Barnsley 1, Plymouth Argyle 1
(SkyBet League One)
(By Keith Lodge)
On the morning of this match an acquaintance sought my thoughts about the outcome.
“Plymouth are bottom of the table without a win,” I replied. “So they are dead certs to pick up all three points!”
And we both laughed.
It was, however, not an opinion voiced in entirely jocular fashion. Experience had taught me such a result in these circumstances was often forthcoming.
It did not quite work out that way on this occasion – but it could well have done had not Argyle striker Freddie Ladapo squandered two gilt-edged first-half chances.
It is true that the Reds had chances of their own, if not quite as clear-cut, and failure to make the most of them continues to be a problem. They are not clinical enough near goal.
Mind you, the defence, so strong and solid in the weekend victory away to Fleetwood Town, were woefully negligent at times, with glaring gaps offering tempting hope for the visitors.
Having said all this, for the first 15 minutes or so the Reds were impressive. They produced some slick football; they were eager, lively, and played at a high tempo, and they took the lead after only eight minutes thanks to a gem of a goal from Alex Mowatt (pictured).
Only a couple of minutes had elapsed when a curler from Mamadou Thiam was tipped over the bar by Matt Macey and Thiam tested the ‘keeper again six minutes later, the latter this time diving to his right to turn the ball away for a corner.
It was following the flag-kick that Mowatt found the ball at his feet and he drove it home in spectacular fashion via the underside of the bar from the left-hand edge of the penalty area.
At that stage – and for a further ten minutes – the Reds looked set for a comfortable and convincing victory against a side whose play reflected their bottom-of-the-table placing.
However, it seemed that those same thoughts, albeit sub-consciously, crossed the minds of the players, and they became guilty of extreme complacency, which resulted in the brightness, the busyness and the boldness disappearing from their play. Having reduced the intensity of their work the Reds struggled to revive it and Argyle were quick to take advantage.
A 20-yards volley from Stuart O’Keefe only just cleared the bar and then twice in the space of six minutes a hesitant home defence allowed Ladapo to charge unchallenged into a gaping penalty area hole.
On the first occasion the Reds were indebted to a fine block save by Adam Davies – although the striker should have scored – and on the second Ladapo succeeded in beating the goalkeeper only to see the ball rebound to safety off the post.
The same player had a third opportunity three minutes later when his pace earned him a shooting position but he dragged a weak effort well wide.
Argyle’s pressure, however, paid off five minutes before the break when Ruben Lameiras ran across the edge of the penalty area looking for some space to try a shot at goal and, as defenders continued to stand off, he finally found it – and with it the bottom corner of the net – to make it 1-1.
In mitigation it has to be said that Barnsley had only ten men on the pitch at the time, Brad Potts still waiting on the touchline to replace the injured Daniel Pinillos, and the withdrawal of the full-back meant that Ryan Hedges had to drop back from his attacking position to take over defensive duties on that flank.
After a frustrated Kenny Dougall had been booked for briefly losing his composure in an altercation with Lameiras, Kieffer Moore almost restored Barnsley’s lead with a good effort on the turn that was palmed away for a corner by Macey.
It was anticipated that strong words in the dressing room would result in the Reds starting the second half much as they done the first, but instead it was the visitors who emerged with the vitality and confidence of a team sensing that victory was beckoning.
Barnsley, on the other hand looked puzzled, perplexed and even fearful of seeing at least two points being dropped against a team they should be beating, and Argyle, with the home defence still looking extremely vulnerable, came within a whisker of a second goal when Graham Carey skipped through on the left.
Gradually the Reds began to build up the pressure, but there was never the same conviction about their play as there had been in those early moments. Thiam, who on this occasion reverted to his flattering-to-deceive role, saw a highly optimistic 30-yarder drift harmlessly wide; Mowatt’s left foot produced a much better attempt which was turned away for a corner by Macey; and Moore blazed another left-footer high over the bar with only the goalkeeper to beat.
And so it went on. Thiam, shooting when he would have been better passing, sent a weak effort straight into the arms of Macey, who was then provided with a sterner test of his capabilities by a long-range strike from Moore; Potts headed wide under pressure; and two more shots from Thiam and another from substitute George Moncur were blocked.
It summed up the evening for the Reds in stoppage time when Moncur, rampaging goalwards at a rate of knots, stumbled and fell on the edge of the penalty area.
Maybe we should not be too critical of this Barnsley team, who after all, have still suffered only one league defeat this season. Or maybe the Reds are not quite as good as we thought after their splendid start to the campaign.
We will have a better idea on Saturday when they travel to tackle second in the table Peterborough United, who have already rattled in 28 goals!
Barnsley (4-4-2): Davies; Cavare, Jackson, Pinnock, Pinillos (Potts, 41 mins); Hedges, Mowatt, Dougall, Thiam (Moncur, 85 mins); Adeboyejo (Bahre, 59 mins), Moore.
Plymouth Argyle (4-1-3-2): Macey; Moore, Edwards, Grant, Smith-Brown; Songo’o; Carey, Fox, O’Keefe; Ladapo, Lameiras (Wylde, 85 mins).
Bookings: Pinillos, Dougall, Hedges (Barnsley); Carey, O’Keefe, Smith-Brown (Plymouth).
Referee: Carl Boyeson.