Barnsley 2, Accrington Stanley 0
(SkyBet League One)
(By Keith Lodge)
Results elsewhere doubled Barnsley’s delight at a hard-fought victory over a stubborn Accrington Stanley at Oakwell.
As the Reds consolidated their second automatic promotion spot by extending their unbeaten run to 16 matches, leaders Luton and third-placed Sunderland both dropped points in drawn games at Plymouth and Wycombe respectively.
Sunderland, who are the next visitors to Oakwell on Tuesday night, left it very late, notching their equaliser during an explosive 11 minutes of stoppage time in which they also had captain George Honeyman sent off, along with two Wycombe players.
There were no such fireworks at Oakwell, but rather another solid, workmanlike performance proving that the Reds have the necessary graft to complement the craft that is inherent in Daniel Stendel’s side.
It must also be remembered that here they were without top scorer Kieffer Moore – sidelined for the rest of the season – plus midfield maestro Cameron McGeehan and rising star Jacob Brown, both serving a three-match suspension as a consequence of misdemeanours in the ten-man triumph at Southend the previous week.
It is encouraging that the club now has sufficient talent in the squad to be able to take such absences in their stride as replacements step in to fit apparently seamlessly into a team pattern.
Mike Bahre, back in the starting line-up, has already displayed his first team credentials, and here it was Jordan Green’s opportunity to show what he is capable of. Although he flitted in and out of the action and was substituted in the second half, he demonstrated his talents fleetingly and was extremely unlucky with a goalworthy shot which rebounded to safety off the inside of the post after he had cleverly created the time and space for the effort.
Stendel also saw fit to give a first team debut to another youngster, Callum Styles, who did not look out of place when he replaced Mamadou Thiam nine minutes from time.
On the whole it was a thoroughly efficient team performance, the only concern being the unusual lack of defensive deficiency which saw alarming gaps appearing at the back whenever the visitors launched second half counter attacks as the game opened up, and had they made the most of two golden chances it could have burst the Barnsley bubble.
The Reds were dominant in the early stages. After only three minutes Daniel Pinillos, who had an outstanding first half, dribbled his way excitingly down the left and set up a shooting chance for Green, whose left-footer 15 yards out was blocked.
Then it was Cauley Woodrow heading over from a second Barnsley corner; Kenny Dougall testing goalkeeper Jonny Maxted from long range; Woodrow flashing a shot narrowly wide after a pleasing passage of inter-passing; and Alex Mowatt finding the power but not the accuracy with another 25-yarder.
Accrington, however, are no push-overs, as they showed when racing into a 2-0 lead at Sunderland a few weeks ago before emerging with a still creditable 2-2 draw after a home team fight-back, and their pressing game disrupted the Reds’ rhythm as well as limiting their opponents to shots from distance.
In fact, It was the visitors who went closest to taking the lead just after the half-hour mark when Adam Davies marked his 200th appearance for the club with three good saves in quick succession.
However, four minutes before the break Woodrow eventually produced the defence-splitting pass for which his team had been searching to give the lively Dimitri Cavare a clear sight of goal, and the full-back continued his run before netting with the all poise and assurance of a seasoned striker.
Cavare had another shot blocked immediately afterwards, Mowatt fired just over and Bahre forced Maxted into a save low down before a stroke of good fortune helped the home team double their lead in the first minute of stoppage time.
Clever footwork by Thiam on the left gave him the space to send over a high cross which evaded everybody with the exception of the unfortunate Will Wood, who was unable to react sufficiently quickly to avoid the ball striking his shins and deflecting into the back of the net.
It was almost 3-0 three minutes after the break when Green cut inside, made the necessary positional adjustment to obtain a sight of goal, sent his shot arrowing towards the bottom corner of Maxted’s net and was on the verge of celebrating his debut goal when the ball struck the inside of the post and rebounded clear.
Accrington were beginning to take more risks in a bid to get back into the game and, four minutes after substituting for Wood, the unchallenged Paul Smyth had the chance to make an immediate impact, but completely miscued his shot 15 yards out.
Realisation began to dawn that the game was far from over. The three points were not in the bag after all. There was still plenty of time for the visitors to put a spoke in the Oakwell promotion wheel. And the Reds redoubled their efforts to notch a third goal which would end all doubts.
It looked to have come in the 67th minute when Liam Lindsay powered in a header from a corner only to see Maxted make an unbelievable one-handed save at point-blank range.
Ten minutes from time there was another scare for the Reds. Another substitute, Billy Kee, was left free on the right, and the relief on three sides of the ground was audible as his shot passed just beyond the far post with Davies beaten.
Even never-say-die Accrington must have realised that their last chance had gone, and Barnsley were able to see out the remaining 10 minutes of the 90, plus five minutes stoppage time, in relative comfort.
Th Reds are now only three points behind leaders Luton and four better off than third-placed Sunderland, who have a game in hand. Victory over the Wearsiders on Tuesday night, therefore, would be a huge step towards the promotion target.
Barnsley (4-2-1-3): Davies; Cavare, Pinnock, Lindsay, Pinillos; Dougall, Mowatt; Bahre (Hedges, 87 mins); Green (J Williams, 59 mins), Woodrow, Thiam (Styles, 81 mins).
Accrington Stanley: Maxted; Johnson, Hughes, Donacien, Barlaser, Clark (Zanzala, 69 mins), Wood (Smyth, 53 miins), Rogers, McConville, Finley, Armstrong (Kee, 58 mins).
Bookings: Pinillos (Barnsley); McConville (Accrington).
Referee: Dean Whitestone.
Attendance: 11,533 (281 visitors).