Barnsley 4, Oxford United 0
(By Keith Lodge)
On a day when temperatures across the land continued to rise it was fitting that Barnsley should deliver a red-hot performance at the start of a new campaign, sparking hopes of a realistic bid to bounce back into the Championship at the first attempt.
While it would be foolish to become carried away after just one game – just as it would for Oxford to allow themselves to be filled with doom and gloom – there are a number of good reasons why the Reds, and their loyal fans, can face up to the challenge ahead with considerable optimism.
Collectively, for example, it was evident after only a few minutes that the players have already enthusiastically embraced the pressing, high-tempo style favoured by new head coach Daniel Stendel (pictured), and, as a team, they were far superior to the visitors.
Individually, too, there were particular reasons to feel pleased.
There were the powerfully positive runs of Brad Potts in midfield; Keiffer Moore’s physicality and aerial ability, both in attack and also, when needed – which was rare – in defence; new signing Kenny Dougall, with his air of authoritative assurance in the key anchor role; full-back Dimitri Cavare, showing a willing and poductive desire to attack down the right; and Mamadou Thiam, who was a revelation wide left.
Last season Thiam too often flattered to deceive. Here he stressed that he has the all-round talent to play a big part for the Reds this season. He had the Oxford defence at panic stations with his searing pace and precision crossing – and he topped it all by scoring two cracking first-half goals to put his side well on their way to a very convincing triumph.
However, the home team were caught out by swift counter-attacks on three occasions and if Jon Obika had not been guilty of a hat-trick of missed chances it could have been a far different story.
Overall, though, it was the kind of opening day delight that was the stuff of dreams – and what a debut for Stendel, Dougall and 20-years-old striker Victor Adeboyejo, who netted within seven minutes of making his first senior appearance as substitute.
The Reds started the game brightly and carried on in the same vein, especially in the first half, being quicker to the ball, stronger in the tackle and generally looking much more confident and accomplished than the hard-pressed visitors.
Two early crosses from Thiame gave a foretaste of what was to come, but after Moore, Tom Bradsahw and Potts had all just failed to take advantage it was the winger himself who gave his side the lead in the 21st minute. Cavare surged forward and beat two defenders before passing to Thiam, who controlled the ball, looked up, picked his spot and speared his shot into the bottom corner of the net from 22 yards.
Barely a minute later Obika, who had earlier mis-kicked when finding himself unchallenged on the right hand edge of the penalty area, failed to make the most of a second opportunity when a quick Oxford counter-attack found the Reds outnumbered, the striker this time finding the target, but with a tame effort that was easily saved by Adam Davies.
Thiam showed how it should be done on the half-hour mark with a second goal that was a carbon copy of his first after a driving run from Potts had set up the shooting opportunity.
However, at 2-0 the Reds were far from home and dry. One goal from Oxford could change the whole complexion of the game, and they should have had it 15 minutes after the break when Obika wasted another gilt-edged opportunity, losing his balance with only Davies to beat and thus allowing the home defence to scramble the ball clear.
Barnsley were not as forceful as they had been in the first half, but the fans were up on their feet again in the 72nd minute when Dougall intercepted a poor goal kick from Simon Eastwood and, from just inside his own half, sent the ball curling over the head of the stranded ‘keeper. It looked for all the world as though it was going to be a memorable goal, but Eastwood just managed to scramble back and claw the ball virtually off the line and out for a corner.
Four minutes later, however, the third goal clincher came from Potts, who turned cleverly in the box before sending an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net.
By this time Thiam, having run of out steam, had been replaced by George Moncur, and as the game moved towards its conclusion Cameron McGeehan and Adeboyejo also went on for Alex Mowatt and Moore respectively. It said much for the strength of the Reds’ bench that all three substitutes fitted seamlessly into the team format, with Adeboyejo gleefully making the most of some slipshod Oxford defending to complete the scoring with an 82nd minute tap-in.
Head coach Stendel, who is still polishing up his English, made another substitution when he sent assistant Andreas Winkler to face the press after the game, but he obviously knew enough about the language to respond to a request from the Ponte End to ‘give us a wave’.
If his team continues to come up with performances like this there will, no doubt, be much more waving to be done.
As Winkler reminded everyone, however, this is only a start. And there is a lot of hard work ahead if the Reds are going to be in the promotion reckoning at the end of the campaign. But it has provided a very sound platform on which to build.
Barnsley (4-4-2): Davies; Cavare, Pinnock, Lindsay, Pinillos; Potts, Mowatt (McGeehan, 78 mins), Dougall, Thiam (Moncur, 70 mins); Bradshaw, Moore (Adeboyejo, 82 mins).
Oxford (4-4-2): Eastwood; McMahon, Garbutt, Nelson, Dickie; Brannagan, Carruthers (Smith, 21 mins), Ruffels, Henry (Hall, 63 mins); Obika, Mackie (Whyte, 82 mins).
Referee: Ross Joyce
Attendance: 12,820 (1,279 visitors).