Doug O'Kane analyses Barnsley's 2-2 draw with Cardiff City in which the Reds lost a 2-0 lead.
Referee Andy Woolmer took charge of Barnsley’s 2016 Johnstone’s Paint Trophy victory at Wembley, which almost 30,000 Reds attended.
Nearly five years on, in a behind-closed-doors game, he infuriated the Oakwell club’s supporters watching from home as well as the players and staff in the ground with a poor performance.
Woolmer ruled out a perfectly good Reds goal in the seventh minute, judging that Cauley Woodrow had fouled Alex Smithies when actually the Barnsley striker had been pushed into the goalkeeper by Cardiff defender Aden Flint.
Then, after Mads Andersen and Woodrow headed the hosts into a 2-0 lead, the referee awarded a corner rather than a goal kick when the ball seemed to clearly come off a Cardiff man last.
That corner brought the visitors’ first goal and they levelled soon after, having barely been in the game for the first 55 minutes.
Head coach Valerien Ismael said later that Woolmer admitted he made a mistake for the corner decision and apologised. That will be small consolation to a squad and fanbase already aggrieved after various handball decisions for penalties have gone against them in recent weeks.
But, while Barnsley will hope they start to go in their favour, officials’ errors are part of the game and Woolmer was not the only person who made mistakes. Both goals were sloppy, with the Reds again struggling to defend from set pieces, and – as a team – they were too distracted by Woolmer’s corner decision for the 2-1 goal.
It was a moment when they seemed to miss the calming influence of the departed Matty James who was crucial in helping them manage their way to victories in late 2020 before this current four-game winless run in league matches.
They lost control of a match in which they had previously dominated, bullying the bullies of the Championship and beating them at their own game, so missed out on a first clean sheet in 14.
A combination of mistakes by Woolmer and Barnsley meant Cardiff were able to avoid a sixth successive loss and their new manager Mick McCarthy avoided first loss in ten games against his hometown club.
In Cardiff three months ago, Barnsley’s front three was Elliot Simoes, Patrick Schmidt and Conor Chaplin – a diminutive and slender attack which failed to impose itself on the hosts or keep the ball in a dire performance which resulted in a 3-0 defeat in Valerien Ismael’s first away game as Barnsley head coach.
Simoes was taken off before half-time and has been loaned out without playing for the Reds again, Schmidt lasted just under an hour and has played just 27 minutes of first team football in the last 18 games, and Chaplin was an unused substitute on Tuesday. This time, the Reds fielded a more muscular and imposing front three of Victor Abeboyejo, goal-scorer Woodrow and Dominik Frieser, who assisted the opener.
This was certainly a much better Barnsley performance than when they were easily beaten in the Welsh capital on November 3, a game in which Ismael says he learned a lot about what it takes to win Championship games.
That was one of several recent meetings between the clubs in which City have bullied and intimidated the Reds on their way to victory.
Ismael was right to point out that his side have improved, and it was certainly impressive to head home two crosses against the side who had won the most aerial balls in the division. Cardiff had to bring on an extra centre-back to deal with Barnsley’s aerial threat, and McCarthy was impressed with the way the Reds attacked his side.
But Barnsley are still plagued by set piece goals against them. The defending for both goals could have been better while Ismael was disappointed with the lack of communication between goalkeeper Brad Collins and wing-back Callum Brittain in the build-up to the corner for the second goal, which Collins came out for but did not claim.
Ismael kept the same team that beat Norwich in the FA Cup, against extremely different opponents to the Canaries who passed out from the back. That meant that Jack Walton and Michael Sollbauer, two heroes of last season’s great escape and the much-improved first half of this season, were replaced by Brad Collins and Toby Sibbick, who both made their first league starts under Ismael and were partly at fault for the equaliser.
Neither Walton or Sollbauer had done much wrong in previous games but Ismael clearly wanted to reward Saturday’s cup-winners and freshen up the league 11 after three straight losses.
Sibbick – who struggled to mark Kieffer Moore, as most defenders do – was replaced after the second goal by Sollbauer, whose passing was very wayward in a chaotic finale to the game.
The home goals came from one unusual source and one very common supplier.
Centre-back Mads Andersen headed into the top left corner from eight yards out for his first goal in his 71st appearance for Barnsley and his first for anyone since bagging a brace for Horsens in a 3-0 win over Vendsyssel in the Danish top flight in February 2019. It was a header McCarthy and Ismael would have been proud of during their successful careers as top level centre-backs. It also ended a wait of six hours of league football for a goal since Alex Mowatt netted at Rotherham on December 29.
The Dane was also solid at the back. He has made the most interceptions and clearances of any Championship player this season, with Michal Helik joining him in the top ten, while they are both in the top ten for winning aerial balls. On Wednesday, Andersen and Helik won 13 and 11 headers respectively as well eight clearances each.
Barnsley’s second goal came from top-scorer Cauley Woodrow, who nodded in Alex Mowatt’s free-kick.
It was his 45th goal for the club and ninth in the league this season which put him sixth on the Championship’s top-scorers’ list, while he also has the most assists for Barnsley with four.
Scoring a header against such aerially strong opponents will be a great boost for a striker still adapting to leading the line on his own.
It was reward for a bruising night for the forward who was often flattened by the visiting centre-backs, although he would have preferred the three points his goal looked likely to secure.
It was a first draw for Ismael in his 21st Barnsley game. He is not a coach who settles for draws – his LASK team only tied three league games last season in Austria – and both teams looked likely to net until the final seconds on Wednesday.
But it ended a run of three successive league losses – against the division’s current top three – as the Reds secured their first point and goals of 2021 in the Championship.
Overall, it was yet another encouraging performance that did not yield the points tally it should have done due to errors by the officials and the Barnsley players.