Analysis of Barnsley's 3-0 home loss to Bolton Wanderers on Monday. Home captain Mads Andersen was sent off for conceding a penalty in the tenth minute.
HARSH RED CARD MEANT GAME NOT A TRUE TEST OF PROMOTION CREDENTIALS
The last player Sebastian Stockbridge sent off at Oakwell just impressed in a World Cup and could make a multi-million pound move to the Premier League this transfer window.
Mads Andersen has serious ambitions to reach the top level in both club and international football, but errors by him and Stockbridge totally shaped the course of this match very early.
He will hope to copy fellow centre-back Harry Souttar who was dismissed by Stockbridge in 2019 for Fleetwood Town for elbowing Cameron McGeehan but is now starring for Australia and Stoke City, who have reportedly put a £25million pricetag on him.
But Andersen will have to defend much better than when he misjudged a long ball in the tenth minute on Monday, allowing Dion Charles to get in front of him, then brought the Bolton striker down in the box.
It was a clear penalty, like the one he gave away four days earlier against Fleetwood, and Andersen has not looked this week like the peerless defender destined for a move to a higher level which he did before Christmas.
But he was trying to get back around Charles, with his eyes fixed on the ball, and surely the clumsy challenge did not meet the ‘no attempt to play the ball’ requirement of a red card. Michael Duff did not argue with the penalty, but disputed the dismissal.
Charles beat Brad Collins from the spot and suddenly the Reds, just 11 minutes into the game, were losing and down to ten men.
Including the controversial handball decision on Boxing Day, they have now conceded penalties in three successive games for the first time since 2008.
The red card decision totally turned the match in Bolton’s favour and meant the contest – between teams who began the day in fourth and seventh - would not be a true reflection of either’s promotion credentials.
The Reds have now taken just one point from the seven games this season in which they have conceded the first goal, but this was different to the others as they also lost a man while falling behind.
DISAPPOINTING DAY BUT HEALTHY FIRST HALF OF SEASON
It was a very disappointing defeat for Barnsley, who slipped down two places and saw the gap to the top two remain in double figures with the distance between them and seventh halved.
But they reached the halfway stage of the season with 40 points and in the play-off places – which is much better than many expected given the turmoil of the previous year.
It was their first loss in the league for 65 days, during which time they had won six and drawn one while re-establishing themselves in the top six and finding a formation which gets the best out of their players.
It was their third 3-0 home defeat of the season – having not lost by more than two at Oakwell while being relegated from the Championship last campaign – after the August humiliations by Wycombe and Lincoln, the latter in the EFL Trophy.
In this case they showed some character and unity to keep fighting and ultimately conceded from Bolton's only three shots on target – a penalty, a major defensive error by Robbie Cundy and a superb team goal late on.
TERRIBLE START IN FRONT OF EASILY BIGGEST HOME CROWD OF SEASON
Barnsley started the game very poorly – barely able to keep hold of the ball, not pressing with their usual vigour and struggling badly to deal with the passes above and through their high line which was clearly Bolton’s tactic.
This was a meeting of two of the best defences in the division but Barnsley’s did not look like that.
Charles went clean through on goal twice in the opening eight minutes, firstly finding the side netting from a tight angle on the right then blazing over after serious pressure by Liam Kitching who Bolton thought should have conceded a penalty.
Duff admitted they ‘weren’t quite at the races’ which is concerning in such an important match, against an opponent who had had one day less to prepare.
Perhaps the atmosphere was a factor. The attendance of 13,919 was the largest at Oakwell this season by 3,516 - swelled by more than 3,000 away fans who had plenty to cheer.
But the home crowd was also slightly bigger after five straight wins there in all competition for the first time since the 2018/19 promotion season. It was obvious very early this would not be a sixth.
CUNDY ERROR FINISHES REDS OFF
Barnsley changed to a back four following the red card and, after weathering spell of real Bolton pressure during which Charles headed wide eight yards out unmarked, they seemed to settle down.
They actually looked more comfortable defensively with ten men than they had with 11 and seemed likely to go in 1-0 down at the break with a slight chance of taking something from the game.
That chance was all-but extinguished in the 41st minute when Cundy tried to pass the ball a few yards to Collins on the edge of their box but fluffed the kick and the ball broke for Jon Dadi Bodvarsson. It would have been a pass-back if Collins had picked the ball up so he attempted to kick it clear but the Icelandic striker blocked then tapped into the empty net.
Cundy stood disconsolate and head down, just inches away from the spot where – four days earlier – he had headed home an epic late winner against Fleetwood Town.
The fans in the Ponty End, who had celebrated wildly with him at the end of 2022, now stared in disbelief and frustration as well as the realisation that the team would start 2023 with a loss.
Cundy would make eight clearances throughout the game and recovered well but, with Tom Edwards returning to fitness, could find himself out of the team again soon.
REDS KEEP FIGHTING BUT SECOND BEST
It is harsh to judge players on their performances while playing with ten men for 80 minutes, and they all worked hard while sticking together.
But the only home player to have a truly good game was Luca Connell – despite being targeted throughout by the fans of his former club – and potentially James Norwood.
The other attacking players were barely involved going forwards and struggled to keep the ball, while the wing-backs’ threat was nullified by becoming full-backs in a back four and the centre-backs made serious errors.
Barnsley were without the influential Adam Phillips who netted a stunner at Bolton in November but had an ankle problem.
Collins once again did not make a save but, although the ultra-critical might say he could have dealt with the aftermath of the Cundy error better, it would be very harsh to say he was at fault for any goals.