Barnsley 1, Portsmouth 1
(SkyBet League One)
Before this game against top-of-the-table Portsmouth Barnsley might well have settled for a point. After it, they must have been disappointed that they had not taken three.
Without doubt, they were the better side in the first half and, with more clinical finishing, could have had the game safely in the bag before the break.
Then, after a more evenly-contested second half, a disappointing Kieffer Moore had another clear chance to snatch victory in the last minute but failed to hit the target.
Portsmouth’s results, at least until a 2-1 defeat at Charlton in mid-week, had suggested that they were a cut above the rest of the teams in League One, but there was certainly nothing exceptional about their performance on this occasion, and it was quite clear that they were more than satisfied to escape with a draw.
It was enough for them to retain a four-point lead at the summit, but an improving Luton and a games-in-hand Sunderland are breathing down their necks, while Doncaster Rovers are continuing to shoot up the table with some exhilarating performances and have now nudged Barnsley out of the play-off places.
Despite having recorded their best 20-match start since the last century – 1999 to be precise – the Reds have have now failed to win in four successive league games.
So what has brought about this lapse? And is it just a blip or something more significant?
Part of the problem could be the fact that head coach Daniel Stendel, despite some outstanding performances earlier in the campaign, still appears to be unsure about his best starting eleven, and the consequent chopping and changing from match to match is affecting the standard of teamwork, understanding and consistency which are such important features of any successful side.
There were four more changes here from the team which suffered a 1-0 defeat at Wycombe, with Dimitri Cavare, Adam Jackson, Brad Potts and Dani Pinillos returning to favour.
Jackson did well in partnership with Ethan Pinnock in the centre of defence and Pinillos was steady enough at left-back, but Potts is still not reproducing the influential form he showed in the first two and a half months of the season and Cavare was replaced by Jacob Brown at half-time.
There is also the stating-the-obvious scenario thrown up by the failure of the team to make the most of chances that are being created.
The latter was, perhaps, the main reason for the Reds’ failure to return to winning ways on this occasion.
In the first half alone they could have had three or four goals as they took the initiative in a high tempo clash played out in freezing rain.
The first opportunity came when Moore headed a long ball from goalkeeper Adam Davies on to Cauley Woodrow, whose right-footer was parried by Craig McGillivray but only as far as Potts, whose volley soared over the bar.
McGillivray then turned a first-time effort from Woodrow over the bar after Moore had played the ball in from the right; George Moncur tested the ‘keeper again following a short corner, his shot being turned round the post for another flag-kick; McGillivray tipped a long-range effort from Cameron McGeehan over the bar for the Reds’ fifth corner and Moore screwed another attempt wide.
That might sound as though McGillivray was much more responsible for the home team’s blank scoresheet at the break than any deficiencies with the Reds’ finishing prowess, but the truth of the matter is that the shots were fired directly at him and the saves were therefore of the routine kind which any self-respecting goalkeeper would make without difficulty.
Although Rowan Curtis had a shot blocked at the other end, and Oliver Hawkins and Jamal Lowe managed attempts which were well wide, it was very much against the run of play when Portsmouth snatched the lead two minutes before the break – and that was down to a mistake by a Barnsley player who has been his side’s best on so many occasions.
Alex Mowatt’s attempted clearance fell at the feet of unmarked Pompey skipper Gareth Evans about 20 yards out and he steered the ball unerringly into the bottom corner of the net.
Thus encouraged, the visitors looked more composed and assured in a much more closely-contested second period, but just after the hour mark Potts, after skimming the bar with an effort of his own, then set up the opportunity for Woodrow to slide in and net the equaliser with his seventh goal in 11 appearances.
Pompey, however, continued to look dangerous on the break and they came close to restoring their advantage when Hawkins broke clear only to be foiled by a splendid save from Davies in a dicey one-on-one situation.
Then, in the 90th minute, substitute Lloyd Isgrove set up Moore for a deserved winner only for the striker’s shot on the turn to fly frustratingly wide.
Four minutes stoppage time failed to bring a further opportunity for the Reds to score the winner they deserved.
Barnsley (4-4-2): Davies; Cavare (Brown, 45 mins), Jackson, Pinnock, Pinillos; Potts (Thiam, 80 mins), McGeehan, Mowatt, Moncur (Isgrove, 63 mins); Moore, Woodrow.
Portsmouth: McGillivray; Thompson, Whatmough, Clarke, Brown, Naylor, Thompson, Lowe, Evans, Curtis (Walkes, 75 mins), Hawkins.
Bookings:McGeehan, Woodrow (Barnsley); Brown, Naylor, Curtis (Portsmouth).
Referee: Jonathan Moss.