Barnsley 2, Coventry City 2
(SkyBet League One)
(By Keith Lodge)
A thoroughly entertaining encounter was spoiled, from a Barnsley point of view, by the loss of two points which could prove crucial in the final promotion reckoning.
There was, therefore, a good deal of disappointment in the Oakwell camp afterwards, and, in the case of many of the fans, stirrings of unease.
That is understandable to a certain extent, because the Reds, although producing passages of high quality football, maintaining a high tempo and lacking nothing in endeavor, were far from their best in crucial areas.
There was, for example, an uncharacteristic sloppiness in the performance of a normally reliable defence, which had conceded no goals in the previous seven matches, yet on this occasion inexplicably gave away two in the space of 26 minutes.
Added to that, when numerous chances were created at the other end of the pitch the finishing was nowhere near clinical enough. Time after time shots flew high or wide from good positions and City goalkeeper Lee Burge had surprisingly little to do considering the amount of possession Barnsley had, particularly in the first half.
The below-par performances may have something to do with the mounting pressure as the campaign reaches its conclusion. The Reds were fully aware that three points would put them seven points clear of Portsmouth and eight in front of Sunderland.
Admittedly the latter now have three games in hand, but it would have been a big ask for them to win them all. Now they can afford to lose one of those fixtures and still overhaul the Reds.
Indeed, had it not been for two outstanding saves from goalkeeping captain Adam Davies in a frenetic finale Daniel Stendel’s side would have suffered a wounding first defeat in 20 games.
Having said all this, however, I am sure they would have been happy with the position they are now in had it been offered to them at the start of the campaign.
And on this occasion credit must also go to the visitors, who proved what a good side they are becoming under the tutelage of former Barnsley boss Mark Robbins. They are still in with an outside chance of a play-off place and here they showed the reason why.
They were well organised, quick on the counter, and had the backbone to bounce back after twice falling behind.
Barnsley’s biggest problem at the moment is finding a solution to the quandary caused by the absence of the injured Kieffer Moore for the rest of the season. There is no-one in the squad capable of re-creating the threat posed by Moore’s physical presence as the spearhead of the attack – not to mention his goalscoring capabilities.
Stendel has tried several permutations in a bid to compensate for the loss of the big striker, but so far with little success. Here he switched Mamadou Thiam to the centre of the attack, with Ryan Hedges taking over on the left flank. While Hedges had his moments, Thiam struggled to make the required impact in his new role, although one could not question his desire to do so.
It was he, in fact, who provided the low cross which presented the lurking Alex Mowatt with the opportunity to give his side the lead in the tenth minute after a slick inter-passing move down the left which also involved Cauley Woodrow and Hedges, who had earlier lashed a prophetic shot high and wide after being put through by a defence-splitting Cameron McGeehan pass.
For most of the rest of the first half the Reds did most things well – apart from the finishing.
They were obviously up for the task, playing at a high tempo and pressing quickly and purposefully to take the initiative against a good Coventry side – but to be more comfortable they needed a second goal and, sadly, they failed to produce another shot on target until seconds before the break.
Coventry did. Just the one. But it was enough. In the 35th minute Barnsley were caught sleeping by a quickly-taken free-kick and before they could recover Jordy Hiwula had chested the ball down from a Brandon Mason cross and volleyed it into the roof of the net from close range.
Three minutes later the visitors were almost in front. Ben Williams was robbed, a desperate goalmouth scramble resulted and the Reds were rescued by an offside flag.
Barnsley responded with the best move of the game which ended with Woodrow providing the now all too familiar sight of the ball flying over the bar, and when Thiam finally managed a second shot on target three minutes before half-time it was not one which tested the capabilities of the goalkeeper.
It was the same story at the start of the second period, Woodrow and Mowatt both sending the ball skyward from good positions, but then, in the 48th minute, Woodrow, having received a neat cut-back from Hedges on the left, lowered his sights and slotted the ball neatly into the opposite corner of the net for his 15th goal of the season
Four minutes later normal service was resumed when Hedges surged forward, teed up Woodrow on the edge of the box – and the resulting shot saw ball soaring into the arms of a fan half-way up the Ponty End Stand.
McGeehan produced a carbon copy effort six minutes later and one could sense the nervous tension pervading three sides of Oakwell. The Reds had created so many chances the game should have been wrapped up well before the hour mark, but the lead was still only a single goal.
Sure enough, in the 61st minute Cavare lost possession out wide, City moved the ball quickly into the box and an unmarked Luke Thomas gleefully fired in his side’s second equaliser.
Five minutes later a piledriver from McGeehan nearly knocked Burge off his feet, but the goalkeeper managed to beat the ball out and relieved defenders completed the clearance.
A similar 30-yarder from Thiam following a short free-kick thudded into Burge’s arms and McGeehan also managed to find the target, but his shot lacked power and was easily dealt with by the goalkeeper.
It was nip and tuck now, with both teams striving for the winner, and Coventry thought they had found it three minutes from the end of the regulation 90 when Dominic Hyam powered in a header only for Davies to make a splendid save at point-blank range.
He bettered that half-way through six minutes of stoppage time with a magnificent one-handed save from another header, this time from Amadou Bakayoko.
Meanwhile Liam Lindsay won possession with a thumping tackle half-way inside his own half, embarked on a solo run towards the Coventry goal, laid the ball off to Mowatt and – you guessed it!
A draw was a fair result. It was not what the Reds had hoped for. But it was better than it might have been. And they are still in pole position in the race for the second automatic promotion spot.
Barnsley (4-4-2): Davies; Cavare, Pinnock, Lindsay, B Williams; Brown (Green, 76 mins), McGeehan, Mowatt, hedges (Bahre, 90+5 mins); Woodrow, Thiam (Adeboyejo (88 mins).
Coventry City: Burge; Mason (Brown, 78 mins), Willis, Kelly, Hiwula, Hyam, Sterling, Bayliss, Bakayoko, Thomas (Wakefield, 86 mins), Enobakhare.
Bookings: Williams, McGeehan, Bahre (Barnsley); Thomas (Coventry).
Referee: Stephen Martin.