Analysis of Barnsley's 2-1 win over Fleeetwood Town on Thursday. The Reds recovered from conceding a penalty to net an 87th-minute winner.
YEAR ENDS ON A HIGH
There could be no better way for Barnsley to end a dramatic and draining year than with an epic celebration of a late winner in front of the Pontefract Road End.
The passionate scenes on both sides of the barriers after Robbie Cundy’s goal reflected the importance of another victory to maintain their healthy position in fourth, but also possibly the frustrations of the up-and-down game and the year in general.
After being two wins from the Premier League last year, then having one of the worst seasons in their history in 2021/22, Barnsley have finished this year on excellent form.
They have now won six of their last seven league games – with Monday’s draw at Accrington the exception – and five consecutive home games in all competitions.
During that run of victories at Oakwell, where they had struggled in the early months of the season, the Reds have scored 12 goals and conceded only two.
The atmosphere for this Thursday night victory was one of the best of the season, in which the club are still trying to bridge the gap to the supporters who they let down so badly in the last campaign.
There seemed to be slightly more support throughout the game then the noise at the end was fantastic. This is a group of players and coaches who the fans can really get behind and the sound levels and crowd numbers should only go up if the promotion challenge lasts well into the spring.
They go into 2023 – which starts with a huge clash against Bolton on Monday – five points clear in the play-offs and with two games in hand on the top two who are nine points ahead.
REDS TAKE CHANCES… EVENTUALLY
Fleetwood had been hard to beat this season, especially away, but only the bottom two have fewer wins than them and they had the most draws in English football.
They appeared to play for another draw but eventually suffered a sixth straight loss to the Reds and could be heading into the relegation fight.
The hosts dominated the first half, with their midfield in control and their wing-backs constantly bombing forward.
Devante Cole – booed by the away end as a former Fleetwood player – missed two huge first half chances, with James Norwood and Adam Phillips also wasteful.
The Reds will need to be more clinical when on top against better sides, while it is easy to see why they want more options up front in the transfer window.
Nothing happened in the first 19 minutes of the second half and the game appeared to be drifting towards 0-0 with Fleetwood making it more even and scrappy. But suddenly, roared on by their coaches, Barnsley seemed to find an extra gear.
After fine footwork by the impressive Luca Connell and Jordan Williams, Norwood won a free-kick and, after it was cleared, Cundy and Liam Kitching worked it to the striker who lashed in on the left of the box. It was his second goal of the week and he appears to be hitting form just at the right time.
PENALTY DOES NOT MAR MADS MILESTONE MATCH
Fleetwood’s only shot on target came on 78 minutes from the penalty spot when Admiral Muskwe was tripped by Mads Andersen then fired in the spot-kick.
The Fleetwood substitute had almost signed for the Reds last year but pulled out of the deal at the last moment.
It looked as though, just like at Accrington, Barnsley would rue missed chances and a penalty decision after drawing a game they should win.
Andersen said later that Muskwe dangled his leg back to win the foul but it was a clumsy collision.
It looked set to mar the captain’s 150th match for Barnsley, making the Dane just the second non-British or Irish player to reach that milestone after Arjan de Zeeuw.
That is a remarkable achievement considering how difficult his first six months were at the club, but he has turned himself into a superb defender who they will be desperate to hang onto during the coming transfer window.
DUFF SENT OFF AFTER PENALTY WAVED AWAY
Minutes after Fleetwood’s penalty, Barnsley felt they should have had one for a foul on Norwood when running through on the left of the box.
Both Reds coach Martin Devaney and his boss Michael Duff expressed their disappointment to the fourth official, as coaches of many teams do regularly throughout games.
The fourth official then called over referee Benjamin Speedie who sent Duff off.
Only a select few know what the head coach said but he seemed genuinely perplexed to get a red card.
It remains to be seen whether Barnsley appeal the decision or if Duff will face a ban. But the whole incident, including the penalty appeal, seemed to whip the home fans up into a frenzy and they cheered their team on passionately.
CUNDY NETS EPIC WINNER
Duff had just made it into the bowels of Oakwell when his team scored the winner.
Cundy impressively headed home a left-wing corner by Connell for his second goal of the season and first at Oakwell.
It was an excellent moment for the centre-back who has been very good since returning to the side in the absence of Tom Edwards. Cundy had cleared off the line at Fleetwood earlier in the season and he broke their hearts again.
Duff had been calling for Barnsley to net more set piece goals, adding to their armoury of attacking threats. They have tall players who are good in the air and decent crossers of the ball so it should be an area of strength for them.
Barnsley then showed good game management to see out the win, especially 17-year-old Fabio Jalo who had been brought on to get the winner at 1-1 but played a key defensive role.
He did well to clear corners in injury-time and behaved like a cynical old pro, to the delight of the staff and fans, when he pulled down a Fleetwood man who was breaking away to attack and accepted the yellow card.