Barnsley 2, Bradford City 1
(By Keith Lodge)
Ringing a veritable carillon of changes it was still ding-dong merrily on high for Barnsley at Oakwell.
There was not one player left in the starting line-up from the team which kicked off against Notts County in League One on Saturday, but the Reds still clinched their position at the top of the Northern Group F to win through to the knock-out stage of the competition.
And they did it after falling behind with only eight minutes gone and then having to defend a slender 2-1 lead for the last 13 minutes – plus six minutes stoppage time – following Adam Jackson’s dismissal for a second yellow card.
It was further indication of the strength in depth now possessed by the Oakwell Club and a reminder to all those who are currently regulars in the first team that they need to continue putting in good performances if they are to retain their places, such is the competition.
Credit is also due to Bradford City for their contribution in making this an entertaining game to watch for another small crowd. The visitors went into the encounter knowing that they were already eliminated from the competition following a defeat against Oldham in their opening tie and a penalty shoot-out victory over Everton Under 21s, yet they were very positive in their approach and made the home team fight every inch of the way.
Two goals from George Moncur (pictured) settled the issue in Barnsley’s favour and, judging by his overall performance on this occasion as well as that against Everton Under 21s in the same competition seven days earlier, he is very unlucky not to be starting League One fixtures instead of sitting on the bench.
The same could be said of Mike Bahre, who produced a hard-working and productive display, which again emphasises just how well off the Reds are in the midfield department.
Ryan Hedges, another player on the first team fringe, also showed glimpses of his talent, especially when delivering a glorious reverse pass to set Dani Pinillos free in the build-up to the Reds’ first goal.
Although the defence looked flimsy at times, the two Williams – Jordan at full-back and Ben in the middle of the back four – gave notice of their potential and goalkeeper Jack Walton made several outstanding saves.
The only disappointment was that Victor Adeboyejo and Jacob Brown both struggled to make an impact up front.
Having conceded a corner in the first minute the Reds broke away from that to set up a chance of their own at the other end. Moncur sprinted clear from well inside his own half, accompanied by Jordan Williams on the right, but when the latter was played in by his teammate he skied his shot way over the bar, suggesting that he is much better at preventing goals than scoring them. However, a later effort which had goalkeeper Richard O’Donnell needing to save at the near post, had onlookers thinking that he is not such a poor finisher after all.
Meanwhile, a brisk break by City gave the visitors the lead, David Ball finding both space and time on the right to curl a delicious shot past the groping fingers of Walton and into the far top corner of the net.
Barnsley retaliated with a couple of shots from Moncur, one just wide from inside the box, the other on target but weak and straight at O’Donnell, and Hedges had a header cleared off the line following a corner.
The equaliser came in the 28th minute when Hedges’ pinpoint pass sliced through the City defence to free Pinillos wide left and the full-back’s low cross was steered home by Moncur.
The visitors almost regained the lead when an acrobatic diving save high to his right by Walton denied Jack Payne a goal from a well-taken free-kick and the Barnsley goalkeeper surpassed even the brilliance of that stop shortly after the interval to turn a deflected shot from Payne over the bar when a goal looked certain.
Seconds later the ball was in the back of the Barnsley net – but the Reds were rescued by the raised flag of the linesman on the far side of the pitch.
Then Ben Williams made a thrillingly positive run from a defensive situation to the edge of the opposition penalty area before being brought down, but Mahre’s resulting free-kick was blocked.
However, the Reds took the lead in the 64th minute following a flowing move down the left involving Pinillos and Hedges which resulted in the latter teeing up Moncur, who drilled the ball into the far bottom corner.
Moncur was just off target with a hat-trick attempt before the Reds had a trio of let-offs when Nathanial Knight-Percival headed wide from six yards following a corner; they were mightily relieved when a Payne free-kick thumped against the crosssbar and rebounded to safety; and Walton had to race out to make a crucial save at the feet of Ball.
City were clearly threatening an equaliser and when Barnsley’s acting captain Jackson was sent off for a second bookable offence in the 77th minute the Reds’ ten men were subjected to relentless pressure for the remaining time and it is to their credit that they survived.
The match also saw first team debut appearances for 20-years-old Will Smith and Jordan Helliwell, who is still only 16, as second half substitutes.
Barnsley (4-4-2): Walton; J Williams, Jackson, B Williams, Pinillos; Moncur (Smith, 79 mins), Bahre, Bird, Hedges; Brown (Isgrove, 73 mins), Adeboyejo (Helliwell, 87 mins).
Bradford City (4-4-1-1): O’Donnell; Devine, O’Connor, Knight-Percival, Chicksen); Ball, Wright, J O’Brien (L O’Brien (45 mins), Seedorf (Wood (55 mins); Payne; Brunker (Miller, 77 mins).
Sending Off: Jackson (Barnsley).
Bookings: Adenoyejo (Barnsley); Brunker, Knight-Percival. Chicksen L O’Brien (Bradford City).
Referee: Carl Boyeson.