Oxford United 2, Barnsley 2
(SkyBet League One)
Barnsley missed a chance to move into the second automatic promotion spot, but, after falling two goals behind in the first 48 minutes, they were happy enough to return from the Kassam Stadium with one point rather than the three they were hoping for.
In the end it was an old-style battling Barnsley performance which brought goals from Mamadou Thiam and Kieffer Moore to level matters, the latter’s 17th of the season coming as substitute after he had been surprisingly omitted from the starting line-up.
Head coach Daniel Stendel preferred a five-man midfield for this particular challenge at the home of a team struggling in the lower reaches of the table and one which the Reds had hammered 4-0 at Oakwell in the opening fixture of the campaign, but ultimately he had no alternative but to turn to his top scorer to help his side out of a mess which largely of their own making.
Oxford’s long-ball tactics posed a problem which the visitors struggled to cope with for long spells of the game and when United made it 2-0 three minutes after the break it looked as though the Reds’ eight-match unbeaten run was going to come to a painful end.
Not for the first time this season, however, the players had the resolve, the resilience and the unquenchable spirit to mount a second half comeback and earn a precious point which could yet prove crucial when the final promotion reckoning comes in May.
As it stands they are now only one point behind second-from-top Portsmouth, who went down 3-2 away to Luton Town in one of the other League One fixtures on the night.
Kenny Dougall for Moore was the only change from the team which started the hard-earned 2-1 home victory over Rochdale at Oakwell on Saturday, and it was obvious from the kick-off that the Reds were in for another 90 minutes of hard graft against a robust route-one Oxford side.
Cameron McGeehan did test home goalkeeper Simon Eastwood on a couple of occasions in the early stages, but it was United who took the lead in the 25th minute. Adam Davies made the first of several good saves, finger-tipping a 30-yarder from Gavin Whyte on to the bar and over for a corner, but the Reds failed to deal with the resulting flag-kick and Curtis Nelson headed on for Josh Raffels to nod home at the far post.
Liam Lindsay missed a glorious opportunity to level matters just before half-time, heading over from six yards when Alex Mowatt found him with a pin-point inswinging corner, and the Reds found themselves in deeper trouble three minutes after the restart when a misunderstanding between Lindsay and Davies gifted Oxford a second goal.
Jamie Hanson punted a typical long ball forward and Lindsay found himself in a race for it with Jamie Mackie. Davies made as if he was going to come out to collect, but hesitated, and with the two Barnsley players looking questioningly at each other Mackie nipped in between them to double his side’s advantage.
For the second time in the match Davies turned a shot on to the bar – Oxford hit the woodwork three times in all – and also made two more splendid saves as the home team piled forward in search of a killer third goal.
Having already sent Moore on as a replacement for his replacement – midfielder Dougall – Stendel turned to new signing Jordan Green to try something different as substitute for Cauley Woodrow just after the hour mark, and nine minutes later Thiam gave his side hope, sliding the ball under the diving body of Eastwood after some good link-up approach play between Ben Williams and Jacob Brown.
Thiam’s reward was to be taken off a minute later to make way for Mike Bahre, but that move was also the signal for a period of persistent pressure from the Reds and it paid off in the 78th minute when Lindsay set Brown off on a run, and when the ball was threaded through to Moore the striker stuck it into the top corner from close range.
Barnsley had five players booked – Lindsay, Williams, Dougall, Mowatt and Thiam – and while that statistic is not one of which to be particularly proud, it does emphasise just how hard the Reds fought for their point. They simply refused to be beaten. And that is something to shout about.
Oxford United: Eastwood; Hanson, Dickie, Nelson, Ruffels, Branagan, Mousinho, Whyte, Henry (Kashi, 85 mins), Graham (Garbutt, 81 mins), Mackie.
Barnsley (4-5-1): Davies; Cavare, Pinnock, Lindsay, Williams; Brown, McGeehan, Dougall (Moore, 45 mins), Mowatt, Thiam (Bahre, 71 mins); Woodrow (Green, 61 mins).
Bookings: Dickie, Nelson (Oxford); Lindsay, Williams, Dougall, Mowatt, Thiam (Barnsley).
Referee: Kevin Johnson.
Attendance: 5,794 (657 Reds).