Barnsley 2, Shrewsbury Town 1
(SkyBet League One)
(By Keith Lodge)
Jacob Brown may have scored the vital winning goal, but it was Adam Davies who made it possible for Barnsley to pocket three more precious points.
The Reds’ goalkeeper played a pivotal captain’s role with four phenomenal one-on-one saves which kept his side’s automatic promotion hopes alive.
As early as the third minute he blocked the initial shot from Shaun Whalley and the rescue act on that occasion was completed by Adam Jackson with a goal-line clearance from the same player on the rebound.
Then, in the first minute of first-half stoppage time, when the scores were level at 1-1, Davies denied the frustrated Tyrese Campbell in similar fashion.
In the second half, with the Reds having regained the lead, he had to be alert – and quick – to beat Oliover Norbun in a race for the ball and kick it to safety with his defence stretched and stranded.
Finally, three minutes before the end of the regulation 90, Davies again saved with his feet from Fejiri Okenabirhe when the Shrewsbury substitute looked certain to equalise.
In addition to all of this, he made a spectacular flying save from former Barnsley player Scott Golbourne, leaping to his right to fingertip the goalbound shot away for a corner.
What a performance!
As a whole, however, the Reds were far from their best, and when they did start to pass the ball around much better and to greater effect in the second half, they handed the initiative back to the visitors in the last 15 minutes, when the tension on and off the pitch was palpable.
On the other hand, credit where credit is due. Even when the standards slip, the Reds have shown time after time this season that they have the grit, determination and desire to battle their way through. This was another of those occasions.
Whatever the outcome of the bid to return to the Championship at the first time of asking, head coach Daniel Stendel can reflect with great pride on the remarkable job he has done in his first season at the helm.
Another welcome feature of this game was the unexpected return of top scorer Kieffer Moore, who, after suffering a nasty head injury in the 4-1 victory at Gillingham early in February, was ruled out for the rest of the campaign on medical advice.
Rumours had been circulating all week that he was set for an earlier than forecast comeback, and his appearance as a 64th minute for Mike Bahre was met with a rousing ovation from the fans.
He made his physical presence felt immediately, winning possession to spark off one of Barnsley’s best moves of the match, which also involved the excellent Alex Mowatt and Mamadou Thiam, but unfortunately concluded with a wild shot from Cauley Woodrow which was both high and wide.
The Reds fielded the same starting eleven as in the much publicised 4-2 home victory over Fleetwood Town six days earlier, but for the first 20 minutes they found it difficult to find a way through a dogged and well-drilled Shrewsbury defence, and, with their own rearguard again prone to errors, it was a worrying period.
After Davies and Jackson had combined to save the day in the third minute there was a further scare eight minutes later when Shaun Whalley made a clever run to get behind the offside-claiming defenders before crossing to Campbell who, to the relief of three sides of the ground, headed wide when he should at least have given Davies a further opportunity to display his talents.
The Reds finally managed a shot at goal in the 22nd minute when a Bahre effort had the power but not the accuracy to bring reward, and a minute later Mowatt struck with a brilliant goal to calm the nerves. He fastened on to a loose ball on the left-hand edge of the penalty area and curled his shot delightfully into the opposite corner of the net.
The visitors were shaken, but also stirred into responsive action, and almost immediately a 20-yarder from Greg Docherty just cleared the angle of bar and post.
However, the Reds were by this time showing much more verve, vigour and vitality, with Mowatt once again pulling most of the strings in midfield, aided commendably by Cameron McGeehan, and Jordan Williams linking well with Brown on the right flank.
But it all went quiet seven minutes before the break when Campbell beat Davies with a cracking shot from 30 yards which swerved viciously into the far top corner of the net with the Reds appealing vainly for a foul on Ethan Pinnock.
It could have been worse before the half-time whistle, Davies standing tall to block Campbell’s attempt to give Shrewsbury the lead after the Reds, not for the first time, had lost possession.
Three minutes after the break there was another let-off for the home team when a header from former Oakwell Academy player Luke Waterfall was a fraction too high after more sloppy play had conceded a corner.
The Reds were looking rocky at this stage, and the ever-dangerous Campbell was just wide with another effort, but there was a significant change to the complexion of the game after a side-footer from McGeehan in the 54th minute struck the bar.
Thus encouraged, the Oakwell team were back in front two minutes later. Bahre did well to find Brown, who squeezed the ball home at the near post, and for the next 20 minutes or so Barnsley were in almost total control.
A thrilling run by Mowatt, gliding his way past three defenders, ended with a goalbound shot that was deflected for a corner; Woodrow headed wide from a difficult angle; the same player fired into the side-netting after some snappy build-up play and then blazed wildly wide; and another worthy Mowatt effort was again deflected off target, this time just skimming the bar.
It was a period of persistent pressure which, had it been rewarded, would surely have killed off the game, but the Shrews remained a threat on the break and Davies was called into action again, racing from his goal to kick the ball clear from the advancing Norburn.
The Reds were soon back on the offensive, Moore and Woodrow both going close, but, for the last 15 minutes, plus five minutes of stoppage time, all the goal threat came from a resurgent Shrewsbury, with Davies resuming his heroics.
First he pulled off the save of the match from Docherty and then, when Okenabirhie was an odds-on favourite to snatch an equaliser three minutes from time, the goalkeeper used his feet yet again to preserve the three points his side so desperately needed.
In the post-match press conference Stended admitted it had been ‘a tough game’ and that his side had not performed as well as they can, but added pointedly: We competed; we scored one more goal than they (Shrewsbury) did – and we won the game.”
At this stage of the season, in such a tight situation as Barnsley find themselves in, that is all that matters.
With Sunderland and Portsmouth both winning, nothing has changed in the battle for second spot. Even if the Reds win all their three remaining fixtures they can still be overtaken by those two teams, who have a game in hand.
It could be the last day before all becomes clear.
Barnsley (4-4-1-1): Davies; J Williams, Pinnock, Jackson, Pinillos; Brown, McGeehan, Mowatt, Thiam (Hedges, 79 mins); Bahre (Moore, 64 mins); Woodrow (Styles, 89 mins).
Shrewsbury Town (5-3-2): Mitchell; Sears, Williams, Waterfall, Beckles, Golbourne; Docherty (Smith, 86 mins), Grant, Norburn; Campbell (Okenabirhe, 74 mins), Whalley.
Booking: Waterfall (Shrewsbury).
Referee: Scott Oldham.