Doncaster Rovers 0, Barnsley 0
(SkyBet League One)
Two points dropped, or one gained? That was the question on the lips of the three and a half thousand Barnsley fans who made the short trip to the Keepmoat Stadium after the second goalless draw of the season between these two promotion-chasing local rivals.
In the circumstances the answer must surely be a positive one. Already without two regular first team players because of injury, and two more due to suspension, the Reds were further weakened in the 18th minute when Kenny Dougall limped off after being on the receiving end of a strong tackle.
Even before that they had played second fiddle to a dashing Doncaster side and the home team continued to dominate the game for the rest of the first half, at the end of which there were serious doubts about the prospects of Daniel Stendel’s side extending their unbeaten league run to 18 matches.
Rovers are the best team to have visited Oakwell this season – the Reds were very fortunate to emerge with a goalless draw on that occasion – and they were just as impressive here for the first 45 minutes. That they were denied the reward their pulsating play deserved was due largely to the brilliance of Barnsley goalkeeper Adam Davies.
There was little in the Reds’ play to demonstrate to a live television audience the qualities which had sent them barnstorming into the second automatic promotion position. They looked jaded; their build-up play was slow and cumbersome; passes went astray; they were disjointed; they were chasing shadows. And head coach Stendel cut a very frustrated and increasingly irritated figure on the touchline.
However, his players showed their strength of character, resilience and drive after the break when they, and not their opponents, looked the likelier winners. As Doncaster ran out of steam so Barnsley moved up at least a couple of gears to raise hopes of what had earlier seemed the unlikeliest of victories.
Speaking on Sky after the game Stendel said: “I am proud of my players. We already had important players missing and then we had to make another change early when Kenny Dougall was injured. But we survived first half pressure from Doncaster, and played a good game.
“Our goalkeeper kept us in the game, especially in the first half, but all the players worked very hard. It was a good point for us.”
Sky man of the match Ethan Pinnock agreed: “It’s another point on the board,” said the central defender. “We’re happy with that, although we would have liked all three.”
Making three changes from the team which had started a hard-fought goalless draw with third-placed Sunderland at a wind-swept Oakwell on Tuesday night – Victor Adeboyejo and Jordan and Ben Williams replacing Jordan Green, Mike Bahre and the injured Daniel Pinillos – Barnsley were quickest out of the blocks, Dimitri Cavare and Cauley Woodrow combining to feed Mamadou Thiam, whose angled shot rippled the side netting in the first minute.
But Rovers retaliated almost immediately and the fourth minute brought a triple escape for the visitors, featuring a magnificent double save from Davies, who first of all somehow managed to keep out a header from Mallik Wilks and then did exceptionally well to turn a follow-up shot from John Marquis round the post for a corner. Wilks had another chance from the flag-kick, but this time he failed to find the target.
Thus encouraged, Doncaster took the game by the scruff of the neck and the Reds’ discomfort was heightened when they lost Dougall through injury with 18 minutes gone, Zeki Fryers, short of match practice, going on as substitute.
From then on it was just a case of Barnsley somehow holding on until half-time in the hope that some halting words of wisdom in English from Stendel – or maybe better still some descriptive German expletives – could inspire them to do better.
Davies – who may justifiably wonder why the admittedly commanding Pinnock had scooped Sky’s man-of-the-match award instead of him – made routine saves from Wilks and James Coppinger and further corners were frantically survived.
Just before the interval there were fleeting signs that Barnsley were beginning to find their feet, along with their composure. A Thiam cross picked out Jordan Williams, but the latter’s first touch was poor, which resulted in his belated effort being blocked by goalkeeper Marko Marosi; Cavare tried his luck from distance, and a left-footer from Mowatt was just off target.
It was apparent in the early minutes of the second half that Doncaster had lost some of the zip and polish that had characterised their play earlier, and when Stendel substituted Mike Bahre for Thiam just before the hour mark there was immediately a further swing towards the Reds.
Seven minutes after the change they were unlucky not to be awarded a penalty. Pinnock, having gone up for a corner, clearly had his shirt forcefully pulled as he went for the ball and had referee Ross Joyce spotted the offence it would surely have resulted in a spot-kick.
Then Woodrow hit a powerful shot from 25 yards, but it flew straight into the arms of Marosi; Adeboyejo’s cross-cum-shot was acrobatically palmed away by the ‘keeper; Bahre’s left-footer from just outside the box was deflected for a corner; a low free-kick from Woodrow was a fraction wide; and a Cavare cross was headed over by Adeboyejo.
Rovers, however, were still making a fight of it; they were still in with a chance of raising their play-off hopes with a winner. And, but for Davies, it would have come two minutes from the end of regulation time, the goalkeeper saving at point-blank range from substitute Kieran Sadlier and, as in the first half, recovering his position to keep out the follow-up from substitute Alfie May
And so, as at Oakwell, the game remained goalless – the sixth encounter in succession that the Reds have kept a clean sheet – but, while Doncaster were unlucky not to have picked up all three points on the previous occasion, this time it was a fair result.
It gives the Reds a four points lead over third-placed Sunderland, at least temporarily, but the Wearsiders have two games in hand. It promises to be quite a battle between those two teams for the second automatic promotion place behind a Luton team who are four points clear of Barnsley, having played one game fewer.
Doncaster Rovers (4-3-3): Marosi; Blair, Downing, Butler, Andrew; Kane, Whiteman, Rowe (Crawford, 67 mins); Wilks (May, 82 mins), Marquis, Coppinger (Sadlier, 76 mins).
Barnsley (4-4-2): Davies; Cavare, Pinnock, Lindsay, B Williams; J Williams (Hedges, 81 mins), Mowatt, Dougall (Fryers, 18 mins), Thiam (Bahre, 59 mins); Adeboyejo, Woodrow.
Bookings: Lindsay, Mowatt (Barnsley).
Referee: Ross Joyce.