An already hugely challenging season took another nosedive at Oakwell with a completely unacceptable first half performance only slightly redeemed in the second period as Town took to the air in a failed attempt to force a result.
After a relatively bright opening, the visitors’ sluggish, disjointed and shapeless efforts shocked their large away following in to an angry and justified reaction as they sloped off sheepishly towards them.
Until Barnsley’s opener after 14 minutes, which should have been stopped either by better defending by Brown on Brown or better goalkeeping by Grabara who should have stopped the cross, the game had reflected the lowly positions of the protagonists; poor final balls from the hosts undermined occasionally competent approach play while the visitors carried no threat.
Once they conceded, however, Town deteriorated alarmingly. Second to every ball, panicked in and out of possession and devoid of ideas or intent, only Barnsley’s inability to translate overwhelming superiority in to chances saved the visitors from the ignominy their display deserved.
Home supporters could at least see what their team was attempting to do and what little guile was evident came from the men in red. Jacob Brown gave his namesake Jaden a torrid time but the youngster, who has struggled to find form after his return from injury, wasn’t helped by a less than committed Grant in front of him. The leading scorer is rarely effective when playing with his back to goal but provided no discernible contribution down the left and was rightly hauled off at the break.
In the middle, Chalobah’s endless desire for time on the ball which simply isn’t available in the Championship had predictable results, though he wasn’t helped by static team mates. As he occasionally showed in the second half, there is a powerful presence in there somewhere but Town surely don’t have the time to allow him to develop in to what he may become.
Aside from Stankovic, who demonstrated calm whilst many around and in front of him were consumed by inertia, and O’Brien, who was not, the performance had no redeeming features and had all the hallmarks of failure and doom.
Being only one behind, however, offered some hope. It was barely conceivable that Town could be anything other than better in the second half, and so it proved if only to a limited extent.
Brown was hooked at half time along with Grant though the Cowleys had quite a few choices over who should pay the price for the woeful display. Given their histories, the role of saviours thrust upon Mounié and Hadergjonaj was ironic but both made a difference in a second half where Town were, at least, competitive.
The improvement from dreadful to mundane hardly lifted the spirits but at least there seemed to be a semblance of purpose which had been entirely absent before the break. Still, no attempt on goal emerged from the basic competence suddenly acquired and after 20 minutes of futility, Barnsley extended their lead with a rare moment of quality in a humdrum derby.
Kachunga was easily beaten by a piece of trickery by Oduor on the half way line and after side stepping O’Brien lifted an excellent ball to Brown on the left. The winger double his assists with a fine first time pass to Chaplin who finished coolly.
What appeared to be a fatal blow was rendered irrelevant one minute later when a poor Bacuna cross was dealt with inadequately by a home defence which appeared increasingly vulnerable. The ball fell invitingly to O’Brien who lashed a first time half volley in to the top corner to put the game back in to the same position.
Desperation set in for both teams as the game descended in to an unsightly tussle befitting two relegation threatened rivals.
Town, largely on the front foot, launched high balls forwards for Mounié at every opportunity with any pretence of gaining midfield control long abandoned. Hadergjonaj made a difference on the left and the introduction of Koroma added a threat completely absent with Kachunga. In hindsight, he should have been the third half time substitute but it was telling that both full backs failed to finish the game. Kachunga’s ineffectiveness was simply switched to the right as Bacuna filled in at right back.
Mounié had a good effort smartly saved following an uncharacteristically deft turn in the area while Campbell’s flying volley which just cleared the bar would have been an excellent equaliser.
For the most part, however, the Terriers toiled and struggled to overcome Barnsley’s play halting tactics and time wasting; ploys which no Town supporter can complain about given our antics under the Cowleys.
Diaby was very fortunate to only be booked for a rash, dangerous challenge on O’Brien but the referee was simply awful in the second half and failed to spot a clear push on Mounié late in the game which should have lead to a penalty. Such a decision would have been soft but the offence was committed. The players’ infuriation with the referee was growing and several dissent bookings were deserved but so were a few home indiscretions which went unpunished.
The equaliser didn’t come, Barnsley squandered a couple of breakaway opportunities and a low quality derby came to an end with the hosts taking 3 deserved points and the visitors in no doubt that their efforts were unacceptable to the packed away end.
The extended bounce gained by the appointment of the Cowleys is undoubtedly at an end but they surely deserve some patience. So far, they have been able to add one free agent to a hugely damaged squad, lifted the team out of the relegation zone and overcome significant handicaps on the way. Hopefully, they will be able to add to the two signings illegible for yesterday’s game, a left back is urgently needed, and rediscover a winning formula.
The stains of the last few weeks need washing away quickly.