Analysis of Barnsley's 0-0 draw at Lincoln City on Tuesday.
GREAT ACHIEVEMENT TO SCURE PLAY-OFFS WITH FOUR GAMES LEFT
WHEN the dust settled on a frustrating night at Sincil Bank for Barnsley, the League One table revealed that they were guaranteed a place in the play-offs this season.
To do so with four games remaining, given all the turmoil last summer following the worst season in living memory, should be celebrated as a fine achievement.
Hardly anyone predicted this at the start of the campaign or, a few months into it, when the Reds lost 1-0 at home to Lincoln during a four-match run of no goals and one point so were 15 points off the top two.
Since the change to three points for a win in the early 1980s, the only season in which the Reds have collected more than their current tally of 82 was the 2018/19 promotion campaign under Daniel Stendel, when they posted 91 which could still be surpassed by Michael Duff’s men.
They have totally transformed a club that was broken a year ago and, whatever happens in the next month, it has been a successful and enjoyable year.
TOP TWO CHANCES VERY VERY SLIM NOW
‘You’re not going anywhere’ was the mocking chant the home supporters aimed towards the away end in the second half as each futile Barnsley attack was cleared or ended due a lack of quality.
That was a reference to fact that this draw – coupled with victories for the top three including an 96th-minute Plymouth winner in Shrewsbury – made automatic promotion, already an outside chance, much less likely.
Lincoln and their manager Mark Kennedy – a close friend of Duff’s – are both namesakes of assassinated US Presidents and this result seemed to shoot a near-fatal bullet into Barnsley’s hopes of going up without the play-offs.
While many fans have ruled it out, the Reds will still believe they can finish in the top two, while mainly focusing on getting back to winning ways at home to lowly Oxford United on Saturday.
Having seen the Reds go from the League One relegation zone at Christmas 2015 to promotion in May 2016, and from five points adrift with two games left to survival in the final minutes in the 2019/20 Championship, you can never rule anything out with this club.
It is not impossible given they still have to play second-placed Ipswich at home on Tuesday, but six points is a significant gap to make up in four games and they are relying on two of the top three slipping up badly.
Since the October loss to Lincoln, the Reds have collected 61 points from 27 games which is eight more than anyone else in League One in that time.
They have been held back by their slower start, while still rebuilding from last season with many changes, some questionable refereeing decisions and – more recently – a run of just eight points from six away games.
TOUGH PLACE TO GO
Barnsley’s last league visit to Sincil Bank was in December 1975, the week that the Equal Pay Act for men and women was introduced in the UK, rock band Iron Maiden was formed and golfer Tiger Woods was born.
A draw there was always the most likely outcome and, taken out of the context of Barnsley needing to catch up with teams above them, not a bad result at all.
If it had happened a few months ago, it would have been seen as another helpful point but wins were the currency Barnsley needed to deal in on Tuesday.
Lincoln are marooned in mid-table but had won their last three including at high-flying Plymouth last week.
They are now unbeaten in all eight meetings with the top four this season, winning at Oakwell, Ipswich and Plymouth.
They have the most draws in the top four divisions with 20, including 14 at home.
They have lost just once in 21 league games at Sincil Bank this season, 3-0 to Peterborough last month, with the top three all drawing there 1-1.
A VERY DULL GAME
One of four original copies of the Magna Carta is kept in nearby Lincoln Castle and, reading that centuries-old tome in its entirety might have been more entertaining than this dire game of football.
Lincoln were happy to defend throughout while Barnsley did not have the quality to break them down – resulting in a game of very few chances.
The hosts were without top-scorer Ben House as well as Danny Mandroiu and Teddy Bishop who did the damage in the wins at Oakwell last year, while they only had six substitutes on the bench.
The Imps, despite being the youngest side in the division, played like a team of cynical old veterans.
They seemed intent on drawing 0-0 from the opening minutes – with a goal from a counter-attack or set piece a bonus – as they set-up very defensively and were regularly time-wasting.
Duff said he had no problem with that behaviour but that the referee should have dealt with it better and there should have been more added time. He also said the Reds could have played another 20 minutes and not netted.
BARNSLEY POOR IN ATTACK
Barnsley were solid and barely troubled defensively, while working very hard throughout, but lacked quality in attack against a well-organised home side.
They could not hold the ball up up front and gave it away far too easily while their tactics of playing long balls behind the home backline simply didn’t work.
Luca Connell’s passing was unusually poor while Bobby Thomas, trying to get forward from the back, sent a series of balls careering out of play.
Ex-Red Adam Jackson had a fine game at the heart of the impressive home defence while midfielder Ethan Erhahon – who spent first half of 2020 on loan to Barnsley without playing – also performed well but seemed to lead the way in time-wasting and riling up the visiting players.
Barnsley tried some unusual tactics such as Liam Kitching moving forward from centre-back into the front line in open play.
But they have not scored in 270 minutes against Lincoln this season, having lost twice against them at home earlier in the campaign in the EFL Trophy and league.
Neither side had come from behind to win this season so a goal in a very tight match would have likely have been the winner.
The big chance for Barnsley fell to Herbie Kane in the first half but he smashed a powerful shot just over the bar from just inside the box, after mistake by Paudie O’Connor.
James Norwood also headed an Adam Phillips cross wide before the break.
Barnsley started the second half well, with a Luca Connell free-kick leading to a goalmouth scramble which saw home captain Regan Poole block efforts by Mads Andersen and Norwood.
They finally had their first shot on goal in the 88th minute from substitute Luke Thomas but it was a long-range daisy-cutter which bobbled to the goalkeeper.
Another replacement Slobodan Tedic sent a looping header onto the roof of the net from a Kitching cross in injury-time.
Lincoln almost took the lead just before the break when O’Connor’s header from the left-wing corner crashed against the bar, after he ran easily across Barnsley’s line of zonal markers. That was their only real chance of note, other than a couple of other harmless headers and long-range shots.