Aston Villa 3, Barnsley 1
Barnsley’s four match unbeaten league run came to a shuddering stop at Villa Park.
Two goals from Villa’s Republic of Ireland international Scott Hogan in the first seven minutes, followed by a third from Reds’ former skipper Conor Hourihane 18 minutes later after a brief response from Dimitri Cavare, virtually put an end to the visitors’ hopes of taking anything from the game.
And all three goals were ‘absolutely scandalous’ on Barnsley’s part.
If you think that is a harsh assessment it does not come from your Barnsley News and Sport observer. It comes from the Oakwell Club’s head coach Paul Heckingbottom (pictured) who pulled no punches in his post-match interview with BBC Radio Sheffield.
Said Heckingbottom: “If you look in the history books you’ll not see many teams 2-0 down after seven minutes at Villa who come back and win. All three goals are absolutely scandalous on our part. If you’re going to do that and miss chances at the other end, you’re not going to win.”
He went on: “We paid Villa too much respect at the start of the game. We were not even on the back foot – we just sort of submitted a little bit and then let them dictate everything.
“Then we get ourselves back in the game and have some nice passages of play, so it’s horrible because we’ve done that before in a game.”
He added: “It’s not a team that I want to be associated with when we do that.”
Some people may, perhaps, read more into that statement than was intended, but in all probability it merely reflected Heckingbottom’s huge frustration that a team who could produce such a praiseworthy performance in holding league leaders Wolves to a draw at Oakwell only a week earlier could so soon lapse into the same old mistakes which have dogged their progress this season.
To be fair to the players it cannot have helped that they were asked, partly as a result of injury and suspension problems, to employ a 5-3-2 system instead of the more familiar 4-1-4-1 or even 4-4-2, and it was noticeable that there was a decided improvement after the break when they belatedly switched to the latter.
Villa made their intentions clear from the start, bombarding the Barnsley defence with a series of crosses and two of them yielded goals in the first seven minutes.
First Ahmed Elmohamady and Robert Snodgrass opened up the Reds with a brisk exchange of passes on the right and Hogan was on the spot to steer the Egypytian’s cross past Adam Davies.
Then there was shoddy defending from a Snodgrass corner and Hogan made it 2-0, this time with a virtually unchallenged header.
To their credit, the Reds responded four minutes later with a powerful header by Dimitri Cavare following a corner of their own, but, having got themselves a foothold in the game they gave away another goal seven minutes after that, good work by Jack Grealish setting up the chance for former Oakwell favourite Hourihane to make it 3-1, and it was game over, even at that very early stage.
Barnsley tried to make a fight of it, but they had left themselves with far too much to do, although Sam Johnstone had to make several good saves, the first of them from Brad Potts in the first half, just after Davies had denied Grealish at the other end.
When the Reds’ switched to a back four for the second half, with Adam Hammill going on for Jason McCarthy, they looked much more assured and compact, and Johnstone was forced into further saves from Kieffer Moore, first from a header and then a shot.
Moore, starting his first game for the Reds after making his debut as substitute the previous week, also blazed over the bar after cleverly beating two defenders.
However, Villa could have increased their advantage, with Hogan being denied a hat-trick by the post and Hourihane screwing his shot wide from 15 yards when he should at least have forced Davies into a save.
Heckingbottom sent on substitutes Mamadou Thiam and debutant Dylan Mottley-Henry for Moore and Potts, thus adding extra attacking options, and Bradshaw and Moncur tested Johnstone again in the latter stages, but it was too little too late. All the damage had been done in the first 20 minutes.
Despite the defeat the Reds retained their 19th position in the table, but they are now a mere two points clear of the relegation places.
Aston Villa: Johnstone; Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton, Bjarnason, Snodgrass, Grealish, Hourihane (Whelan, 86 mins), Adomah (Onomah, 77 mins), Hogan (Davis, 90 mins).
Barnsley (5-3-2): Davies; Cavare, McCarthy (Hammill, 45 mins), Lindsay, Pinnock, Yiadom; Potts (Mottley-Henry, 68 mins), Mallan, Moncur; Moore (Thiam, 73 mins), Bradshaw.
Bookings: Pinnock, Moore (Barnsley).
Referee: Scott Duncan