Barnsley 4, Notts County 0
(FA Cup, first round)
(By Keith Lodge)
The style and confidence which appeared to have deserted Barnsley in recent matches came flooding back with a flurry of second half goals against eventually outclassed League Two opposition.
Struggling to link passes together in a frustrating first half – and showing alarming naivety at the back on several occasions – the Reds were transformed on the resumption and two goals in the space of nine minutes effectively ended the obdurate resistance Notts County had shown until that point.
It really is remarkable what a goal – or two – can do to morale.
That four-goal second half blitz was reminiscent of some of the Reds’ performances earlier in the campaign – against better opposition than County – and there is surely no doubt that they are worthy promotion favourites when they produce football of that calibre.
It would be difficult to name a better League One midfield trio than Alex Mowatt, Brad Potts and Cameron McGeehan, and there is possibly the best of an Oakwell quartet – Kenny Dougall – still to return after injury. In Dougall’s absence Mowatt has taken on extra responsibilities and it is a measure of his success in that role that he has recently had more supporters’ man of the match accolades than anyone else..
McGeehan is improving in every game and the powerful surges of Potts, plus his eye for goal, make him a threat to any side.
And now the Reds’ strength in depth up front has been improved with the arrival of Cauley Woodrow to take some of the burden off Kieffer Moore (pictured). The two combined well here and both got their names on the scoresheet.
Although they were caught out once or twice on this occasion the defence still has an impressive goals against record. In the first three matches of the current run of five successive home fixtures, for example, they have not yielded a goal as the Reds have put together a trio of victories – one in the League, another in the Checkatrade Trophy and here in the FA Cup.
On the bench againsr County were such players as Ryan Hedges, George Moncur, Adam Jackson, Mike Bahre, Dani Pinillos and Jacob Brown, who have all featured in the starting eleven this season. It is an impressive line-up.
The signs, therefore, are most encouraging. But, as I pointed out a few weeks ago, consistency is they key. The scintillating 45 minutes the Reds served up in the second half against County has to be reproduced far more often than the labours of the first 45.
That said, Daniel Stendel’s men did have their chances in the opening session – and it was Moore who was guilty of missing most of them.
In the seventh minute he made a clever run to get behind the County defence and fasten on to a delightful chip from Mowatt, but then mis-kicked his volley high and wide.
A weak header into the arms of goalkeeper Ross Fitzsimmons followed; then he was inches away from getting on to the end of a low cross from Potts; and just before the break he was off balance on receiving a lay-back from the admirable Zeki Fryers and skied his shot way over the bar after Mowatt’s defence-splitting pass to the young full-back had paved the way.
Mamadou Thiam brought three saves from Fitzsimmons from rather longer range, but none of the attempts looked likely to beat the goalkeeper, who also foiled Woodrow when the latter broke free on the right.
County thought they had taken the lead after less than two minutes when an inswinging free-kick from Rob Milsom was headed home by Elliott Hewitt, only for the sight of the linesman’s raised flag to stifle the cheers of the 676 visiting supporters.
Otherwise, however, they never threatened Adam Davies, their only other goal attempt following a free-kick when an overhead kick from Jamie Turley went just wide.
The complexion of the game was changed completely a minute after the resumption when Woodrow met a McGeehan cross to net with a rasping volley.
Seven minutes later a move started and finished by Fryers made it 2-0. He made an interception mid-way inside his own half; quick inter-passing, also involving McGeehan and Potts, kept the attack flowing, and when McGeehan played the ball into the box there was Fryers, having made ground down the middle, to beat Fitzsimmons from close range.
After that it was just a matter of how many.
Another slick inter-change of passes, this time between Woodrow and Thiam, ended with the latter’s angled drive being parried by the goalkeeper; Fryers, McGeehan and Mowatt combined to set up Moore, who could not quite add the finishing touch under pressure; and the big striker managed two on target efforts, one of them easy for the ‘keeper to deal with, the other bringing a good save.
Moore then broke down the left and played the ball across the face of goal for the incoming Potts, who fired wide. A minute later there was a carbon copy move, only this time Potts made no mistake.
When Fitzsimmons somehow managed to deflect another effort from Moore on to the bar it seemed as though the team’s top scorer was destined not to add to his tally on this occasion, but nine minutes from the end of normal time he headed home at the far post from a Thiam cross. It was no more than he deserved.
He never shirked his responsibilties. He never hid. He just kept plugging away. And he finally reaped his reward.
Barnsley (4-4-2): Davies; Cavare (Brown, 68 mins), Pinnock, Lindsay, Fryers; Potts, McGeehan, Mowatt (Hedges, 77 mins), Thiam; Moore, Woodrow (Bahre, 68 mins).
Notts County (4-4-2): Fitzsimmons; Milsom, Ward, Brisley, Turley; Alessandra, Hewitt, Evina (Dunn, 82 mins), Thomas (Jones, 72 mins); Dennis (Etete, 72 mins), Boldewun.
Bookings: Lindsay, Hedges (Barnsley); Milsom (Notts County).
Referee: Sebastian Stockbridge.
Arrendance: 5,878 (676 visitors).