Barnsley 2, Charlton Athletic 1
(SkyBet League One)
(By Keith Lodge)
Barnsley displayed all the essential qualities of promotion hopefuls as they made it nine points out of nine in the space of eight delightful days of festive cheer to leapfrog over top-six rivals Charlton into fourth place in the table.
In the first half they produced probably their best 45 minutes of football this season, and, after a questionable free-kick award had provided their visitors with the opportunity to pull a goal back in the 72nd minute, they had the backbone to resist intense pressure which spilled over into nine and a half minutes of stoppage time.
No-one could have envisaged such a nerve-tingling conclusion to the game after an opening session in which the Reds were complete masters.
It was possession football at its best – patient, probing and productive. With man-of-the-match Mike Bahre superbly linking flowing passing moves; Brad Potts’ turbo-powered runs boring holes in the Charlton defence; and central midfield duo Alex Mowatt and Cameron McGeehan taking it in turns to bolster the attacking options, the Reds were rampant, and two stunning goals were no more than they deserved.
In addition, when Charlton did gain possession, so decisive and quick were the challenges that came charging in from Daniel Stendel’s spirited side that it was not long before they lost it again.
It was thrilling to watch.
And it was all achieved without the services of top scorer Kieffer Moore, still on the sick list, and influential midfielder Kenny Dougall, back on the bench after coming through his first 90-minutes following a lengthy injury absence in the Boxing Day clash with Peterborough United, Mamadou Thiam replacing him in an otherwise unchanged side.
The start was electric. Barely three minutes had gone before the Reds took the lead – and what a goal it was!
Bahre gained possession in midfield, tip-toed his way past two Charlton defenders, and passed to Cauley Woodrow on the right. The latter’s cross into the box found Potts who pounced to bulge the net with a thumping volley.
Ten minutes later a length-of-the-field move brought a second goal that was possibly even better than the admirable first.
Goalkeeper Adam Davies started it off with a throw to Potts wide on the right. The latter made purposeful progress down the touchline before veering inside and spraying a diagonal pass to Thiam on the opposite flank.The Senegalese cut in towards goal and sent an unstoppable right-foot show soaring into the opposite top corner of the net.
And he almost netted with a carbon copy attempt later in the half, the ball this time skimming the bar.
In between McGeehan had tested Jed Steer with another well-struck shot from 20 yards, but it was too central to goal and the Charlton ‘keeper was able to make a save.
As the half-hour mark approached Thiam, commendably working much harder in the team cause than he used to do, threaded a pass through to Mowatt, sprinting in from the left, but the angle was difficult and his shot flew wide of the near post.
The Reds continued to control every aspect of the game and just before half-time an audacious overhead kick from Woodrow was just off target.
It was breathtaking stuff from the home team and Charlton hardly had a look-in, but it was hard to believe that the Reds could maintain such a high standard for another 45 minutes. Nor did they. Yet they had a couple of chances which, had either been taken, it would surely have wrapped up the points.
First of all Bahre was through one-and-one with the goalkeeper, but Steer made a good save, and when the bouncing ball eventually found its way back to Bahre he headed wide.
Then Potts burst clear through the middle only to fire over the bar from the edge of the box as Charlton defenders gave frantic chase.
The turning point came in the 72nd minute when Athletic were awarded a free-kick for a foul by Dimitri Pinillos. It looked an innocuous challenge, but in the eyes of referee Darren Bond it was even worthy of a yellow card, and when substitute Tariq Fosu’s initial attempt rebounded off the defensive wall Ben Reeves lashed home a half-volley.
What a difference that made!
Reinvigorated, Charlton stormed into the attack. No longer were the Reds first to every ball; no longer were they stronger in the tackle; no longer were they pinging the ball around the pitch with poise and purpose.
Now the visitors were dictating the pattern of the game. The ball was played repeatedly long into the danger area and pressure mounted with a succession of corners, all successfully defended by a home team now displaying the measure of steely resilience required in situations such as this.
At one stage everyone, apart from the Charlton goalkeeper, was in or around the Barnsley penalty area.
Such commitment to all-out attack inevitably led to the possibility of a killer goal on the counter from the home team and it looked to be on the cards when substitute Jacob Brown sprinted clear in the 79th minute only to be scythed down from behind by Patrick Bauer.
When the 90 minutes were up there were groans of disbelief when the referee’s assistant signalled seven minutes of stoppage time – and even that lengthy period was extended to nine and a half minutes due to Pinillos having to receive on-the-pitch treatment for an injury resulting from a strong challenge from Chris Solly which earned the Charlton player a second booking and therefore a red card.
Amidst all the mayhem the Reds held out, and they deserve as much credit for that as they do for the way they bossed the game with such energetic and entertaining football earlier on.
Now they face probably their biggest challenge of the holiday period on New Year’s Day when they travel to meet a second-from-top Luton Town side who are also in fine form.
If the Reds can win there as well…..
Barnsley (4-4-1-1): Davies; Cavare, Pinnock, Lindsay, Pinillos; Potts (Dougall, 76 mins), McGeehan, Mowatt, Thiam (Hedges, 86 mins); Bahre (Brown, 68 mins); Woodrow.
Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): Steer; Dijksteel, Bauer, Pearce (Stevenson), Solly; Reeves, Bielik, Pratley (Fosu, 59 mins), Marshall (Hackett-Fairchild, 81 mins); Taylor, Grant.
Bookings: Pinnock, Brown, Pinillos, Mowatt (Barnsley); Bauer, Solly (Charlton).
Sending off: Solly (Charlton).
Referee: Darren Bond.