Barnsley 0, Burton Albion 0
(SkyBet League One)
(By Keith Lodge)
On a night of total frustration the only consolation for Barnsley in this re-arranged encounter was the extension of their unbeaten run which now stretches to 13 matches.
But the football was of secondary concern on a night when 61-year-old Oakwell volunteer Steve Croft, who suffered a cardiac arrest on the pitch prior to the original fixture five months ago, returned to lead out the teams before the start of the game and then give a heart-felt thank-you over the loudspeaker system at half-time to all those who had helped save his life on that unforgettable Saturday afternoon.
It was also a night of fund-raising for the Yorkshire Air Ambulance, which had landed on the Oakwell pitch before flying him for further treatment in hospital. There were collection buckets all round the stadium and all profits from the match-day programme were donated to this worthy cause.
It was an emotional evening in that respect and emphasised yet again that success or failure in football pales into insignificance when a life and death situation arises – as has happened on more than one occasion this season.
As for the game itself, the life was squeezed out of that by Burton’s game plan, which was first and foremost to prevent their opponents from scoring – which they did superbly well – and possibly snatch a breakaway winner – which they very rarely looked like doing.
They were tactics not conducive to free-flowing football, entertainment, or a glowing advertisement for ‘the beautiful game’, but it is hard not to admire the way the Brewers went about their task. They swarmed all over the Reds, packed their penalty area when danger threatened, and allowed the home team not even a centimetre of space in which to operate.
Barnsley head coach Daniel Stendel reflected that he was ‘disappointed but not dissatisfied’ when he spoke to the media afterwards; an assessment that hinted not only at his professional appreciation of the opposition’s stubbornly disciplined defensive performance but also the hard work put in by his own players to try to overcome it.
It is not easy to find a way through a packed defence, as better teams than Barnsley have discovered to their cost, and when goalscoring opportunities do arise it is essential that they are snapped up. Of the extremely limited number on this occasion one produced a volley that went high and wide, another brought a brilliant save from Burton goalkeeper Bradley Collins and a third was cleared virtually off the line.
Perhaps the physical presence, power, aerial ability and nuisance value of the sidelined Kieffer Moore would have made a difference, but that, of course, is mere speculation. Nigel Clough’s men might possibly have dealt with all that as well.
There was no negativity about Burton’s play in the early stages. They were busy, bright and very much attack-minded, so much so that they forced three corners in the first five minutes, the third of which resulted in a piledriver from Jamie Allen flashing not too far off target.
However, when this initial adventure failed to reap its intended reward the visitors retreated into their defensive shell and no amount of huffing and puffing from the Reds could break them down.
There was a hopeful moment in the 18th minute when Cauley Woodrow struck a volley so sweetly that a goal seemed certain until Collins launched himself acrobatically into a stunning one-handed save at the expense of a fruitless corner.
Most of the time, however, the Reds were unable to find any sort of rhythm and tempo as Burton hurried and harassed them into mistakes and it was not until just before the interval that they conjured up a half-chance for Jacob Brown, whose far post header from a Daniel Pinillos cross was off target.
Just as they had done at the start of the first half, Burton bombed forward at the start of the second, with substitute Liam Boyce almost making an immediate impact with a shot that was wide of the far post with barely a minute gone.
Otherwise, apart from an important diving interception from Adam Davies when Marcus Harness crossed low into the box in the 57th minute, it was merely a question as to whether or not the Reds could break down the yellow-shirted wall which confronted them.
When Woodrow found rare unchallenged space on the right-hand edge of the penalty area from a Hedges cross on the hour mark it looked as though the moment had arrived, but, unlike his goalworthy first-half effort this time the striker snatched at an attempted volley and the ball flew harmlessly high and wide.
Then, in the 77th minute Brown did well to leap high and power in a header, but the Burton defence stubbornly refused to be breached and a goal-line clearance kept their hard-earned clean sheet intact.
The Reds were reduced to trying long-range shots in an increasingly desperate attempt to make the breakthrough, but when the ball did evade the crowd of bodies in its path it always evaded the target as well.
It is a reflection on the failure of his attacking colleagues to find the key to unlock the visitors’ defensive door that Barnsley centre-back Ethan Pinnock was the fans’ choice as man of the match.
This could be viewed as an opportunity missed by the Reds, who currently occupy the second automatic promotion spot. Victory would have taken them to within three points of leaders Luton Town, both teams having now played 33 games, and also opened up a gap of seven points on fourth-placed Portsmouth, who were held to a 1-1 home draw by lowly Bristol Rovers.
As it was third-placed Sunderland, who had a 4-2 home victory over Gillingham on the night, are only four points instead of six behind the Reds, with a game in hand.
But it was not a defeat. It was still a point gained. And if the Oakwell team can win away against a stuttering Portsmouth on Saturday, the Burton blip will be both forgiven and forgotten.
Barnsley (4-4-1-1): Davies; Cavare, Pinnock, Lindsay, Pinillos; Brown, McGeehan (Dougall, 84 mins), Mowatt, Hedges (Adeboyejo, 73 mins); Bahre (Thiam, 62 mins); Woodrow.
Burton Albion (4-4-2): Collins; Brayford, McFadzean, Buxton, Daniel (Wallace, 52 mins); Quinn, Harness (Hutchinson, 81 mins), Allen, Fraser; Akins, Miller (Boyce, 45 mins)
Bookings: Mowatt (Barnsley); Daniel (Burton).
Referee: Martin Coy.
Attendance: 11,778 (283 visitors).