Doug O'Kane analyses the Good Friday 1-1 draw with fellow top six side Reading at Oakwell.
JOAO MISS ONE OF WORST EVER
Alex Mowatt’s penalty had cancelled out Ovie Ejaria’s opener by the time of one of the most ridiculous passages of play you will see in professional football.
Yakou Meite, who had run out of play after an earlier attack, appeared from behind goalkeeper Brad Collins when Callum Styles passed back to him in an incident reminiscent of Dion Dublin’s famous goal for Coventry against Newcastle.
Meite won the ball then it rolled to Lucas Joao - a £5million signing from Sheffield Wednesday - who inexplicably fired wide of an open goal from 12 yards out.
Styles, Collins and especially Joao will wince when they see that already viral clip for the rest of their careers.
It was one of the worst misses of this or any season - and the second time in as many games that a visiting striker has shot wide of an empty Reds net after Jordan Rhodes did so for Wednesday from a much more difficult angle.
The Reds hit the post and bar while missing a series of chances but know they were given a major reprieve.
It was a moment Barnsley will look back on, should they make the top six, as a crucial let-off and one that seemed to show that this could be their time to do something special. Dave Regis is the go to name for missed chances by Barnsley players but, in terms of opposition, Lucas Joao must surely go to the top of the list.
Goalkeeper Collins, although he did well rushing out of his area to win headers, really should have noticed that Meite had run past him once but not back again.
Styles was probably the Reds’ most lively attacker, and won the penalty, but should not have passed to Collins with Meite lurking behind the goalkeeper. Styles is a superb talent but mistakes are creeping into his game.
Ismael seemed to be referring to him when he said that Barnsley needed to stop making mistakes, following his error that gifted Wednesday the winner.
That Joao let-off seemed to spark the Reds into life as, in the next seven minutes, they missed four good chances to take the lead - including a Mads Andersen shot onto the post with the goal gaping after Rafael dropped a cross - then saw a goal ruled out.
REDS AGAIN DENIED GOAL FOR ALLEGED FOUL ON GOALKEEPER
Mowatt’s right-wing corner led to a scramble with Michal Helik’s shot crossing the line, but the linesman judged that Daryl Dike had fouled the goalkeeper. Dike did walk backwards into Brazil international Rafael but made minimal contact, with Ismael and most neutral commentators baffled that the goal did not stand. It is the third time this season that Barnsley have had the ball over the line but it has been ruled out for a foul on the goalkeeper after similar incidents against Sheffield Wednesday in the previous match and Cardiff in January.
Ismael said it should have been a goal but was less angry than about the previous incidents, perhaps now used to such calls going against the Reds.
Ismael was more annoyed with the antics of the Reading staff, claiming that they were ‘disrespectful’ and ‘crossed the line’ by swearing in Serbian and with the way they spoke to him, his staff and the referee.
The two benches clashed often - with Reds coach Adam Murray at one point shouting ‘shut your face’ at a Reading employee - then Ismael refused to shake former Manchester United defender John O’Shea’s hand initially after full-time before eventually doing so.
Some faces in the dugouts seemed to be turning nearly as purple as the socks Barnsley wore to support Weston Park Cancer Charity.
MOWATT HAS SEVEN GOALS AND SEVEN ASSISTS
On the hour-mark , Mowatt’s cross was headed into the air by Daryl Dike and when it dropped, former Barnsley captain Andy Yiadom pulled Callum Styles down by the right shoulder. Referee Geoff Eltringham – who gave Wycombe a penalty at Oakwell in December for a foul by Aapo Halme that was outside the box - pointed to the spot. With usual penalty-taker Cauley Woodrow off the pitch, captain Alex Mowatt - who played with Yiadom at Barnsley - smashed the spot-kick down the middle and in.
Mowatt made the most touches, passes and shots of any player and his crosses led to big chances for Helik and Andersen as well as the penalty and disallowed goal. Mowatt registered his seventh goal of the season to add to his seven assists - excellent figures for a central midfielder.
READING LATEST TEAM TO CHANGE STYLE AGAINST REDS
Ismael expected Reading to pass the ball out from the back and picked a front three equipped to press them, but the Royals mainly played long balls like most of the Reds’ recent opponents.
Reading possessed plenty of firepower up front. Eighteen-goal Portugal striker Lucas Joao led the line with other international attackers on the bench in George Puscas and Sone Aluko, each signed for £7million, as well as £3.5million Sam Baldock. The attacking three behind Joao were ten-assist Michael Olise, nine-goal Yakou Meite and £3.5million Ovie Ejaria who has completed the most dribbles in the division this season. But their only chances came from poor Barnsley errors.
The Reds had 55 per cent possession and made more passes and touches while Reading played more long passes than their hosts including the assist for their goal.
Reading were clearly expecting an aerial bombardment as they left Bayern Munich- bound left-back Omar Richards on the bench in favour of the much taller Lewis Gibson.
These two teams had made the most tackles in the division but a lot of the time the midfield battle was bypassed.
Barnsley played some excellent football at times, especially in the opening ten minutes when they overwhelmed their hosts with their movement and skill.
But they lost their way in the first half and eventually it was the physicality and strength of half-time substitutes Daryl Dike and Carlton Morris which put them on top after the break.
Going forward, it is probably wise for Ismael to assume that every team - regardless of their usual style - will go direct against his side to avoid the press, then blame Barnsley’s style of play as Veljko Paunovic did.
BETTER POINT FOR REDS THAN ROYALS
Ultimately this was a better result for the Reds than the Royals and kept Ismael’s side in fifth place, two points ahead of the sixth-placed Berkshire club who face a tough run-in as they desperately try to cling onto sixth place.
Reading are unbeaten in eight games against Barnsley and have not lost in the league at Oakwell since 1996.
But this was a point that kept the dream of repeating the promotion of 1996/97 alive.
When Ismael took over at Oakwell in October, the Reds were 20 places and 15 points behind Reading who, later that week, went seven points clear at the top of the Championship. It is now his side that has the upward momentum going into the final month.