There are few better ways for a striker to introduce themselves at a new club than scoring on their debut. It took only five minutes on the pitch for Ashley Fletcher to announce his arrival at Oakwell.
The Manchester United loanee had never played a game of first team football at any level before Saturday, but with Barnsley needing a goal to keep the home leg of this Johnstone’s Paint Trophy area final level at the final whistle he showed a striker’s instinct.
Fletcher’s inch-perfect header came after an excellent cross from the left by Adam Hammill, a moment of quality in a game that had threatened to be defined by a goal that Adam Davies will want to forget. It is rare to see an own goal credited to a goalkeeper, but Davies deserves no less after somehow diverting Ashley Hunter’s weak cross into his own net.
The Tykes had been on a good run of form, winning their last two, but had to alter their starting line-up. Both of Barnsley’s changes from the 2-1 win against Millwall were forced - Marley Watkins missing out due to an ankle injury and Ben Pearson no longer at the club after the end of his loan spell. Ryan Williams, so regularly on the sidelines due to injury, replaced Watkins up front. Brad Abbott, making his first appearance this season, was tasked with replacing Pearson, who reported to be moving to Preston this January.
After some decent work by Reece Wabara down the Barnsley right failed to bring about an opportunity, Fleetwood had the first shot of the game in the tenth minute. However, Ashley Hunter’s right-footed strike was shanked well wide of Davies’ net.
The Tykes could have been ahead only three minutes later. A Hammill corner fell for Lloyd Isgrove, the Southampton loanee playing it to Conor Hourihane on the edge of the area. Hourihane’s shot was on target, but with Chris Maxwell beaten it was chested off the line by a well placed Cod Army defender.
A high-tempo opening 20 minutes settled down, although Fleetwood came close to breaking the deadlock after Bobby Grant cut inside on his left foot, curling the ball just wide of the Barnsley net. A high point prior to the half hour mark came after Ryan Williams made an intelligent run inside from the right, but after being found with a lovely through ball the Australian should have done much better, firing his shot straight at Maxwell. A minute later Williams dragged a strike from the edge of the area far off target.
Antoni Sarcevic should really have opened the scoring five minutes before half-time. He anticipated Ashley Hunter’s flick-on exceptionally to leave nothing between himself and Davies. Running at pace, he fired a shot with his left-foot but put it wide of the right-hand post of the Barnsley net.
The game threatened to boil over on the half-time whistle, with a questionable tackle heralding the start of the break and a shoving match between members of both sides, one which Barnsley manager Lee Johnson was forced to break up.
Compared to the end of the first-half, the second began in a sedate manner. It took until the 55th minute for the game to come alive again. Hunter could have had a chance to score had Davies not rushed out of his net to close him down. From the resultant counter Isgrove’s cross was knocked out for a corner. Fleetwood defended it in a bizarre manner - first goalkeeper Maxwell punched the ball onto his own bar, and then the bar was rattled again after a Cod Army player struck it towards his own goal before they finally got it clear.
That is not to say Fleetwood’s opener was any more conventional. After an extended spell of Barnsley pressure, Town countered. Hunter found space down the left, putting in a low cross. Davies should have dealt with it, but his attempt to grab the ball saw him divert it into his own bottom corner to send the 100 or so travelling fans into ecstasy.
Barnsley struggled to immediately respond, but the introduction of Ashley Fletcher for Williams gave them added impetus. With 20 minutes left a Hammill corner found Kevin Long, who saw his goal bound header blocked by a massed Fleetwood defence.
It was Fletcher who brought the game level, rising highest to meet Hammill’s cross and heading towards goal. The ball thumped the bar for the third time in the game, although on this occasion its journey to the turf put it over the line, giving the Manchester United loanee a debut goal.
The scores were level and both sides seemed happy to keep them that way. Davies deserved credit for making amends for his earlier error with three minutes of the 90 remaining, making a good stop with his feet to keep Amari’i Bell at bay and the scores level. Barnsley have been impressive on the road recently - they will need to be again when this area final resumes at Highbury Stadium.
“It’s an okay result.” said Barnsley boss Lee Johnson. “It’s half time and we know that, but it’s a better result having been 1-0 down. If I was to analyse the performance I would say the first half we didn’t do enough.
“Second half we were able to get some good tactical advice in during half time, and second half we were in the ascendency. We were unlucky to go behind, they can count themselves lucky not to have anyone sent off as well.”