Barnsley 4, Fleetwood Town 2
(SkyBet League One)
By Keith Lodge
Barnsley survived a Jekyll and Hyde performance to revive their faltering bid to secure automatic promotion.
The Reds were at times brilliant, at others infuriatingly sloppy, but in the end deservedly collected all three points and consequently reclaimed second place behind champions elect Luton Town.
They were able to do so because Sunderland, their main rivals, went down to a mind-blowing 5-4 home defeat at the hands of Coventry City in a remarkable encounter at the Stadium of Light.
It means that the Oakwell team are now one point better off than Sunderland and also Portsmouth, who were comfortable 4-1 home victors over struggling Rochdale, but both of these teams have a match in hand, so it really does look as though the contest is going to go right down to the wire.
Whoever misses out now after accruing well over 80 points, will be extremely unlucky to find themselves having to face the challenge of picking their way through the the play-off route to the Championship.
Having climbed into the runners-up position on the back of a magnificent unbeaten run of of 20 league games the Reds have been very much below par during a five-match sequence which brought only one win, three draws and a 3-1 defeat at Burton Albion, and there were early signs against Fleetwood that further damage could be done to their hopes of a first time return to the second tier of English football.
Barely two minutes had elapsed when Jordan Williams, preferred at right-back to Dimitri Cavare and impressing in the role, galloped to the rescue with a last-ditch tackle when Ashley Nadesan raced clear of the rest of the Barnsley defence and was just about to slot the ball past Adam Davies.
Nine minutes later the Barnsley ‘keeper ambled out of the penalty area to a position wide on the left of his goal to kick the ball downfield, lost possession, and was relieved to see Lewie Coyle’s attempt to steer a shot into the empty net roll wide of the far post .
At this stage the defence boasting the best goals against record in the division was looking anything but water-tight and home fans were beginning to wonder if their fears of a semi play-off clash with Doncaster Rovers were to be realised.
Gradually, however, the Reds recovered from their initial malaise, and from the 15th minute onwards were in total control of the first half.
They began to stitch together some dazzling patterns of inter-passing play which looked capable of finding a way through even such a well-organised defensive barrier as that set up by the visitors, and sure enough in the 21st minute Cauley Woodrow and Jacob brown combined on the right to set up the chance for the recalled Mike Bahre to sweep the ball home from close range for his first League goal for the club..
It was almost 2-0 a minute later when Brown again provided the assist with another cross which this time was swept off Mamadou Thiam’s toes just as he was about to pull the trigger.
Then Woodrow shot tamely wide after cleverly creating space for himself in the box, but in the 34th minute atoned by firing home from the right side of the penalty area after a McGeehan effort had been deflected to him as the Reds continued to pile on the pressure.
Alex Mowatt, masterminding attacks with his customary skill and perception, and his willing midfield partner Cameron McGeehan, both went close, and on the stroke of half-time the ever-dangerous Brown brought a fine save from Fleetwood goalkeeper Alex Cairns.
Fleetwood’s only response was around the half-hour mark when Nadesan sprinted clear only to send his shot crashing into the side netting, with the chasing Bahre desperately snapping at his heels.
The Fleetwood players were out early for the start of the second half, which should have been a warning sign for the Reds, and when they lined up the visitors made their intentions clear with a switch from five at the back to a much more attacking 4-1-2-3 formation.
The move appeared to unsettle the home team. They lost their poise, their purpose and their rhythm. It was now Fleetwood who were looking the more likely to score. And Adam Davies had to make two excellent saves in the space of four minutes to deny Nadesan.
Sloppiness had returned in spades to the Barnsley team and even as I was in the process of making a note that they were in danger of letting three points slip from their grasp Fleetwood pulled a goal back in the 64th minute, Ched Evans forcing the ball over the line in a packed goalmouth following one of the visitors’ several second half corners.
That was the start of a crazy quarter-of-an-hour in which fortunes swung first one way and then the other.
A minute later Fleetwood defender Harry Soutar was sent off for a thumping aerial challenge which flattened McGeehan and when the latter started and finished the move which restored his side’s two goal advantage five minutes later – Thiam also playing an important part – it really did look like game, set and match for the Reds.
Fleetwood, however, are nothing if not fighters, and even with ten men they battled back to send renewed shivers down the spines of home supporters by pegging the Reds back to 3-2, another corner leading to a headed goal by Wes Burns.
It took Barnsley just three minutes to swing the result decisively back in their favour, Brown ramming home a cross from the left – and that was too much even for gritty Fleetwood.
There were repercussions after the final whistle when the media were informed there would be no post-match interviews as Fleetwood manager Joey Barton had been accused of an assault on his opposite number, Daniel Stendel, in the tunnel on the way to the dressing rooms, and South Yorkshire Police were investigating the matter.
The pair had also been involved in a confrontation in the first match at the Highbury Stadium in September, when the Reds won 3-1.
It is a great pity that off-the-field incidents like these all too often provide the most publicised talking-points and overshadow the far more important issues of what has actually happened out there on the pitch.
Barnsley (4-4-1-1): Davies; J Williams, Jackson, Pinnock, Pinillos; Brown (Green, 85 mins), McGeehan, Mowatt, Thiam (Hedges, 83 mins); Bahre (Styles, 71 mins); Woodrow.
Fleetwood Town (5-3-2): Cairns; Burns, Eastham, Souttar, Husband, Hunter (Biggins, 71 mins); Wallace (Madden, 61 mins), Sheron, Coyle; Evans, Nadesan (Baggley, 89 mins).
Bookings: McGeehan, Pinillos (Barnsley); Coyle, Wallace (Fleetwood).
Sending off: Souttar (Fleetwood).
Referee: Sebastian Stockbridge.
Attendance: 11, 243.