Barnsley 1, Burton Albion 2
Was this the night when Barnsley’s hopes of retaining their Championship status went for a Burton?
Judging by their first half performance the answer would be a resounding yes; the result would suggest that it probably was; but the second half fight-back offered a far more hopeful response.
It remains very tight at the foot of the table, with only four points separating the bottom five teams, but defeat by a side who started the night propping up the rest of the table sent alarm bells ringing even more stridently for the Oakwell Club,
And it must have come as a shock to the system for Jose Morais (pictured). The Reds’ new coach had barely taken his seat in the dug-out before his side was a goal down. Welcome to the Championship Jose!
And when the Brewers broke free from their defence in depth resistance in the last minute of first half stoppage time to double their advantage the Portuguese must have begun to wonder if he had made the right career move.
However, Barnsley’s performance after the break gave him more cause for optimism. The Reds were much better. Although to be honest that was not too difficult.
They laid siege to the Albion goal, pulled a goal back and were denied what would have been a deserved equaliser with virtually the last kick of the game by a very close offside decision.
In the end the home team paid the penalty for their apparent lack of desire, belief and application in the opening session, when their opponents were better in all aspects of the game.
The only consolation was that other teams involved in the relegation scrap also had a poor night, Birmingham City crashing 5-0 at Brentford, Hull City going down 3-2 at Middlesbrough and Sunderland, subsequently replacing Burton at the bottom of the table, losing by the only goal away to Bolton Wanderers.
And next game up for the Reds? Away to Birmingham on Saturday!
Burton could not have dreamed of a better start to this significant encounter – and the rest of the half was not bad from their perspective, either.
No Barnsley player had made any meaningful contact with the ball before the visitors took the lead after only 57 seconds. Burton commandeered possession until Jamie Allen struck gold with a shot into the top corner of the net that was a goal from the moment it left his boot.
The Reds were stunned. And they played the rest of the half as though they no longer believed that they could win the game. Burton continued to be more assertive, more aggressive, more forceful, and Barnsley looked uncertain and timid by comparison. It was, to be painfully blunt, relegation form.
There was one solitary moment of hope, just after the half-hour mark, when Oli McBurnie won possession – a rare achievement at that stage – set off on a run and and engineered an opening for Joe Williams, but the latter’s shot from 20 yards failed to find the target.
And then, in the fourth minute of stoppage time, Burton broke away, forced a free-kick just outside the penalty area, and Jacob Davenport picked his spot with perfect precision, leaving goalkeeper Nick Townsend a helpless onlooker for the second time in the game.
It was difficult at that moment to imagine that the Reds would be able to pull back a two-goal deficit to earn one point, let alone pick up the three for which they were so desperate.
But Morais must have found some words to inspire his new charges because the team that came out for the second half was not recognisable from the one which had been so abject in the first.
When he spoke to the media afterwards Morais commented: “It was a very good performance in the second half, and I believe we are in a good position and we will achieve what we want. There are players with quality enough to change the situation we are in.”
But he added: “The less good thing was that we conceded two goals in the first half. We gave space to our opponents and we weren’t effective enough to have control and create chances.”
To give you some idea of the transformation, in the first half the Reds managed one shot off target, in the second they had a total of ten shots, three of which were on target, and they had five corners.
Within five minutes of the restart Adam Hammill had forced Stephen Bywater into his first save of the match and from then on it was increasingly a case of all hands to the pumps for the visitors as the Reds flowed forward with wave after wave of attacks.
Morais’ substitutions made a difference, as did his tactical change 11 minutes into the half when he switched from a 4-4-2 formation to mirror Burton’s 4-1-4-1.
Wilson looked far more at home when he resumed his old anchor role in front of the back four; Mamadou Thiam, who replaced Lloyd Isgrove at half-time, was much more of a threat wide on the right than his predecessor had been; McBurnie adapted well to his new role wide left on the departure of Adam Hammill, whose replacement Brad Potts was an energetic partner for Gary Gardner in central midfield; and Kieffer Moore was a much-needed physical presence up front after going on for Tom Bradshaw for the last 20 minutes.
Bywater had to make another good save from a Gardner free-kick; shots from the same player and Williams were deflected for corners; McBurnie hit the bar with a header and had another effort cleared off the line, and finally, in the 75th minute, came reward when a left-footer from left-back Daniel Pinillos found the back of the net with the aid of a deflection.
The same player almost equalised with another left-foot strike from 22 yards, which this time was fractionally wide, and by this time everybody except home goalkeeper Townsend was in the Burton half of the pitch – most of them in the penalty area!
It was no real surprise, therefore, when the Reds found the net again, thanks to Thiam this time, in the last minute of the five added on at the end, only for the relieved celebrations of both players and supporters to be cut short by the blast of the referee’s whistle indicating an offside decision by his assistant.
It was tough on the home team, but credit must go to Burton. They played exceptionally well for the first 25 minutes; then defended resolutely, and scored two excellent goals.
A relegation fight is a far cry from the successes which have been achieved by Barnsley during the past two years and emphasises the changing times at Oakwell.
It is difficult to believe that less than a year ago the club had the unique privilege of boasting a Barnsley-born owner, a Barnsley born head coach and a Barnsley-born captain.
The ‘One of our Own’ chant recently echoed proudly round the stadium once again in tribute to Patrick Cryne after he lost his brave fight against cancer, but now it is a case of ‘None of our Own’.
It has to be accepted that things will never be quite the same again. And in many ways that is so sad.
However, if those who have taken on the tasks outlined above save the Reds from relegation and lead them on to bigger and better things, then the supporters’ nostalgic feelings for what they had will be happily accompanied by the delight in what they have.
We live in hope…..
Barnsley (4-4-2): Townsend; Yiadom, Mills, Lindsay, Pinillos; Isgrove (Thiam, 45 mins), Gardner, Williams, Hammill (Potts, 56 mins); Bradshaw (Moore, 70 mins), McBurnie.
Burton Albion (4-1-4-1): Bywater; Akins, Naylor, McFadzean, Dyer; Davenport; Samuelsen, Allen (Varney, 87 mins), Akpan, Abarra (Buxton, 83 mins); Boyce (Bent, 69 mins).
Bookings: Williams (Barnsley); Naylor, Akins, Dyer (Buxton).
Referee: Tim Robinson.
Attendance: 11, 774.