Merde. Not a lot, if anything, went right today. It began at sparrow’s fart French time, with a mouth like the proverbial bottom of a canarie’s cage (well, it was my last night in Lyon for a while and a lot needed to be finished off). At St Exupery the doubts surfaced with the announcement of a 20-minute delay to the flight, which was soon updated to 45 minutes. What became an hour became two as we didn’t have a slot to take off. That meant the dash from Gatwick had to involve going straight to the pub, where there was just enough time to sling one glass of wine down my throat. No matter, a victory and all would be well (enough). Just wasn’t to be, due to two factors: first, we didn’t play well enough; second, the ref doesn’t give a stonewall penalty.
Sir Chris opted to keep the 4-4-1-1 formation that had secured the splendid win away at Blackpool, with Razak supporting Fuller up front, Kerkar and Green out wide, and Hollands and Stephens in the centre, with no changes either in defence. No real problems there, but I don’t know if my own sense of lethargy extended to the rest of the crowd and onto the pitch as the first half proved to be something of a stalemate. The tone for first-half shooting was set by Razak, whose ambitious shot from closer to the half-way line than the goal drifted harmlessly wide, as were just about all of Barnsley’s efforts. They seemed to have a propensity to shoot from not especially dangerous positions – and to send them wide in any event.
Our play was steady but lacked zip and too often foundered on their blonde-haired guy, who spent all the afternoon sweeping up effectively in front of their defence. There were flashes, not least from Razak and Fuller, and a splendid run and cross from Kerkar. And a couple of free-kicks, the first (from Green) being blocked and the second (Razak) turned round the post. But if you’re summing up 45 minutes and that’s it, it’s a fair indication that the game didn’t have the bumper crowd on the edge of its seats. Aside from their poor shooting Barnsley did create one decent chance, as a cross from the left saw their guy and Hamer engage in a game of spot the ball, before it ended up in Hamer’s arms.
0-0 at the break was a fair reflection of the game. Barnsley had moved the ball around well enough but didn’t look threatening; we hadn’t moved it with enough precision or pace to disrupt them. What had been notable was the ref’s apparent desire to let the game flow, which is fine in principle but meant that one or two late challenges by them went unpunished and in general we weren’t getting the better of the physical contest.
Changes came at the break, with Wright-Phillips coming on for Razak and Jackson for Hollands. The former, basically a change in formation (back to 4-4-2), was reasonable and in itself no real reflection on Razak’s display, which was promising even if he didn’t seem to exploit the space between midfield and defence (perhaps due to that blonde git). The latter was a little curious as it seemed to involve like-for-like in terms of position. Perhaps Sir Chris was thinking in terms of set-pieces. Fact is the second change came back to hurt us later on.
The formation change didn’t seem to disrupt Barnsley, as they went about their business. And in a 15-minute spell they took the initiative and grabbed the goal that was to prove decisive. They first squandered the best chance of the game to date, as a guy arriving at the far post unmarked opted not to head the ball in but rather to try to get his foot on the ball, sending it over the bar. Seemed par for the course, but as the announcer confirmed the crowd and we were all looking at the big screen number suddenly one of theirs had made inroads on our right side. Instead of the expected cross he moved away from the byline and curled one into the far corner of the net. It was a finish out of keeping with the rest of the game.
That should have stinged us into action, but not a lot changed. Until the other decisive moment of the game. Solly advanced into the box to get onto a ball inside and seemed (no, was) upended from behind. It looked to me a stonewall penalty. Whether or not their guy touched the ball (as the ref seemed to be indicating) he had gone through Solly to get there. One big decision to make and he bottled it. Final judgement has to await the TV highlights, but I think he just screwed it up. Irrespective of the balance of play, his indecision cost us dear.
Pritchard came on for Green, with not a great deal coming down the flanks, and Barnsley continued to frustrate most of our efforts to make something happen. One or two balls into the box, always the threat of Cort at a set-piece, but nothing much else, with Fuller looking less effective as the game wore on and BWP not getting a sniff in or around the area. If we were getting downhearted, the mood got worse as Fuller pulled up and quickly departed, presumably with a hamstring.
All that was left was the final hurrah, with Cort moving up front. In fact in the final five minutes or so, down to 10 men and with nothing to lose, we did start to cause them problems, with Wilson seemingly able to move down the right and past their guys with impunity. One late scramble in the box, but in truth Barnsley saw out the game (I think they made three substitutions in stoppage time) relatively untroubled, even when Hamer came up for the last corner.
We should have had a penalty and that could have changed the game. It wouldn’t have hidden the fact that we didn’t play well enough, with not enough verve, adventure or accuracy. But we might well have taken a point and moved on. Instead we have to reflect on what is becoming a dire home record. Four goals in six at home speaks for itself. Fuller will presumably be out for a few weeks, all of which leaves Sir Chris with some serious thinking. The first-half wasn’t great but was even, the change in formation at the break didn’t make things better, and the use of a second substitute then cost us when Fuller had to depart. Suddenly Hulse and Smith move up the ranks of available choices and we are left with the feeling that the team has to show more daring in games, especially at home.
To round things off, and with a couple of additional friends down for the game, we retired to the Oak. But like many others simply gave up waiting to be served by an indifferent and poorly organised bar staff. The way the day’s gone I’ll probably find that Khans has run out of food. I just hope that the ref has as miserable day tomorrow as I did today.
Player Ratings (I don’t think about these in advance, but that they all turned out, for me, similar, was a fair reflection of the fact the fact that nobody really did enough to hurt them, while nobody was especially bad):
Hamer – 7/10. Once again, what mark do you give a keeper who had no chance with the goal and otherwise no serious shot to save?
Wilson – 7/10. Can’t be sure whether he was culpable for their goal as I was watching the screen at the time. Got forward to good effect late on, although the balls in failed to find a target.
Solly – 6/10. A bit harsh as he should have been getting the plaudits for a run into the box which produced a goal from the spot. But he did seem to lose his rag after that, perhaps not surprisingly, and with a yellow card came close to getting a second.
Cort – 7/10. Distribution occasionally naff, but that’s not really his game. We failed to find his head with set pieces but defensively nothing wrong.
Morrison – 7/10. No complaints here, defended effectively and a game of very few chances means both back fours cannot be blamed.
Kerkar – 7/10. Was involved in most of our brighter moments and clearly had the capacity to cause them problems. Still a plus for me and hopefully will become increasingly effective in turning the threat into goals.
Hollands – 6/10. Not exactly a dramatic first half, but can’t really see why he was taken off at the break. The change didn’t exactly turn the game.
Stephens – 6/10. Equally unexceptional. Fact is throughout the game we failed to control midfield, even with the first-half formation.
Green – 6/10. Not effective enough. I can’t remember him getting past their defender, or delivering a telling cross. Perhaps symptomatic of a very tight game.
Razak – 7/10. Showed promise in the first half and nearly made a couple of things happen, although instead of his introduction creating a more fluid midfield the others seemed to rely on him alone to support Fuller, while their blond git closed out the space.
Fuller – 6/10. Bright enough in the first half, but seemed to get more shackled as the game progressed before his early departure.
Subs – Wright-Phillips (6/10 – worked well enough away from the box but nothing came his way in it); Jackson (6/10 – nothing of note in the second half, when we failed to create a single decent chance aside from the penalty); Pritchard (6/10 – no real chance to shine but perhaps helped create the space for Wilson to get forward late on).