Today’s win means that the Reds have now gone four games unbeaten in the league. The freakish midweek result aside, when Man City were lucky enough to breach our defence on seven fortuitous occasions, Barnsley have conceded precisely no goals in their last three games. By rights, therefore, this report should be full of praise, and there were some positives to take out of the game.
But my God it was DULL. Really dull. Not just, “low key” or “quiet”, this was a painfully dull football match. Imagine spending fifteen hours train spotting. And no trains turning up. And the railway tannoy playing Foster & Allen’s Greatest Hits. Continuously. Well, that would have been more interesting than today’s game.
For about sixty five minutes, nothing happened. To be fair to Barnsley, they started brightly and forced a couple of early corners. After a few minutes, however, it became painfully obvious that the Reds would struggle to break down what looked like a nine man Chesterfield defence. This seemed to dishearten the side and, despite the fact that Paul Hart put out a positive looking line up – Conlon & Nardiello up front with Chopra “in the hole” behind them – the Reds barely created a shooting opportunity, never mind a clear cut chance, in the opening forty five minutes.
The midfield was painfully short of ideas. As ever, Mcphail’s touch was impressive, but I have yet to see him really make his mark on a game. Alongside him, Nicky Wroe was willing but, again, lacked any real impact, whilst Anthony Kay seemed intent to continue the legacy of Ray Wilkins, inventor of the “crab” style of football (main rule: pass the ball sideways whenever possible).
Service to the front men was therefore poor; Chopra, in particular, spent most of the half with his back to goal, something that, on today’s evidence, is not his strength. The main problem, however, was the lack of width. There was no outlet for the Barnsley attacks, with every attack going down the middle. As a result, Chesterfield could easily pick off the hopeful punts from the Barnsley midfield.
Chesterfield almost snatched the lead on 22 minutes when the lightning-quick Campbell-Ryce (who gave Bobby Hassell a torrid afternoon) forced Colgan into a smart save at his near post. The visitors then created the chance of the half when N’toya dragged the ball back for DeBolla whose tame effort rolled wide. But hey, I’m making this game sound exciting. It wasn’t. At all. These were two incidents. In forty five minutes of football.
The second half continued in a similar vain, although Nardiello forced a save from Muggleton in the Chesterfield goal when he cut inside and struck a low shot to the keeper’s right. The incident that swung the game occurred in the 64th minute, when Barnsley were awarded a free-kick on the edge of the opposition penalty area. Amidst the hustle and bustle of setting the wall up, the eagle-eyed linesman spotted that Chesterfield’s Mark Innes had stamped on Nardiello, leaving the referee no choice but to send Innes off. When the freekick was finally taken, Chopra’s low drive drew a smart save from Muggleton and only a last ditch tackle prevent Nardiello from forcing the loose ball home. Hells teeth, have we got a game on?
No, not really. Barnsley did no better against ten men than they had against eleven. Which made it quite staggering that the Reds broke the deadlock with a well worked goal in the dying minutes. Conlon displayed fine control in the middle of the park before lofting a glorious through ball to Kay, who had made a strong run forward, probably for the first time in the whole game. Kay still had a lot of work to but he showed great composure in chesting the ball down before drilling a fierce shot into the corner from eighteen yards. From that point on, the result was never in doubt: despite the five minutes of injury time that followed, Chesterfield never looked like scoring.
So, the positives: a clean sheet (the defence never looked in trouble), an excellent goal and, erm...that’s about it. Okay, I'll admit it: Barry Conlon seems to be getting better with each game and his critics may have to revise their opinion of him. He has an excellent touch for a big man and some of his passing and close control is very impressive.
On the downside, this was a tepid performance seriously lacking in creativity. The players were not helped by the formation, to say the least, and you have to ask what Michael Boulding has done to Paul Hart to warrant his continued omission from the team - run over his cat? Pinched his last Malteser? Boulding can provide the width and pace that the Reds so desperately needed today. Let's hope that he's included in the next Barnsley line up. Above all, and for the sanity of all those that went to Oakwell today, let's hope that the next match is a bit more entertaining...