Barnsley 3, Luton Town 2
(SkyBet League One)
(By Keith Lodge)
This was a victory which emphasised the fact that Barnsley now have a squad – as opposed to a team – capable of making an immediate return to the Championship.
Three regular first team players were unavailable – goalkeeper Adam Davies and midfielder Kenny Dougal were on international duty and striker Kieffer More was injured – but such is the quality in depth nurtured by head coach Daniel Stendel the trio were hardly missed.
In came Jack Walton, Cameron McGeehan and Jacob Brown, and all three did well, particularly McGeehan. In addition, left-back Williams was making only his second league appearance. Yet it still seemed as though this was an eleven who had been playing together all season.
For Williams it was an afternoon in which he was brought back down to earth after his excellent debut in the stunning 4-0 triumph at Peterborough a week earlier. He struggled to cope at times and gave away the penalty in first half stoppage time which provided the visitors with a foothold in the game. But such a chastening experience is not necessarily a bad thing for a teenager if he learns from it – which I am sure he will.
Otherwise there was much to admire in this Barnsley performance. At times they served up some quite delightful football, backed up by an intensity, aggression and pace with which Luton found it difficult to cope, especially in the first half.
The Hatters, however, deserve credit for the way they fought to stay in the game after conceding twice in the first 26 minutes, and they played their part in helping to make this a very entertaining encounter in front of the Sky television cameras, their second goal four minutes from the end of normal time ensuring that the result was still in doubt right up to the final whistle.
George Moncur and Brad Potts were outstanding in Barnsley’s marauding midfield, but McGeehan and Mowatt were not far behind in terms of merit, and this does seem to be an area in which the Reds are particularly well equipped.
The home team marked the early noon kick-off with an early goal, Potts powering his way forward in typical fashion before finding the corner of the net with a smart finish after only five minutes.
For the next 15 minutes the Reds were in full control, with Moncur particularly prominent wide on the left, and he and Dimitri Cavare both tested James Shea in the Luton goal.
Gradually, however, Luton recovered their composure and began to look more like a sixth-placed team which had won three and drawn two of their previous five fixtures. The Barnsley defence was carved open three times and three times they were rescued by offside decisions, the last of which denied the visitors an equaliser.
Walton failed to hold on to a low long-range shot from Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu and James Collins joyfully pounced to net from the rebound only for his celebrations to be curtailed by the upraised flag of the assistant referee on the far side.
But then, in the 26th minute came a goal that had teamwork written all over it. The move flowed flawlessly from Williams in defence, on to Moncur, who sped clear down the left before cutting inside and crossing low for McGeehan to score with a very cool, very precise placement low into the corner of the net beyond the despairing dive of Shea.
Luton reacted with an even more positive, attacking approach which, while putting pressure on the Barnsley defence, left themselves open to swift counter-attacks from the free-scoring Reds and it developed into an enthralling contest as to which of the two teams was going to notch the next all-important goal.
And it was Luton who won that battle. Shortly after seeing a Jorge Grant free-kick graze the post they made it 2-1 courtesy of a penalty resulting from the inexperience of Williams, who launched himself into a tackle on Harry Cornick that he had little chance of winning. Collins lashed the inevitable spot-kick straight down the middle to give the Hatters a big boost with virtually the last kick of the first half.
After the break the visitors adopted a more attacking 4-1-2-3 formation in a bold bid to wrest the initiative from the Reds, but the home defence held firm and it was Barnsley who went closest to adding to their tally, McGeehan just missing the target with a well-struck left-footer and then heading against the bar. Potts also had a shot saved following a corner.
Luton, however, were always a threat, and it came as a relief 11 minutes from time when substitute Mamadou Thiam (pictured) restored his side’s two-goal advantage with a gem of a goal, his shot from the left-hand edge of the penalty area starting off just outside the far post but then curling gloriously into the top corner of the net.
The Frenchman’s inability to hold down a regular first team place is due to the fact that all too often he flatters to deceive, but this was the kind of magic moment that he is fully capable of conjuring up – and it looked like clinching all three points.
Luton, though, had other ideas. They stubbornly redoubled their efforts and they were rewarded four minutes from the end of normal time in rather fortuitous circumstances. A cross from substitute Kazenga Lua-Lua flew over the head of Walton, struck the angle of bar and post and rebounded to the lurking Collins who snapped up his, and his side’s, second goal of the game.
Cue hectic finale, which extended into a further five minutes of stoppage time, but the Reds made sure that they played it out without further alarm to secure the victory which took them, albeit temporarily, into the second of the automatic promotion places.
With Peterborough winning 2-0 at Scunthorpe in the later kick-offs it meant that the Reds slipped back to third spot, two points behind them and five points behind leaders Portsmouth, who also won, but the Oakwell team has a game in hand over both those rivals.
Barnsley (4-4-1-1): Walton; Cavare, Pinnock, Lindsay, Williams (Pinillos, 73 mins); Potts, McGeehan, Mowatt, Moncur (Hedges, 83 mins); Bahre (Thiam, 68 mins); Brown.
Luton Town (4-1-3-2): Shea; Stacey, Pearson, Bradley, Potts; Rea; Impanzu, Grant (McCormack, 58 mins), Justin; Cornick (Lua-Lua, 72 mins), Collins.
Bookings: Brown (Barnsley); McCormack, Lua, Lua (Luton).
Referee: Ross Joyce.
Attendance: 12,688 (809 Luton).