Aapo Halme rescues a point for Barnsley FC

Aapo Halme equalises for Barnsley at Luton.Aapo Halme equalises for Barnsley at Luton.
Aapo Halme equalises for Barnsley at Luton.
THE iconic theme tune to the classic spaghetti western The Good, the Bad and the Ugly has been played many times over this week to commemorate the passing of acclaimed Italian composer Ennio Morricone.

For Luton Town and Barnsley, that film title perfectly sums up their experiences back in the Championship in 2019-20 ahead of this 'big duel' as Gerhard Struber put it.

This was not quite a gunfight at the O.K Corral, but pistols were metaphorically drawn for a frantic survival fight at Kenilworth Road after both sides circled their wagons after damaging weekend defeats.

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Despite the absence of spectators at a venue which can resemble a bear pit at its belligerent best, it could not disguise the fact that unbridled tension was thick in the air as the division’s bottom two slugged it out and desperately fought for footballing life.

Evidence of that was displayed in an utterly frenzied finale when both sides realised that a draw ultimately was small beer for both if they are to complete a memorable escapology act.

There was relief when Aapo Halme scored with his first touch six minutes from time to cancel out an early opener from ex-Barnsley midfielder Luke Berry, but the celebrations were reserved for a victory which never came.

Ultimately, it was a result that will be greeted more favourably in Hull, Huddersfield and MIddlesbrough than in Barnsley, who have still to come from behind and win this season and lacked the necessary quality to finish off Luton in a game they should have won.

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The crackle of heightened chatter from both sets of players soon after this game got underway - and plenty of howls of anguish and exhortations over its course - was testament to its king-sized importance.

After their pitiful collective no-show at Stoke, Barnsley’s body language, desire, belief and cohesion was several notches up and the game plan that never materialised in the Potteries - and was shredded after ten minutes - was much more in evidence.

But ultimately, this is a stage in a season when performances are secondary and possessing a deadly aim and not blinking under pressure is what it is all about.

In open play, Luton toiled, but after grabbing the breakthrough through Berry, who alertly blasted home the rebound after another ex-Barnsley player in Elliott Lee hit the post - they hung on for grim life. Yet they reckoned without Halme.

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Like at Stoke, Barnsley suffered a hefty blow by way of another preventable concession, but rather than feeling sorry for themselves and let their heads drop, they took the game to a Luton backline still labouring and psychologically shaken by their five-goal evisceration on Saturday.

Barnsley needed their leaders and Alex Mowatt - brought down right on the edge on the box shortly after Luton’s opener and the call looked tight - Cauley Woodrow and Conor Chaplin stepped up to the plate in a spell of sustained pressure, but they could not push the door down.

The chances arrived with regularity, right from the moment that Chaplin’s looping header was tipped over by Sam Sluga, who also showcased his repertoire to palm away a dipping header from Woodrow and made a key save at his near post to deny the Reds top-scorer, who looked ravenous to end his goal drought after six matches without finding the net.

A goal-saving block from Sonny Bradley also forced the striker to curse his luck, while Chaplin also looked up to the heavens after slicing an effort over when handed an inviting sight of goal just before the first drinks break.

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So anonymous at Stoke, Jacob Brown was also far more involved and also drew a smart save from Sluga, but unfortunately, the telling development arrived at the other end.

That said, the interval was timely for Luton and the scoreline was kind unlike Saturday.

For the Reds defence, there was the realisation that a spell of home pressure would arrive at some juncture, with it being firmly on their shoulders to keep the visitors in the game and quite possibly their season alive by maintaining concentration.

Barnsley - for whom Brown fired over when the ball set up well - continued to pose the bulk of the questions as Luton manager Nathan Jones anxiously patrolled his technical area and kicked every ball.

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Tempers got heated at times, which was no surprise given the high stakes and the clock ticked on ominously for Barnsley as demoralisation started to seep in after their failure to make a breakthrough.

Happy to hold onto their precious gain, Luton’s amber and white jerseys got back on good numbers, but Barnsley commendably persisted and they earned their dues when Halme fired home from close in.

Substitutes Elliot Simoes, Patrick Schmidt and Callum Styles did their best to conjure a winner, while a brilliant save from Walton thwarted Harry Cornick before time was called after a breathless end.

Luton Town: Sluga; Bree, Carter-Vickers, Bradley, Potts; Cranie; Ruddock, Lee (Shinnie 45), Berry; Hylton, (Cornick 71), J Collins. Substitutes unused: Shea, Tunnicliffe, Pearson, McManaman, Cornick, Moncur, Butterfield.

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Barnsley: Walton; Sollbauer, Andersen, J Williams (Styles 80): Ludewig, Bahre (Simoes 59), Mowatt, Ritzmaier, Woodrow (Schmidt 82), Brown, Chaplin (Halme 82). Substitutes unused: B Williams, Thomas, Oduor, Wolfe, B Collins.

Referee: D Whitestone (Northants).