Monday, December 14, 2009

If only our trip to Oakwell had been Hassell-free...

Barnsley 2 - 2 Newcastle Utd

Perhaps, with the benefit of hindsight, it was rather rash to say in the report on Wednesday's win over Coventry that relentless success was "a kind of monotony I could easily get used to". Saturday afternoon saw us come up against a Barnsley side in no mood to roll over as easily as some of our other supposedly more illustrious Championship opponents have, the late (and deserved) equaliser for the Tykes a brick on the brake pedal of the Toon steamroller.

With this fixture coming only three days after our trip to the Ricoh, Chris Hughton continued with his squad rotation policy, resting Peter Lovenkrands, Shola Ameobi and Danny Simpson and handing starts to Ryan Taylor, Bigger Lad and Kevin Nolan.

All three had a hand in our opener just five minutes in, Taylor's ball headed down by Bigger Lad for Nolan. The former Bolton man, having served his one-match ban for the two bookings against Watford and immediately looking at home in his familiar advanced role, duly gave us the lead with a cool finish.

Mindful of recent victories on the road, and apparently confident that our defence could hold firm for a fifth successive game, we assumed that one goal would be enough. Certainly there wasn't much in the way of an attempt to extend our advantage, aside from a Spiderman header that Tykes 'keeper Luke Steele saved easily.

But Barnsley, who had the look of relegation fodder early in the season, are a changed side under Mark Robins - dogged of spirit, they've climbed clear of the danger area (and would be even better off if it hadn't been for the Plymouth fiasco). And we were made to pay for any complacency early in the second period, Emil Hallfredsson blasting home via the underside of the bar from close range.

When, despite raising our game briefly, we were unable to regain the lead, Hughton's response was to withdraw Spiderman and throw on Homer. So a pat on the back for the manager was due when, just nine minutes later, the substitute volleyed home another Carroll knock-down.

On came Nile Ranger for Fabrice Pancrate, who like his fellow winger Spiderman had endured a frustrating afternoon - though I suspect the move wasn't so much to pose a greater offensive threat as to add height to the side, the home team's aerial bombardment having been unsettling our back four. So it was disappointing that the second equaliser came from a set-piece, full-back Bobby Hassell heading past Steve Harper.

A draw was a fair result, admittedly, but whether the opposition get their just desserts is of no concern to us - we want them to get beaten. Our ruthless efficiency deserting us and our defence creaking, we threw away points for only the third time this season.

All the same, it looked as though it might be a point gained, with our lead over West Brom stretched to eight points and the Baggies trailing 2-1 to QPR in injury time at the end of tonight's game. But then up popped in-form striker Simon Cox to snatch an irritatingly late leveller, so it's back to seven. It may have been cut to four by the time we next kick off, against the Smogs on Sunday. But then Bloomfield Road, West Brom's next destination, hasn't been an easy place for anyone to visit this season - as we know from personal experience.

Other reports: BBC


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