Barnsley 2, Bristol City 2
A stoppage time goal robbed Barnsley of a deserved – and desperately needed – three points at Oakwell.
To make the outcome even more unpalatable, it was scored by a former player for a club managed by a former manager, and it meant that the Reds have now achieved an unwanted club record of 12 successive home league games without tasting success.
In saving a point for Lee Johnson’s play-off chasing Bristol City Josh Brownhill became the third member of the Barnsley team that won the League Cup play-off final two years ago to score vital goals against them in 2018, the others being Conor Hourihane (Aston Villa) and Josh Scowen (QPR).
While the late strike dealt another bitter blow to the Reds’ hopes of avoiding relegation back to League One, there was more than a glimmer of hope in the fact that this display was one of their best of the season.
The teamwork and understanding was so much better; there were far fewer mistakes; the work ethic was outstanding; there was a steely determination to end the winless Oakwell streak, and the attitude was totally positive.
Little wonder, then, that the Oakwell faithful, who had roared their team on to what seemed like a long-awaited triumph. were stunned into silence when Brownhill struck in the 91st minute.
The performance poured scorn on rumours that meetings held by the players were as a result of their unhappiness with head coach Jose Morais.
He had said prior to the game that it was obvious that things had to change but added: “When we have differences and we discuss them it is then that we can make things better.”
On the evidence of this game it would seem that he is doing just that. The over-riding problem, of course, is that he is running out of time.
Morais, however, is convinced that his players are good enough to avoid the looming trapdoor of relegation.
In his post match press conference he said: “I have congratulated the players for their effort and performance. I have the feeling we will get the points we want. I believe in the quality of these players and they are starting to believe that something remarkable will happen.”
As for the game itself he commented: “We were in a good position to win, but football is like this. Sometimes you deserve something else from the game and sometimes you have the opinion that decisions did not go in your favour.”
That latter observation was obviously concerning a fifth minute incident when City captain Bailey Wright was extremely fortunate to escape with a yellow card rather than a red for a last-man challenge on Keiffer Moore, and a penalty claim in the second half which left referee David Webb totally unmoved.
Johnson, whose City side remain seventh in the table, admitted that his team were not at their best, but reflected: “You have to give Barnsley credit. They worked their socks off.”
Barnsley were bright and bubbly from the outset and the marauding Moore looked as though he was going to give them the lead when he out-muscled Bailey to get goal-side of the City skipper, but the latter retaliated with a body-check that sent the striker flying.
With no other defender between the duo and the goalkeeper it looked very much like a sending-off offence but the referee opted for a yellow, much to Moore’s disbelief – a feeling shared by his colleagues, the Oakwell bench and and the home fans.
The only consolation was that the resulting free-kick led to a corner, taken by George Moncur, which, in turn, led to a headed goal from Moore.
The Reds continued to dominate for the next 20 minutes, Lloyd Isgrove heading wide following a Moore-Brad Potts inter-change; another corner causing mayhem in am unusually ruffled City defence; and McBurnie setting up another chance for Moore, whose scuffed shot was comfortably collected by Fielding.
But then came the Bristol backlash. Adam Jackson had to make a brilliant block to deny Brownhill, who looked certain to score after weaving his way into the box, and a minute later the visitors equalised with a magnificent goal from Famara Diedhiou. The French striker fastened on to the ball on the left hand edge of the penalty area, dropped his shoulder to make the space and fired a right-footer of the highest quality into the far top corner of the net.
It took the Reds a few minutes to recover, but they rallied just before the break to go close, a Potts’ chip dropping just wide after a Moore lay-off, and McBurnie’s close range header falling into the welcoming arms of Fielding, with Moore again the provider.
A Moore-Moncur-Potts combination two minutes after half-time almost restored Barnsley’s lead, but Fielding grabbed the ball on the line just when it appeared that Potts had applied the coup de grace.
Moore was in the thick of it again in the 58th minute when he skilfully chested down a long ball from Gary Gardner only for his attempt at goal to be gloved away for a corner by the goalkeeper.
A minute later McBurnie went sprawling in the penalty area but spot-kick appeals fell on deaf ears.
However, with 12 of the 90 minutes remaining the Reds earned their just reward. Substitute Joe Williams found Moore on the left and the former Rotherham striker did well to pick out the in-rushing Potts, who steered the ball past Fielding with the outside of his right boot.
It was obvious from the celebrations that both players and fans were convinced it was a goal which would bury the can’t-win-at-home hoodoo which has haunted the club since the first Saturday in November, but the first minute of stoppage time brought a cruel reminder than no match is over until the final whistle.
Joe Bryan found space down the left and crossed for Brownhill to send a header looping over a flat-footed Adam Davies to leave City fans crowing: “Going down, you’re going down…”
Morais obviously has other ideas. And so do his players, judging by this performance.
While all deserve praise for their efforts the man-of-the-match accolade must surely go to Moore (pictured). He was a revelation. His power and aerial ability made him a tower of strength both in attack and defence and he worked so tirelessly that he had to be hauled off suffering from cramp three minutes from the end, having crowned a top-class display by scoring one goal and providing the vital assist for the second.
Barnsley (4-1-2-3): Davies; Yiadom, Jackson, Lindsay, Fryers; Gardner; Potts, Moncur (Williams, 60 mins); Isgrove (Hammill, 60 mins), Moore (McCarthy (87 mins), McBurnie.
Bristol City (4-4-2): Fielding; Pisano, Wright, Baker, Bryan; Brownhill, Pack (Duric, 75 mins), Smith, Paterson (Kent, 64 mins); Diedhiou, Reid.
Booking: Wright (Bristol City)
Referee: David Webb.