Analysis of Barnsley's 1-1 draw at Stoke City on Wednesday in which Cauley Woodrow levelled with a superb goal then Brad Collins saved a penalty and there were four late red cards.
Arriving at Stoke, who have made a flying start to the season, with a depleted team after failing to have a shot in Saturday’s 3-0 loss at Bournemouth, many Reds supporters surely feared the worst.
Markus Schopp’s selection raised some eyebrows. Aapo Halme was at right centre-back when he is more suited to the middle of the back three, the right-footed Jasper Moon was on the left of the back three while centre-back Toby Sibbick was at right wing-back. Right-back Callum Brittain was in central midfield, where has been moved to several times but never started, with Callum Styles continuing on the left and Dominik Frieser, usually a wide forward, used as the central striker.
The home squad had been recruited for £42million – most of it from several years ago as they were accruing the roughly £200million debut which has now curbed such excesses.
A look at the benches showed the difference.
Abdallah Sima, a Senegal international who starred for Slavia Prague in the Europa League last season as they knocked out Leicester City and Rangers, was on the homebench as well as big money signings Tom Ince, Sam Clucas and Danny Batth who had more than 600 Championship appearances between them. In contrast, four of Barnsley’s substitutes had never started a Championship game while they had three Championship goals between them and fewer second tier appearances between them than former Barnsley captain Adam Davies, now Stoke’s back-up goalkeeper, played for the Reds.
But, while Barnsley certainly rode their luck and Stoke will wonder how they did not win, it was a Reds substitute who could have won it when Victor Adeboyejo could not score from five yards out late on and extended his goalless run to 30 games.
History seemed to be repeating itself as, just like at Bournemouth four days earlier, the Reds started well but conceded a goal to the opponents’ first real attack then were having to defend desperately.
They needed one of their big players to step up and deliver something special and Woodrow – the captain, the top-scorer, the most experienced player – did exactly that with a magnificent free-kick on 37 minutes.
Woodrow had tested home goalkeeper Josef Bursik with an early 22-yard strike which was tipped out of the bottom right corner and was full of energy all night, pressing hard and tracking back to win tackles and help his team.
He mainly scored penalties and close-range goals last season, but this was one of the very very best of his 51 Barnsley goals.
In first half injury-time, Sam Surridge went to ground and a penalty was awarded against Brad Collins by referee Leigh Doughty.
Collins, who made minimal contact, was furious with the decision but recovered to push to spot-kick onto the bar after Mario Vrancic sent the ball high and central – as coach Kevin Pilkington had instructed his charge. It was the goalkeeper’s second penalty save of the season and a good bounce back after a difficult game on Saturday in Bournemouth in which he made a crucial error.
After the penalty save, Collins became almost superhuman in the second half.
During a succession of corners approaching the hour-mark, he saved a powerful Sam Surridge volley from five yards out, with a strong right hand, then smothered a Jacob Brown effort from even closer. Seconds later, he brilliantly repelled a Vrancic header from a right-wing cross with a superb reaction stop then kept out another effort by Surridge who looked certain to score six yards out but shot straight at the goalkeeper.
It was a sensational performance from the goalkeeper who is Barnsley's player of the season so far.
Tommy Smith was sent off on 85 minutes for a studs-up tackle on Claudio Gomes. There was then a melee in the dugouts in injury-time after Stoke coach Dean Holden ran into the Barnsley technical area to get the ball and pushed Markus Schopp – which the head coach described as ‘an attack'.
The Reds assistants grabbed hold of Holden which caused various other staff and players to get involved in a fracas. Eventually, Barnsley coach Joe Laumann and Stoke coaches Holden and Rory Delap – the former Reds players – were all sent off.
It was an ugly end to an entertaining match, which will likely result in fines for both clubs.
Seven points is more than Barnsley collected in their previous two Championship campaigns after seven games but it could easily have been fewer than that with Stoke copying Cardiff, Coventry and Birmingham in missing some huge chances.
Of 14 halves of football, they have been the better side in just one of them – the excellent start at QPR where they went 2-0 up before drawing. There have been other reasonable displays, such as Cardiff away on the opening day, and times when they have shown good character to scrap to points like in Stoke. Their performance levels need to improve but there are plenty of mitigating factors that have to be taken into account.
Markus Schopp is following on from Valerien Ismael’s astonishing achievements and attempting to totally change the style of play while injuries, suspensions and Covid-19 denied him five players from his first choice squad for this game.
If they show the character and match-changing individual quality they have in some games this season, particularly in Stoke, and add some important returning players as well as a better execution of Schopp’s style, they will be in for another good season.
Barnsley – who have not won in five – must find a way to keep the ball better and stop teams opening them up with clever movement and passing – although, in fairness, they have visited two good sides this week.
They now have another tough game against an in-form side in Blackburn Rovers, before matches against bottom three sides Blackpool and Nottingham Forest within four days which already look like huge fixtures.
If, by the time they host Millwall on October 2 before the second international break of the season, they start picking up wins then this midweek battling draw could be seen as a mini turning point.