A valuable point on the road for the Reds..

Barnsley – 1
Nottingham Forest – 1

The clinched game of two halves here – a strong first half saw the Reds deservedly leading at half time (as we’ve oft seen, a reluctance to take our chances meant a 1-0 lead was about right, probably – McCleary’s goal from nothing counterpointed by what looked like a blatant penalty claim just as half time approached – there’s a reasonable case for feeling a little hard done to, I suppose).

In the second half rather than a Forest relapse, it was more a case of Barnsley waking up – they’d offered very little by way of threat in the first half and managed to get back into it by offering a second half showing similar to the Reds in the first, plenty of dominance but not much threat – unfortunately for us they did manage to fashion the equalising goal, leaving us with a point that – on balance – has to be considered a good one.

Steve Cotterill was forced to make changes to his line-up, and it has to be said, was still able to name a line-up with a degree of balance which is testament to his signings.  Injuries to Higginbotham, Chambers and Moussi were the catalysts for the change, leaving us with:

Gunter   Wootton    Lynch    Elokobi
McCleary    Greening    Guerdioura   Reid
Blackstock   Tudgay

That we named no strikers on the bench neatly illustrates the change in emphasis for our squad issues – now well stocked in defence and midfield, we are struggling for fit forwards.  The game started at a fairly pedestrian pace, but it was Forest who created the first chance, Tudgay setting up Dexter to shoot, only to be denied by a block that allowed Steele to gather the ball safely.

A nice cross from Reid was met by a header from Blackstock but off target, but we were quite limited in creating too many clear cut chances despite enjoying the lion’s share of possession and territory.  A corner from Reid was punched away by Steele, falling to Guerdioura who – as we know – has an eye for the spectacular.  Unfortunately so far we’ve yet to see him execute it successfully, and true to form he spannered it well off target!

With well over half an hour on the clock the home side registered their first meaningful opportunity – a cross into the box was met by Scott Goldbourne but he headed over under the attentions of Chris Gunter.  Moments later Garath McCleary picked up the ball and went with it before smashing a shot which deflected off former-Ram Jay McEveley and ended up low and in the net to give the Reds the lead.

Forest carried on pressing – a flicked ball from Blackstock to the far post found Tudgay outjumping the defenders to put a header over Luke Steele in the Barnsley goal, but it hit the top of the bar.  Then the inevitable Darren Deadman fuck up (in fairness to Mr Deadman, it wasn’t exactly a bad game from him but for this) when Jonathan Greening had a shot which was clearly – from the other end of the pitch clearly – blocked by the hand of a defender in the area.  The official waved play on much to the disbelief of Forest fans, players and the bench.

Still, at half time life was looking rosy.  As results from around the country filtered through it was certainly shaping up to be a decent day for Forest in the light of how the struggling sides around us were doing.  Hell, even Derby were losing.

The second half started with the home side looking like they had a flea in their ear from the manager – a much more positive Barnsley side were immediately on the front foot.  Korey Smith had an effort which Wootton was able to get something on, whilst Matty Done went for a clever chip over Lee Camp but fortunately for us spectacularly failed to get anywhere near the target!

Much like Barnsley in the first half, Forest struggled to make in-roads in the second – it was beyond seventy minutes that were really caused them any problems from attacking, it was that man Garath McCleary again with a shot that brought a decent save from Steele and won Forest a corner.

Barnsley's scorer met a girl on monday, took a for a drink on tuesday..... scored an equaliser on Saturday, then chilled on Sunday. Oh, DavIES...?

It was proving difficult to stem the home tide though, and Barnsley finally notched the goal it’s fair to say their performance probably warranted.  With a little over ten minutes left, Craig Davies picked the ball up, turned and took it forward a little before smashing a decent striker into the bottom corner of the net.  A disappointment for sure, but the warning signs had been there for a while.

Cotterill elected to withdraw Reid in favour of some pace from Anderson, and the Reds seemed to find some renewed vigour with McCleary again leading the charge with a cross to Tudgay who couldn’t get a powerful enough connection with the ball that just looped fairly tamely into the hands of Steele.  Perhaps another example of Deadman uselessness was his issuing of just a yellow card to Stephen Dawson for his x-rated challenge on Joel Lynch.

As time was running out and there was still a risk of conceding Cotterill withdrew the tiring Blackstock for Greg Cunningham with a few minutes left, and as we went into stoppage time Lewis McGugan replaced McCleary.  At the death we could’ve snatched all three points when Tudgay played in a great pass for Cunningham whose shot from a tight angle brought a save from Steele that saw the ball ping high up in the area.

In the ensuing mêlée Anderson was bundled over in the area for one of those incidents that would be a foul anywhere else on the pitch, but in the area a decision the referees always seem to bottle, so I’m not going to count it as a Deadmanism as it seems to be a general refereeism.  Predictably an almost identical incident outside the area on a Barnsley player resulted in a free kick shortly after, before the final whistle eventually came.

Referee grumbles aside this is a decent point – Oakwell isn’t a happy hunting ground for the Reds and whilst it’s disappointing to have surrendered a lead, to have got seven points out of the last nine would have seemed spectacularly optimistic at the start of our recent run of games – so the team and coaching staff are to be congratulated as we now look to a couple of home games against sides struggling with us before the not inconsiderable matter of a trip to Derby.

Where things had felt beyond hope not all that long ago, there are some green shoots of optimism if you look carefully, but there’s also a great deal of work still to do.

Barnsley vs. Forest preview..

If I’m brutally honest, a third win on the bounce seems an unlikely proposition – and a trip to virtual bogey-side Barnsley perhaps seems to corroborate by reluctance to express too much optimism.  Then again, with no disrespect to our Yorkshire hosts, this trip provides a theoretically smaller challenge than our last away trip – so I am at least open to the prospect of being surprised again!

Hopefully with two wins under their belt against Coventry and Birmingham the Reds will travel in confident mood.  With four defeats in the last five, Keith Hill’s Tykes might be less so – although they are capable of turning over impressive results – just ask Reading, Leeds or Leicester.  Certainly not a game to be taken lightly, and I’m struggling to remember ever going to Oakwell and leaving happy!

On the injury front it’s Danny Higginbotham who is our major concern.  The loan man limped out of action at Birmingham with a hamstring problem, although he was of course ably deputised by Joel Lynch.  The extent of the injury hasn’t really been clarified very much, although Steve Cotterill seems to rate him at around 50:50. Robbie Findley, in the meantime, has returned to training.

Majewski and McGoldrick are suddenly inclusions on the injury list (which personally I think is suspicious – echoes of Kelvin Wilson and his indefinite ‘back injury’?  Or maybe I need to learn to trust against.)  Also sidelined are Ishmael Miller, Marlon Harewood, Matt Derbyshire (another suspicious one) and Brendan Moloney.  And Chris Cohen, of course.

The other thing Mr Cotterill needs to consider is the international games that some of our players have undergone.  Whilst home games for Lee Camp and Chris Gunter shouldn’t have proven too much of a strain, Adlene Guerdioura and Dexter Blackstock have been much further afield representing Algeria and Antigua & Barbuda respectively.

Our hosts will be missing David Perkins and Bobby Hassell – but could well hand a home debut to Stephen Dawson who recently arrived at Oakwell from Leyton Orient.  Perhaps the most significant non-Forest member of personnel though is the referee.  I’m afraid it’s Darren Deadman again – perhaps the most incompetent referee I’ve ever had the displeasure to witness (and let’s face it, that’s quite an accolade in that particular pool of ‘talent’!).

We started our season against the Tykes, of course, which was a fairly limp goalless draw.  Since that point obviously – like most of the league – Barnsley have had a better time of it than we have.  Cautious optimism is the watchword here for me – whilst our hosts are not to be underestimated I do hope to see us continue the recent positive play and attitude and come back from Yorkshire with a result.