Peterborough United 0, Barnsley 4
(SkyBet League One)
Barnsley had questions to answer after the lacklustre performance against bottom team Plymouth Argyle in mid-week.
On that occasion, after an opening 20 minutes in which the Reds took the lead and looked set for a big win, alarming gaps began to appear in the defence; the midfield lost its momentum; and there was a lack of sharpness up front when chances were presented.
For the first time since his arrival at Oakwell in the summer the head coach Daniel Stendel was critical of his team’s attitude, citing complacency as the reason for the below-par display. The fans, too, were disappointed and somewhat disillusioned. Was this a one-off, they wondered, or were their heroes not as good as they thought they were?
The answer came loud and clear at the Abax Stadium on Saturday. Against a free-scorinig second-from-top Peterborough side the Reds posted a clear warning that they are very much in contention for an automatic promotion place.
They were lethal in attack, purposeful and powerful in midfield and relentlessly resolute in defence – and that includes goalkeeper Adam Davies, who, although he was so well protected by those in front of him that he had a minimum of shots to deal with, played a vital role by saving a penalty which would have given Peterborough an early lead.
The win took the Reds into fourth place in the table – and they have a game in hand over all their rivals. The statistics stack up to confirm their promotion potential. Only Peterborough and leaders Portsmouth have scored more goals and the Oakwell team have the best defensive record and the best goal difference in League One.
At times, regular watchers will also contend that they have also been playing the best football.
Stendel made five changes from the team that started against Plymouth. Brad Potts returned after injury; Mike Bahre and George Moncur were drafted into midfield; Liam Lindsay was back in central defence after controversially losing his place to Adam Jackson, and they all played their part.
But it was the fifth change which had the most striking effect. Because of an injury to Dani Pinillos, Ben Williams (pictured) was drafted into the side at left-back and he had an exceptional League debut, completely justifying the faith Stendel showed in him. The 19-year-old oozed confidence from the first whistle and, as well as performing his defensive duties admirably, he was a constant threat as an attacking force.
The Reds gave notice of their intentions as early as the fourth minute when Potts and Dimitri Cavare combined down the right to set up Moncur, whose well struck shot brought a good save from Aaron Chapman, and shortly afterwards it was inter-play between Bahre and Williams which resulted in a corner on the left following which the latter sent a shot just wide.
But then, against the run of play, came the Peterborough penalty in the 13th minute. Cavare was judged by referee Darren Drysdale to have fouled Joe Ward and former Barnsley loanee Ivan Toney stepped up to take the spot-kick. Davies, however, guessed right, flinging himself to his left to make an excellent save.
A minute later it was 1-0 to the Reds and, ironically, it was a player who had been on loan to the home team, who scored the goal. Posh failed to clear their lines and when the ball fell to Moncur he stabbed it home from close range.
Kieffer Moore twice went close to doubling that advantage before hobbling off injured. First he was narrowly wide with a curler and then brought a top-class save from Chapman, who somehow managed to claw away a powerful shot which was heading for the top corner.
After the half-hour mark Peterborough had their best spell of the game, and the Reds were rescued by the all-action Bahre, who headed away a goalbound effort from Matt Godden.
However, in the first minute of first half stoppage time Williams won a free-kick 25 yards out. Moncur played it short to Potts and he whacked it into the top corner.
The high tempo continued after the break and Lindsay had to make a desperate but superbly-timed last-ditch tackle to foil Godden.
A Peterborough goal then would have put an entirely different complexion on the game, but just before the hour mark the Reds ended any lingering doubts about the outcome – and Williams was again involved. He won the ball on the left and set Moncur free to provide the eventual lay-off for Potts to net low in the bottom corner.
To their credit Peterborough continued to make a fight of it. Davies had to be alert to clutch an O’Hara header and Alex Mowatt headed off the line from the ever-dangerous Godden.
It was Barnsley, however, who had the last word in stoppage time. Williams this time linked up with Moncur to spark off a move which ended with substitute Jacob Brown neatly rounding a defender before beating Chapman with a hard, low shot which gave the goalkeeper no chance.
It was the Reds’ second 4-0 away victory of a campaign which has all the signs of being a memorable one.
Peterborough United: Chapman; Naismith, Bennett, Tafazolli, Daniel (Lyon, 54 mins), Maddison (Reed, 65 mins); Walker (Godden, 27 mins), Woodyard, O’Hara, Ward, Tovey.
Barnsley: Davies; Cavare, Pinnock, Lindsay, Williams, Mowatt, Dougall, Potts (Hedges, 78 mins), Bahre (Thiam, 89 mins), Moncur, Moore (Brown, 36 mins).
Bookings: Bennett, Reed, Tovey (Peterborough); Cavare, Lindsay (Barnsley)
Referee: Darren Drysdale.
Attendance: 7,683 (1,583 Reds).