Barnsley 2, Scunthorpe United 0
(SkyBet league One)
(By Keith Lodge)
The M and Ms continued to serve up a tasty midfield treat for Barnsley at Oakwell.
Alex Mowatt and Cameron McGeehan have developed a blossoming partnership in recent matches and here they were at their brightest and best.
They defended together; they attacked together – and on this occasion they even scored together as the Reds extended their unbeaten League run to ten matches. The fans voted Mowatt as their man of the match. It could just as easily have been McGeehan. Or, better still, both of them!
Such plaudits, however, should in no way detract from the contribution of their colleagues. This was first and foremost a top-notch team performance.
For example, Adam Davies had little to do, yet made a superb save at point-blank range to deny Scunthorpe a goal which would have narrowed the gap to 2-1 in the first minute of first half stoppage time. Had the Reds conceded at that point it would have completely changed the complexion of the game and they would undoubtedly have had to face a far more difficult second period.
Dimitri Cavare and Jacob Brown wide right and Ethan Pinnock and Mamadou Thiam on the left – particularly the former duo – raided repeatedly down the flanks, despite the five-man midfield format that Scunthorpe utilised, presumably to counter that particular threat; Ethan Pinnock and Liam Lindsay were imperious at the centre of defence; and up front another developing partnership, this time involving Kieffer Moore and Cauley Woodrow, continued to hold rich promise.
After a couple of games when they had to battle for hard-earned success, this was football by Barnsley of a far more accomplished and and entertaining fashion, and had the finishing matched the rich quality of their approach play they would have more than doubled their tally.
It was a splendid first half for the Reds – some exhilarating passing moves, two goals, another goal disallowed, a couple of near misses – and they also survived a penalty appeal.
They made their intentions clear from the start. Woodrow had the ball in the net after only five minutes only to be flagged fractionally offside and two minutes later McGeehan split the visitors’ defence with a visionary pass inside the full-back to Cavare, but unfortunately no-one had made up sufficient ground in the middle to take advantage of the full-back’s inviting cross along the six-yarder.
There was a rare scare for the home team when former Barnsley favourite Adam Hammill went sprawling as Pinnock attempted to clear his lines, but referee Andy Haines was unimpressed by United penalty appeals and barely a minute later the Reds took the lead when Mowatt tried his luck with an ambitious shot from 30 yards which took goalkeeper Jak Alnwick – not to mention everyone else in the ground – totally by surprise.
The Reds continued to dominate. Moore and Woodrow both fired over the bar; the former chested a Pinillos cross into the path of Woodrow, whose low shot was just a whisker wide; and four minutes before the break McGeehan was on the spot to head the ball into an unguarded net after an effort from Thiam had deflected to him off Moore.
It was not until just before half-time that Scunthorpe produced their first attempt at goal, a header following a corner dropping gently into the arms of Davies, and then, in stoppage time the Reds ‘keeper made an outstanding reflex save from Lee Novak, turning the ball over the bar for another flag-kick.
There have been teams in recent matches who have knocked the Reds out of their stride by closing down quickly and aggressively, but Scunthorpe opted for containment rather than ball-winning, which allowed the home team the time and space they delight in.
The visitors were more positive after the break and provided more of a challenge, but Barnsley remained in firm control, despite failing to add to their two goals.
The chances were created, but the end product proved elusive. Thiam had two shots blocked in quick succession; Pinnock combined with Cavare to set up Woodrow, whose deft diversion rolled just wide; a left-foot tracer bullet from McGeehan screamed just the wrong side of the post; Alnwick dealt comfortable with a glancing header from McGeehan and a low shot from Moore; and an effort from substitute Hedges was deflected narrowly wide.
The best chance came in the 79th minute when another substitute, Mike Bahre, broke clear in midfield and fed Moore on the right, only for the striker to fail in his bid to find the unmarked Hedges haring in from the left.
There was still time for Cavare to blast another long-range effort over the bar and Bahre to bring a routine save from Alnwick with an acrobatic overhead kick.
In between all this, there was just one chance for Scunthorpe, Tony McMahon, having found rare space 15 yards out, landing the ball in the midst of the 900-plus visiting fans congregated in the North Stand.
It was, therefore, a far more emphatic victory over an in-form Scunthorpe side than the scoreline suggests, and results from elsewhere provided a further boost to the Reds’ hopes of a first-time return to the Championship. The 1-1 draw between rivals Portsmouth and Doncaster Rovers means that the Oakwell team have gained another two points on both of them and have ousted the former from the second automatic promotion place.
It was a very impressive performance and it brought, if only briefly, a nostalgic chorus of ‘It’s Just Like Watching Brazil’ from the Ponte Enders.
Barnsley (4-4-2): Davies; Cavare, Pinnock, Lindsay, Pinillos; Brown, McGeehan, Mowatt, Thiam (Hedges, 66 mins); Woodrow (Bahre, 71 mins), Moore (Adeboyejo, 82 mins).
Scunthorpe (3-5-2): Alnwick; McCardle, Webster, Burgess; McMahon, Thomas, Perch (Sutton, 45 mins), Ojo, McGahey; Novak, Hammill (Van Veen, 58 mins).
Bookings: Woodrow, Bahre, Brown (Barnsley); McMahon, Perch (Scunthorpe).
Referee: Andy Haines.
Attendance: 12,150 (918 Scunthorpe).