Barnsley 0, Sunderland 0
(SkyBet League One)
(By Keith Lodge)
The woodwork and a linesman’s flag prevented Barnsley from a significant victory over promotion rivals Sunderland in a wind-blown crunch clash at Oakwell.
As it was, honours ended even in terms of the result, but performance-wise the Reds will feel they deserved all three points rather than just one. They were the better side, particularly in the first half, when they had the strong, gusty wind at their backs, playing some slick football in the testing conditions, utilising their pace on the flanks and the creative perception of Alex Mowatt in central midfield, and pressing purposefully in numbers whenever the visitors had possession.
When Sunderland did manage to threaten they came up against a defence in the kind of formidable form which has earned them the best goals against record in the League. The fact that this was the first time this season that Sunderland had failed to score emphasises the Reds’ achievement in keeping another clean sheet, with Liam Lindsay producing a towering man of the match performance in the middle of the back four.
Sunderland manager Jack Ross admitted in the post match press conference that, although his side had obviously been keen to win in order to narrow the gap on the Reds to a single point, he was satisfied with the draw.
On the other hand, the demeanour of Barnsley head coach Daniel Stendel suggested that he was disappointed at the result. He was pleased enough with his team’s overall performance, but was acutely aware that had either of two good first half chances been taken it would have provided a big boost to the Reds’ bid to clinch the second automatic promotion place.
From the start it was an absorbing tussle between two well-matched teams who are both on a long unbeaten league run – 17 encounters in Barnsley’s case, with their opponents on 15 – and early indications were that one goal might be enough to bring either of the two impressive records to an end.
The first chance fell to the unchanged home team in the ninth minute. Mamadou Thiam burst clear through the middle with only Jon MccLaughlin to beat, but the goalkeeper stood firm on his six-yard line to narrow the angle expertly and turn the shot away for a fruitless corner.
Ten minutes later Adam Davies brought off a smart diving save to deny Grant Leadbitter, who hit the ball sweetly from 25 yards, and the visitors also forced three corners in quick succession, all of which were dealt with resolutely by a disciplined defence.
Opportunity knocked for Mike Bahre on the half-hour mark, but he failed to control the ball in a busy penalty area, and then came the moment when the Reds, enjoying another spell of promising pressure, were cruelly denied due reward, a well-struck shot from Thiam thudding against the bar and rebounding to safety.
Two minutes before the break it was the turn of the adventuresome Dimitri Cavare to come close to breaking the deadlock with an effort which McLaughlin saved with his legs.
At the interval, therefore, Sunderland were much more pleased with the situation than their rivals. Relieved to have survived the first 45 minutes playing into the strengthening wind it was now their turn to have the elements to their advantage in the second period.
And their big opportunity arrived in the 60th minute when Jack Baldwin’s through ball sent Max Power scampering clear of a high-line Barnsley defence, but, eventually surrounded by desperately chasing defenders and the advancing Davies, the striker dragged his shot wide.
That was Sunderland’s moment. And they failed to make it count.
It looked as though the Reds had made them pay dearly for their miss when Cauley Woodrow headed home from a cute Mowatt chip eight minutes later, but initial joy for the home fans quickly turned to sorrow when referee Peter Bankes pointed to the raised flag of his assistant, indicating that the striker was offside. It must have been close!
Immediately after that Stendel sent on Jordan Williams for Green, and Victor Adeboyejo joined the fray for the last ten minutes in place of Bahre as the Reds sought to find the winner. But it was not to be.
With leaders Luton Town regaining their five point lead at the top with a 1-0 away victory over Bradford it looks very much now as though there is only one other automatic promotion place up for grabs, and the likelihood is that it will be either Barnsley or Sunderland who will claim it, although Portsmouth’s 3-2 win at Walsall and Charlton’s 2-1 home triumph over Burton Albi0n has put them back in the frame should there be any slip-ups by the teams currently occupying the second and third spots.
Barnsley have little time to recover from their endeavours. On Friday they visit derby rivals Doncaster Rovers – the best side to have visited Oakwell this season – in a televised game which provides another stern test for Stendel’s side.
Barnsley (4-4-1-1): Davies; Cavare, Pinnock, Lindsay, Pinillos; Green (J Williams, 69 mins), Dougall, Mowatt, Thiam; Bahre (Adeboyejo, 80 mins); Woodrow.
Sunderland (4-4-2): McLaughlin; O’Nien, Baldwin, Dunne, Matthews; Gooch (Morgan, 75 mins), Cattermole, Leadbitter, McGeady; Grigg, Power (Sterling, 90+1 mins).
Bookings: Pinnock (Barnsley); Leadbitter, Power (Sunderland).
Referee: Peter Bankes.