Barnsley 2, Gillingham 1
(SkyBet League One)
(By Keith Lodge)
Barnsley survived a spirited Gillingham fight-back to continue their unbeaten start to the new campaign.
Apparently coasting to a comfortable victory after totally dominating the first half, the Reds had a warning of what might happen when a moment’s lapse in concentration allowed Gillingham to close the 2-0 gap in the scoreline during four minutes of stoppage time.
A goal then and the second half momentum would undoubtedly be with the visitors. However, the score was ruled out for offside, and the general opinion was, that having had a lucky escape, the Reds would make sure that there was no repeat after the break.
And for a while it looked as though that was going to be the case. Normal service was resumed as George Moncur was a fraction too high with a looping 30-yard free-kick; Kieffer Moore had a toe-poker cleared off the line by Bradley Garston; Moncur was again too high with a left-footer; and Liam Lindsay sent a header wide following a corner.
But then, just after the hour mark, came another defensive lapse – and this time there was no waving flag to to come to the home team’s rescue.
Careless play allowed Tom Eaves to break clear, only for Adam Davies to make an acrobatic save from the striker’s volley. That, however, was only a temporary reprieve, Josh Parker forcing the ball over the line during the scramble that ensued from the resulting corner.
To their credit, the Reds responded with two splendid attempts from Moore, who was inches wide with a header following a corner at the other end, and then saw a fierce angled drive bring a very good save from goalkeeper Tomas Holy.
However, by this time it was obvious that the pendulum was swinging Gillingham’s way. Stung by some ‘choice words’ from manager Steve Lovell at half-time, they had upped their pace while Barnsley had allowed theirs to drop.
For the last half-an-hour the Reds were made to defend – desperately so at times. There were moments of near panic as the Gills surged forward, sensing that, after being totally outplayed, they could snatch a point which had earlier seemed beyond their capabilities.
And they would have done so had they not spurned three chances in the last ten minutes of normal time. First Callum Reilly headed over the bar when he was allowed to meet a left wing cross unchallenged; then Max Ehmer, again unmarked, smashed a shot just wide following a corner; and finally a Parker effort flashed inches wide.
But the Reds held on – just! When the final whistle sounded the relief of the Barnsley players and their nail-biting supporters was palpable.
It had been so different for the first hour of the match, especially in the opening period. Even Lovell described their performance then as ‘brilliant’. The Reds sparkled as they displayed their true promotion potential, and head coach Daniel Stendel said afterwards that he hoped the fans would remember that rather than the ‘difficult’ period in the final half-an-hour.
Barnsley were, as usual, quick out of the blocks, giving the visitors no time to settle into any kind of rhythm, and it seemed that they had decided on a ‘shoot-on-sight policy’. In that first 45 minutes alone they had 14 attempts on goal, five of which were on target, and Gillingham had no answer as Stendel’s men swarmed all over them.
Some of the one-touch build-up play was excellent, as illustrated by the inter-change between Moncur and Mamadou Thiam which set up Moore for the opening goal after only 13 minutes. The big striker raced clear to rifle the ball past Holy at the goalkeeper’s near post from the right-hand edge of the penalty area.
The incessant pressure paid off again in the 34th minute. Dani Pinillos was tripped as he burst into the 18-yard area and Moore duly rattled in the resulting penalty.
Adam Davies in the Barnsley goal was a virtual spectator, Gillingham’s sole response coming when Brandon Hanlan was not that far wide with a good volley in a crowded goalmouth following a free-kick.
Barnsley came close to increasing their lead still further in the 38th minute when a vicious 30-yarder from Pinillos was turned over the bar by Holy, who was thankful that the shot was straight above him, otherwise he would have had no chance of stopping it.
Then, three minutes into first half stoppage time Gillingham surprisingly had the ball in the net, only for the assistant referee to flag for offside when Eaves got the final touch to a cross-cum-shot from Hanlan that looked as if it might have been going in anyway.
The second half was a different story, but there is no doubt that, overall, the Reds fully deserved the three points which lifted them into third place in the table. Undefeated in their six matches they now have 14 points, just two behind pace-setters Peterborough and Portsmouth.
Brad Potts gave a powerhouse performance in central midfield alongside the hard-working Alex Mowatt; Dimitri Cavare on the right and Pinillos and Thiam on the left, were constant sources of danger; and Moore (pictured) was his usual handful, Gillingham finding it difficult to contain his bustling belligerence, and he was a little unfortunate not to notch his second hat-trick of the campaign.
These individual reflections do not mean that other players failed to contribute to the ‘happy hour’ which preceded the Gillingham fight-back. Teamwork was the essence of Barnsley’s play and that is no coincidence. Stendel again named an unchanged side and it is beginning to pay rich dividends as the understanding between the players continues to develop game by game.
There is plenty of room for improvement – the lapses which allowed the visitors back into the game being evidence of that – but the signs are most encouraging.
Barnsley (4-1-4-1): Davies; Cavare, Pinnock, Lindsay, Pinillos; Dougall; Moncur (McGeehan, 73 mins), Potts (Adeboyejo, 62 mins), Mowatt, Thiam (Brown, 81 mins); Moore.
Gillingham (4-4-2): Holy; Fuller, Ehmer, Zakuani (Lacey, 40 mins), Garmston; Hanlan (Wilkinson, 67 mins), Bingham, Reilly, Parker; Eaves, List (Rees, 56 mins).
Booking: Reilly (Gillingham).
Referee: John Busby.
Attendance: 11,434 (259 visitors).