Barnsley 3, Manchester City Under 21s 3
(City win 5-3 on penalties)
(By Keith Lodge)
It looked for most of the first half as though Barnsley’s collective experience was going to triumph over the extreme youth of City’s Under 21 team, but in the end it was the clinical finishing of the visitors that earned a place in the last 16 of the competition after a wonderfully entertaining encounter.
The Reds, fielding a strong side, including seven regular first team players, and three more on the bench, should have had the game wrapped up in the opening 45 minutes. They did take the lead through Victor Adeboyejo in the 18th minute but squandered several other chances and in the end they paid the penalty.
An equaliser in the one minute of first half stoppage time was all the encouragement City required and in the second period they produced a master class of quick-fire counter-attacking football.
It took the home team at least 17 attempts – including a failed penalty in the course of normal time – to notch their three goals; the visitors scored theirs from only six. With such contrasting statistics it was always predictable what the outcome of the eventual shoot-out would be.
It was ironic that Barnsley’s first home defeat since March – 18 matches in all competitions – albeit on penalties, and their first in 11 games in a competition which they won at Wembley in 2016, should be master-minded by the man who I believe could have saved them from relegation from the Championship last season if he had been given the opportunity.
Paul Harsley was the Oakwell Club’s Under 23 coach when he was made caretaker of the first team for the home derby with Sheffield Wednesday following Paul Heckingbottom’s move to Leeds United. The Reds drew that game 1-1 and showed a big improvement.
However, it was decided to bring in Portuguese Jose Morais rather than give the job to Harsley, at least until the end of the campaign, and it proved a mistaken appointment.
Harsley consequently moved to the Premier League champions in the summer to take charge of their Under 21s – and he is enjoying considerable success in that role.
Adeboyejo was one of the players he had coached at Oakwell and it was therefore almost inevitable that the striker should be the one to give the Reds the lead after Mamadou Thiam had gone close with a curler; Liam Lindsay had headed over following a corner; and Brad Potts had fired a volley high and wide from a Dani Pinillos cross.
A thrilling run and pin-point cross from Jordan Williams set up the chance and Adeboyejo provided the neat unchallenged finish with the City defence in disarray.
Sandwiched in between there had been a foretaste of things to come when a lightning break by the visitors resulted in Taylor Richards shooting inches wide.
It was the Reds, however, who continued to dominate possession and in the 25th minute they again sliced the City defence wide open, Woodrow being left with a tap-in from Potts’ pass only to discover the linesman’s raised flag ruling out the score for offside.
There was another chance for Woodrow two minutes later. He timed his run well, got goal-side of all the defenders and looked set to increase his side’s lead, but dallied too long on the ball, was caught, robbed, and another chance had gone begging.
So it went on. Potts cleared the bar from eight yards; the same player was wide with a weak header under pressure; Mike Bahre’s disappointing shot was straight at goalkeeper Thomas Scott, who then made a very good save low to his left from Woodrow.
But then, in stoppage time, City launched an incisive counter-attack which brought the equaliser from Rabbi Matondo, who beat Adam Davies after a good solo run.
Fourteen minutes after the break City, growing in confidence, took the lead, Ian Carlo Poveda displaying the finishing flair which the opposition had largely lacked, darting clear of a dithering defence and unleashing an unstoppable left-foot shot low into the bottom corner of the net.
It took Barnsley only a minute to level matters, Williams getting the final touch in a crowded penalty area, and when Lindsay restored the Reds’ lead in the 65th minute with a superb glancing header at the near post from an Alex Mowatt corner on the right it looked as though that had swung the pendulum decisively in favour of Daniel Stendel’s side.
Three minutes later the Reds were awarded a penalty when Woodrow was brought down and the same player picked up the ball to take the spot-kick himself. Had he scored it would surely have sealed the pulsating tie, but Scott flung himself to his right to make a splendid one-handed save.
With 15 minutes to go City’s pace on the break caught the Reds out again and Poveda pounced for his second goal to make it 3-3 with another cool, precise finish.
A minute later Woodrow brought a good save from Scott; at the other end substitute Claudio Gomes was just over with a shot from the edge of the 18-yarder; and Barnsley substitute Alex Mowatt rustled the side netting in stoppage time, just after top scorer Kieffer Moore had been sent on to try to snatch the winner.
And so to penalties.
City took the first and there were good ones in turn by Sandler, Moore, Richards, Mowatt and Matondo. But then Thiam saw his effort, by no means a poor one, well saved by Scott, who brought off a crucial save diving to his right.
Three-two to the visitors. Poveda and Iker Pozo completed a perfect five, while the Reds missed another as City triumphed.
Barnsley (4-4-2): Davies; J Williams, Lindsay, Pinnock, Pinillos; Potts, Bahre (Mowatt, 61 mins), Bird (Moore, 91+1 mins), Thiam; Woodrow (Brown, 82 mins), Adeboyejo.
Manchester City Under 21s (4-3-3): Scott; Frimpong (Dele-Bashiru, 77 mins), Sandler, Garcia (Rosler, 76 mins), Ogbeta; Bernabe (Nmecha), Pozo, Richards; Poveda, Bolton, Matondo.
Bookings: Lindsay, Mowatt (Barnsley).
Referee: Ollie Yates.