On Saturday evening, as I drove back up the M1 and M62 toward home and the sun started to set, I reminisced about the amount of times I have driven back home this season with my young lad after a Barnsley home game with three comfortable points in the bag. Then you realise, this is not a procession to promotion but a difficult league to get out of and you should never take a game for granted.
Although Barnsley are now 20 yes 20 games unbeaten in the league, not to mention unbeaten at home in a calendar year, you have to realise that there is no easy path back to the championship. Now I am a guy whose glass is usually half full and am ever the optimist, but reading many comments online after the game you would have thought Barnsley`s world had ended after drawing 2-2 with play off chasing Coventry City.
I am long enough in the tooth to understand that what is put online is sometimes to be treated with a pinch of salt. Yet at the final whistle, I saw captain Adam Davies drag his troops around Oakwell to applaud the home support. You could sense the dejection on the players and the frustration of the supporters at the final whistle at dropping two points, but this was against an opponent who were on the cusp of the play offs having lost only 2 games since early February. Do not forget the Sky Blues had drawn 1-1 at Luton and won at Peterborough in that run, this game was never going to be the walk in the park that Accrington, Scunthorpe and Bradford had been previously.
There is no doubt that at this time of the year when there are only a few games left until the end of the season, nerves start to jangle, nails get bitten and strange results pop up. Easter is notoriously a strange time for football results when some teams wilt under pressure. This as the title of the post suggests is a time for cool heads, on and off the pitch.
Had this game been played in January, I have no doubt Barnsley would have seen this result out like they ought to have on Saturday. In control at 1-0 and 2-1, Barnsley had their opponents just where they wanted them, on the back foot. I have read a lot of Coventry in the build up to the game and was looking out for the likes of Tom Bayliss in midfield but in truth, I never saw him, Mowatt and McGeehan saw to that. For large parts of the first half, Coventry offered very little. The Sky Blues started the game very well, but once Barnsley asserted their usual authority in midfield winning the second balls it was one way traffic.
Barnsley`s press was in evidence again on Saturday with Mowatt especially winning the ball back at every opportunity, snapping in the tackle and disrupting the opposition. Barnsley won a lot of second balls, won the ball back whenever a mis-placed pass went to a blue shirt and generally swarmed all over Coventry. With Mowatt, Woodrow and Hedges linking up well with neat one touch football, the reds got into their stride early on.
The home side scored with a well worked goal and all looked rosy for the next 20 minutes with Barnsley controlling the game. Then came the script for the next 60 minutes and it did not read well for the hosts. Suddenly, Barnsley seemed to switch off. A few passes went a stray, Coventry built up some momentum and the usual water tight reds defence looked shaky. Whether the visitors highlighted Ben Williams pre-game, who knows, but it was down his flank that Coventry appeared to get a lot of joy. Some criticism should flow toward Ryan Hedges who left Williams exposed with two Coventry players on him several times in the game.
Hedges to be fair, had an excellent game going forward and was at the heart of everything the home side produced. I was perplexed at why he was taken off in the second half when it was clear Jacob Brown should have been hooked first. Maybe Daniel Stendel was concerned at how exposed Williams appeared to be on the flank?
Coventry started to get momentum. The visitors hit the post when it was rightly called offside and the away support rallied, roaring their side on from their slumber. Ten minutes before half time, the game was all square again when a ball was lofted in and in truth Davies could have come and claimed it but left it and the defence stood around whilst the visitors were far more alive to the danger and smashed an equaliser home. Game on.
Fair play to Barnsley, the reds rallied very well to being pegged back and had more chances to go in at half time winning but another chink in their armour was their inability to put Coventry to the sword. I lost count at the chances that fell to men in red in and around the 18 yard box who just needed a bit of composure to guide the ball home but yet chose to snatch at their chances. Nerves maybe?
Barnsley players emerged from the tunnel early and started the second half like a house on fire. Whatever had been said in the dressing room appeared to work as the reds never let Coventry settle. Three minutes into the second half and the hosts were back in front after a good finish from Cauley Woodrow. The fast start from the Tykes continued with attack after attack, surely a third goal was only minutes away? The whole ground sensed a third may do the trick and settle any nerves, but it never arrived with several chances being missed.
Suddenly the likes of Liam Lindsay, normally so resolute at the back was hitting short pass backs to Davies, causing no end of trouble. The crowd appeared nervous, Stendel was hopping around in the technical area and passes were again going a miss.
Cameron McGeehan had an off day, Jacob Brown was brushed off the ball easily and hardly ever beat his man all game. Mowatt tried but became sloppy in possession. Williams was exposed and appeared the weak link in the defence. The Sky Blues supporters rallied again and suddenly you feared the worst.
The second equaliser for Coventry again came from indecision and sluggish defending. Both of the visitors goals were well struck but each time, the player had plenty of time to pick his spot. The next 30 or so minutes became a little like a cup tie with both sides trying to win the game. Coventry trying to play on the counter with ball over the top or into space, Barnsley working openings with players firing wide from promising positions.
In the end, a game that Barnsley should have won, they very nearly lost. In the final 5 minutes, Adam Davies made 3 saves to thwart the visitors. Two points dropped? Probably. There is no doubt those players in red knew at the final whistle this was an opportunity missed to put real daylight between them and Sunderland. At this point in the season, points in the bag are better than games in hand.
However, let us take stock. Coventry were no mugs. They have been on a decent run, flirting with the play offs. In Mark Robins they have a manager returning to his old stomping ground and former managers like to prove a point. Backed by a vocal 1850 supporters, the Sky Blues were never going to lie down and let Barnsley walk all over them.
The worry for the reds is they need to start taking some of their chances. A tricky away game against bogey side Burton Albion is next but there are favourable home games to come against Fleetwood, Shrewsbury and Blackpool. I still believe that Sunderland will drop points between now and the end of the season. To play 10 games including a cup final at Wembley in 30 something days is a monumental achievement and one that may catch up with them.
As I listened to BBC Radio Sheffield`s phone in after the game, I had to agree when the question was posed, Would you have taken 20 games unbeaten, 5 points clear and a better goal difference at this point in the season, back in August? The obvious answer is yes.
So my glass is still half full. Yes there were big areas against Coventry that were not right. Coupled with a series of goalless draws recently things have slowed down. Yet in football strange things happen. Last week Barnsley won all 3 points at Walsall in a game they did not deserve to win, yet today had enough clear chances to win but didn’t. Football eh? bloody hell!