Barnsley 1, Norwich City 1
The wait goes on. It is now 10 successive home matches without a win for the Reds. Another failure to pick up three points against Millwall on Saturday and it will create an unwanted club record.
They have, in fact, won only two of their last 21 fixtures – away to relegation rivals Sunderland and Birmingham City – and those damning statistics suggest that the current Barnsley squad is not good enough to survive in the Championship.
However, the point they earned against Norwich was sufficient to take them a further point away from the relegation places – the gap is now three points – and there were signs of improvement in the Reds’ overall play.
The players showed endeavour, commitment, and belief in an attack-minded 4-1-2-3 formation, and for 25 minutes it looked as though an excellent goal by Oli McBurnie was going to bring an end to the Oakwell victory famine.
Head coach Jose Morais obviously thinks the Reds are quite capable of avoiding the drop. He was in bullish mood after the game and there was nothing but positivity in his reaction to the performance.
“I saw some very good things tonight and I was proud of the team”, he said. “I saw a real improvement in intensity and quality. I believe there has been progression and we are getting better with time.”
He added that the only thing he was not happy about was the fact that they had not picked up all three points, and there has to be disappointment at the Reds inability to gain the maximum reward for all their hard work, especially as they had two clear-cut chances to at least double their advantage shortly after the break.
McBurnie (pictured) has now netted six times in eight appearances since his loan signing from Swansea at the end of January – a run which has earned him his first call-up for the Scottish national team – and he clearly needs better support in that vital goalscoring department.
Morais again rang the changes, Zeki Fryers and Andy Yiadom returning in the full-back roles; Davies back in favour in goal following Nick Townsend’s fall from grace in the 3-1 defeat at Middlesbrough; Brad Potts resuming in midfield after injury, and Mamadou Thiam preferred to Lloyd Isgrove wide on the right.
From the outset the Reds were at the Canaries’ throats, closing down quickly and aggressively, attacking at every opportunity, working hard on and off the ball, and producing glimpses of excitingly fluent football.
The best move came when a sharp inter-change of passes between Joe Williams and McBurnie teed up Potts for a shot which was well struck on the volley but, unfortunately for the Reds, not on target.
It was Williams, impressing – particularly before half-time – in a more attacking midfield role than the one in which he has been more often employed, who was the first to test Angus Gunn in the 35th minute, his shot being saved low down by the City goalkeeper.
A minute later Kieffer Moore also found the target with a header, but Gunn dealt with that effort far more comfortably.
But then, up popped McBurnie on the stroke of half-time to apply a slick near post finish to a Yiadom cross to give his side a deserved lead. Many in the crowd were not initially convinced that the ball had crossed the line, but McBurnie had no such doubts. He continued his run immediately after making contact and was celebrating by the corner flag even before referee Stephen Martin had signalled the goal.
That long-awaited home success should have been assured in a two-minute spell shortly after the interval.
First Moore, holding up the ball well, as he did throughout, opted on this occasion to move in on goal, shrugged off a couple of defenders and forced Gunn into a save with his legs. Williams homed in on the rebound, but the goalkeeper recovered well to produce a second save.
Then Thiam blazed wide of the far post when in the clear on the right hand side of the penalty area. He should at least have brought Gunn into action again.
After that Norwich gradually began to gain greater control, but Potts broke clear in the 65th minute, only to blaze his shot over the bar with when there were possibly better options either side of him.
There was an ominous sign of what was to come when a bullet of a shot from Josh Murphy whizzed inches wide of the far post and shortly afterwards the same player stunned the home crowd with a 70th minute equaliser.
James Husband scampered down the left, set Murphy free and the latter beat Davies at his near post.
In the closing stages, which included six minutes of stoppage time – due mainly to an injury to Alexander Tettey, who had to be stretchered off – both teams had chances to win the game.
Moore looked set to score when fed by substitute Isgrove but was foiled by a terrific last-ditch tackle by Grant Hanly, and another substitute, Steve Mallan, was inches wide with a volley.
The best opportunity fell to City’s Murphy. Having scored one he seemed certain to make it two but cleared the bar by some distance from only eight yards out.
Had it gone in it would have been extremely tough on the Reds, who, despite failing to treat their fans to a rare home victory, deserved to take something from a game in which they had shown the kind of fighting spirit necessary to win the bigger battle against the threat of relegation.
Barnsley (4-1-2-3): Davies; Yiadom, Jackson, Lindsay, Fryers; Gardner; Williams (Mallan, 85 mins), Potts; Thiam (Isgrove, 61 mins), Moore, McBurnie.
Norwich City (3-4-1-2): Gunn; Hanley Zimmerman (Hernandez, 56 mins), Klose; Pinto, Tettey (Hoolahan, 81 mins), Vrancic, Husband; Maddison; Murphy, Watkins (Srbeny, 90+2 mins).
Bookings: Lindsay, Gardner (Barnsley); Vrancic (Norwich).
Referee: Stephen Martin.