 1-0 when the fourth official held up the board indicating five minutes of added on time. Seconds later the big defender rose majestically to head home the equaliser.
The home fans could scarcely believe it. But when it eventually sank in that the ball had actually ended up in the back of the net they chanted joyously ‘We’ve scored a goal; we’ve scored a goal.”
Their elation was justified when one considers it was the first home goal they had seen at Oakwell in five matches!
Indeed, the Reds have failed to score in six of the 10 encounters which make up their current run without a win, and had it not been for Pinnock’s intervention they would, ironically, have avoided slipping into the relegation zone purely because of a better goal difference.
As it is they are now only three points better off than bottom of the table Birmingham City, with the Blues, Sunderland and Bolton all picking up wins to gain ground on the Oakwell team.
Barnsley did not play badly. They deserved at least a point. They showed passion, commitment and energy. They closed down, they fought for every ball. There were no signs of the lack of confidence which might have been expected after such a barren spell.
But they did not tick all the boxes – as head coach Paul Heckingbottom hinted in his post-match press conference.
“What’s been evident for the last 18 months is a big deficiency in our squad.” he said. “Between the boxes its fine, with lots of good stuff. But there’s a big deficiency at the minute to attack the ball in the box. In the end we pushed big Ethan up and luckily it worked for us.”
The 24-year-old game-saver is typical of so many Oakwell signings, young players plucked from the comparative obscurity of the lower leagues – in his case non-league football with Forest Green Rovers – because they have been identified as having the potential and desire to be successful at a higher level.
And Pinnock (pictured) is already beginning to make his mark, having waited patiently in the wings following his summer signing until injuries to Angus MacDonald and Adam Jackson afforded him the opportunity of gate-crashing the first team in central defence.
And he has rewarded those who always had faith in him with two successive man of the match performances – not to mention a goal that could ultimately prove invaluable as the fight to avoid relegation reaches a climax in the New Year.
Such a policy, of course, carries the danger of young players still on a learning curve making costly mistakes that are inevitable in their situation, and what the Reds need most of all in the January transfer window is to bring in at least a couple of players with Championship experience to act as mentors on the pitch.
Another with the ability to score goals would go down a treat as well!
Tom Bradshaw has carried that burden largely on his own this season and he is to be commended for his tireless running and unselfish foraging, but to make the best use of his attributes he badly needs someone to feed off, a player with the physical strength to hold the ball up and lay it off for him.
On this occasion the Reds reverted to 4-4-2, with Mamadou Thiam partnering Bradshaw up front, but that pairing still lacked the raw aggression and physicality so often required to overcome the well organised defences of Championship teams.
Otherwise there was much to commend in Barnsley’s performance.
It was Reading, having beaten the Reds 3-0 at Elm Park in a re-arranged fixture last month, who threatened first with adventuring full-back Phil Gunter forcing a save from Adam Davies at the foot of the post, but then came a period when the home team produced some promising moves which, sadly, yielded nothing.
They threatened on the break, but Gary Gardner’s cross looped disappointingly over the bar; Thiam raced clear but failed in his bid to take the ball round goalkeeper Vito Mannone; Harvey Barnes headed wide from a clipped Joe Williams’ cross; Bradshaw set up a shooting chance for Thiam, but the latter’s attempt went weakly wide.
Then, just after the half-hour mark, came the best move of the match. Adam Hammill went through his step-over routine on the right before sending Andy Yiadom scurrying down the touchline with a wonderfully weighted pass; the full-back slid the ball neatly to Thiam – but his shot fizzed into the side netting.
And so it went on. A typically tempting cross from Hammill found Bradshaw, but, under pressure, he headed wide.
Reading offered little in response until the last ten minutes of the half, when Davies was called upon to make two comfortable saves from Garath McCleary.
Another shot from Gunter was straight at Davies immediately after the resumption before the Reds finally managed an effort on target, Thiam’s drive bringing a good save from Mannone, who then had to deal with a couple of crosses from Harvey Barnes, one above his head, the other down at his feet, to relieve mounting pressure.
The Reading goalkeeper also did well to punch away a Bradshaw strike and at this stage a rare Barnsley goal seemed very much on the cards.
However, it was Reading who struck very much against the run of play. A quick counter attack saw Tyler Blackett cross from the left for Yann Kermorgant to head home his first goal of the season.
It came like a bolt from the blue and had the effect of silencing the home fans, who now feared the worst.
To their credit the players did not give up the fight. A triple substitution, which saw Jason McCarthy Lloyd Isgrove and Ike Ugbo replace Yiadom, Barnes and Thiam, breathed new life into the team.
Zeki Fryers had a powerful left-footer finger-tipped over the bar and Bradshaw could not quite leap high enough to direct a Fryers’ flag-kick goalwards.
Then, when all seemed lost, Pinnock was given leave to add his physical presence to the attack and it paid off handsomely in the first minute of added on time when he leaped head and shoulders above everyone else to power home a header from Isgrove’s cross.
Barnsley might even have gone on to win it when a header from Ugbo was cleared off the line with Mannone beaten.
The Reds now face a crunch match with relegation-threatened rivals Sunderland – whom they beat 3-0 at Oakwell way back in August – at the Stadium of Light on New Year’s Day.
What a welcome start to 2018 that would be if they could not only score but pick up three priceless points as well!
Barnsley (4-4-2): Davies; Fryers, Lindsay, Pinnock, Yiadom (McCarthy, 68 mins); Hammill, Williams, Gardner, Barnes (Isgrove, 68 mins); Bradshaw, Thiam (Ugbo, 68 mins).
Reading: Mannone; Gunter, Van Den Berg (Evans, 60 mins), McShane, Moore, Swift (Aluko, 58 mins), McCleary (Bodvarsson, 80 mins), Edwards, Barrow, Kermogant, Blackett.
Booking: Aluko (Reading).
Referee: Simon Hooper.
Attendance: 11,945 (424 away).