Barnsley 0, AFC Wimbledon 0
(SkyBet League One)
(By Keith Lodge)
The most significant aspect of this scrappy defence-dominated draw was that Barnsley did not concede a goal for the third successive match at the start of the new campaign.
That would suggest that they are going to be a very difficult side to beat, and it is a very solid foundation on which to build.
However, here was further proof, following on from the mid-week Carabao Cup defeat at Blackpool, that winning promotion back to the Championship at the first attempt is not going to be as easy as some people were predicting after the impressive victories over Oxford United and Bradford City.
Indeed, the evidence now is that the opening day success over United was as much due to the incompetence of the visitors as the perceived brilliance of the Oakwell team.
At the same time as the Reds were struggling to overcome a well organised and disciplined Wimbledon, Oxford were crashing to a 4-1 thrashing at Portsmouth, and they have also suffered a 2-0 defeat at home to Fleetwood Town, which, for them, means three games played, one goal scored, ten conceded and no points.
Perhaps it is just as well that there has been another reminder that League One is no cake-walk for anybody.
Make no mistake about it, Wimbledon provided a tough test. Unbeaten in the last 10 matches, stretching back into last season, they, too, have now gone three games in the current campaign without conceding a goal.
It should, therefore, have come as no surprise that this Oakwell clash ended in stalemate.
As assistant head coach Andreas Winkler said when he spoke to the press after the match it was not easy to create chances against a team like Wimbledon, who made sure that there was not much space in the final third. He also made the point that the team needed to be more ruthless with the few chances they did create.
However, overall he thought it was a good performance. The team, he said, had ‘a great attitude and energy.’
So, despite disappointment that they were unable to make it three wins in a row, there are positive signs that the Reds have what it takes to be challenging at the top of the table come next May.
The defence looks mean and uncompromising, as evidenced by the clean-sheet hat-trick. Here Ethan Pinnock (pictured) was masterful both in the air and with the ball at his feet, while Dimitri Cavare, although not as much of a threat going forward as in previous games, did a splendid job defensively, especially on one occasion when racing from right to left to snuff out the danger as teammates were caught by a swift Wimbledon counter-attack.
In central midfield Kenny Dougall and Alex Mowatt are working extremely well in tandem, and the former was particularly prominent against The Dons, producing a classy all-round display of covering, tackling and probing passing.
Up front Kieffer Moore and Tom Bradshaw found it difficult against a resilient Wimbledon defence and chances were few and far between. Indeed, the Reds had only one effort – a weak header – on target throughout the match.
Barnsley made a bright and bubbly start, with Mamadou Thiam (twice) and Brad Potts benefiting from some promisingly positive build-up play but not matching it with their finishing, and it was Wimbledon who went closest to an early lead, Tom Soares forcing Adam Davies into a smart save low down as he turned the ball away for a fruitless corner.
A deflection off a defender then almost handed Barnsley a gift opener, but after this flurry of goalmouth activity the game developed into a dour, scrappy affair, and it was not until the stroke of half-time that there was another flash of penalty area excitement when Mowatt rounded off a great solo run by flicking the ball narrowly wide.
The second half opened in similar fashion to the first, with the Reds putting the pressure on the visitors. Potts dragged a shot wide following a Mowatt corner and a minute later the same player volleyed over the bar after a slick move involving Bradshaw, Moore and Thiam, but again it was Wimbledon who hit the target, Davies diving to his right to save from Kwesi Appiah.
Moore then set up Bradshaw, who was foiled by a tremendous last-ditch tackle by Deji Oshilaja and a Liam Lindsay header from another flag-kick looped lazily into the arms of goalkeeper Tom King.
After that it was back to the grit and grind of a game which failed to generate any real excitement and, in the end, a goalless scoreline summed it all up.
It was, however, a day to remember for Barnsley’s new signing, 18-years-old Jordan Williams, who made his debut as a 75th minute substitute for Potts after joining the club from Huddersfield Town for an undisclosed fee last week..
Barnsley (4-4-2): Davies; Cavare, Pinnock, Lindsay, Pinillos; Potts (Williams, 75 mins), Dougall, Mowatt, Thiam (Adeboyejo, 83 mins); Moore, Bradsahw (Moncur, 65 mins).
AFC Wimbledon (4-4-2): King; Watson, Nightingale, Oshilaja, Purrington; Wagstaff (Sibbick, 83 mins), Trotter, Soares, Barcham; Appiah (Pigott, 80 mins), Hanson.
Referee: Martin Coy.