Barnsley 2, Rochdale 1
(SkyBet league One)
(By Keith Lodge)
If any team is to be successful over a period of time there are occasions when it is necessary to dig deep into reserves of energy, determination and fighting spirit in order to achieve victory.
This was one such occasion for Barnsley against a team who were fired up from the start and never allowed the Reds to settle into any kind of rhythm.
Rochdale manager Keith Hill – who once occupied that same hot-seat role at Oakwell – described the game as ‘a fight; a boxing match’ and said he was pleased by the way his players had taken ‘one of the best teams in the League’ all the way.
Barnsley stood up to the test well, matching the visitors blow for blow, and in the end they emerged as deserving, but mightily relieved, points winners.
They rolled up their sleeves even further after falling behind to a sucker punch shortly after half-time, and, with most of their rivals occupied in the FA Cup, goals from the developing strike-force partnership of Kieffer Moore and Cauley Woodrow lifted them into third place in the table, only two points adrift of the automatic promotion places.
It is true to say that there have been only a few occasions when it has been necessary to question the graft of Daniel Stendel’s side, but there remains a lack of craft to complement it.
There is pace in the side; there is power, too, but, as against Rochdale, insufficient perception to make the most of promising build-up play. All too often wrong decisions are made when it comes to producing goalscoring opportunities. Oh, for the vision of a Conor Hourihane in such situations!
Nevertheless, this was a significant victory. Stendel admitted that his side had been well below their best, and it was by no means a ‘beautiful game’, but the Reds had the character to grind out another three precious points against worthy opponents who belied their lowly position in the table.
There was a frenetic opening to the game, with Rochdale setting the tone. They ran, they chased, they tackled, and it was soon apparent that the Reds were in for a tough afternoon. It may have resulted in a scrappy 45 minutes, with goalscoring opportunities at a premium, but, as the Reds rose to the challenge with similar energy and desire, it was a toe-to-toe scrap to be applauded.
Moore had two early chances, getting a foot to a low Cameron McGeehan cross but diverting the ball into the arms of goalkeeper Josh Lillis and then blazing wide from 16 yards, and Rochdale responded with a Stephen Dooley effort which was deflected for a corner and a Rory Holden free-kick which went straight to Adam Davies.
Rochdale continued to threaten only from corners and free-kicks, while the Reds were repeatedly let-down by their failure to find the quality that was required with the all-important final pass or shot, and there were few other noteworthy incidents before the break.
Stendel decided to make a tactical change for the second half, sending on Kenny Dougall in place of Mamadou Thiam and switching to a 4-3-3 formation, with Dougall lining up alongside Cameron McGeehan and Alex Mowatt in midfield, and Jacob Brown, Woodrow and Moore providing the three-pronged attack.
And four minutes after the restart there was a goal. The only problem was that it was in the Barnsley net. A lack of concentration, possibly resulting from the changes, saw the Reds sleep-walking into a one-goal deficit as Rochdale top scorer Ian Henderson nipped in behind the defence to fasten on to a quickly-taken free-kick and slot the ball past the helpless Davies.
It acted as a wake-up call to the home team, who countered immediately, Moore heading over from two yards from a Brown corner and then doing much better to net the equaliser just five minutes after the visitors had gone in front.
Ben Williams, who had an excellent game at left-back, won the ball in midfield, ran on in determined fashion before managing to slip the ball to Moore who steered the ball low into the opposite corner of the net with his weaker left foot for his 16th goal of the campaign in all competitions.
Rochdale might then have been expected to shut up shop completely to try to hold on to the one point, but, although the Reds had more of the possession, the visitors looked just as determined to snatch the winner, and Davies had to make a fine near-post save to keep out another shot from Henderson.
The decisive moment came in the 75th minute, when Brown did brilliantly on the right before crossing low into the box and Woodrow, in typical fashion, was the johnny-on-the-spot to lash the ball home from close range.
It was his eighth goal of the season, which means that he and strike partner Moore now have 24 goals between them – a highly promising statistic.
Both were substituted in the closing stages,, Woodrow by Adeboyejo and Moore by new signing Jordan Green, who instantly made a good impression in the eyes of the fans with two tough tackles and a pacey run which resulted in a free-kick when he was sent tumbling to the ground with a desperate tackle.
Brown almost put the game beyond Rochdale’s grasp five minutes from the end of normal time, Lillis making an outstanding save at point-blank range, but the Reds had to survive an almighty penalty area scramble in the first minute of stoppage time before the final whistle brought relief.
It was Barnsley’s third successive League victory and they are now unbeaten in their last eight matches since the 1-0 defeat at Wycombe in early December.
Assistant coach Andreas Winkler may have left to work in the Premier League with Huddersfield Town, but, as things stand, it would come as no surprise to find him facing his old team in the Championship next season!
Barnsley (4-4-2): Davies; Cavare, Pinnock, Lindsay, Williams; Brown, McGeehan, Mowatt, Thiam (Dougall, 45 mins); Moore (Green, 78 mins), Woodrow (Adeboyejo, 90 mins).
Rochdale (4-1-4-1): Lillis; McLaughlin, Ebanks-Landell, McNulty, Delaney; Camps (Wilbraham, 81 mins); Andrews (Inman, 82 mins), Dooley, Hamilton, Holden; Henderson.
Bookings: Davies; Dougall (Barnsley); Ebanks-Landell, Delaney, Dooley (Rochdale).
Referee Alan Young.