Barnsley FC 1 Reading 1: Late anguish may be a blow too far for the Reds

IN A SEASON of punishing blows, Barnsley - on a day when you really felt they had to win to bolster their hopes of a Great Escape trilogy - might just have copped a haymaker.

IN A SEASON of punishing blows, Barnsley - on a day when you really felt they had to win to bolster their hopes of a Great Escape trilogy - might just have copped a haymaker.

The decisive moment in this game - and quite possibly the seasons of both the Reds and the Royals - arrived eight minutes from time.

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A dangerous cross from John Swift, who Barnsley could not handle all game - found Reading captain Michael Morrison, who teed up Josh Laurent.

Oakwell.

The midfielder, who scored a priceless strike in Reading’s shock win over Blackburn before the international break, scored a rather more scruffy goal. But it was no less huge in the campaign of the Berkshire club, who maintained their five-point buffer over the side who started the day below them, third from bottom Barnsley.

Barnsley, who had led early on through a clinical strike from the talismanic striker Carlton Morris, only had themselves to blame.

They invited pressure in the final 20 minutes, dropped deep and tired.

After crushing episodes late on against Stoke and Fulham, here was the coup de grace.

An assorted gathering of Reds legends, who included the likes of Mick McCarthy, Danny Wilson, John Hendrie and Pat Howard, assembled to mark the launch of Barnsley’s alumni for former players and were introduced to the crowd beforehand.

Despite the pomp, there were long odds on the game being a regal and auspicious occasion and so it proved.

There was simply too much at the stake in a survival scrap which was a ‘six-pointer’ with a capital s.

It was scrappy and tense - to the surprise of no-one. Reading had a few dangerous first-half moments from the likes of Ovie Ejaria and John Swift, but Barnsley had the interval lead on a day when only the scoreline mattered with the hosts digging in.

The breakthrough came early, albeit from a likely source.

Morris’s big-game mentality again surfaced after being picked out by Amine Bassi’s pass just five minutes in. His movement was intelligent and his low angled finish was deadly and right out of the sweet spot.

The Reds’ top-scorer’s mobility was later affected when he looked in pain after coming off second best in a block tackle. After treatment, he continued and toughed it out.

Without Helik, the hosts had to show their mettle at the back. Mads Andersen’s early booking for catching Ejaria was far from ideal, but the Reds made it to half-time with their lead intact.

Swift lobbed one opportunity over before Collins denied him after the 11-goal midfielder was picked out by a peach of a diagonal pass from Michael Morrison.

Some first-class defending on 39 minutes from Remy Vita would prove highly significant in the context of the game.

Danny Drinkwater picked out Ejaria on the left and his low cross found Tom Ince in front of goal, but just as he was about to pull the trigger, Vita made a vital intervention.

The heavens opened ahead of the second half commencing, a huge one in the context of both these rivals’ respective campaigns.

Sensing that, the Ponty End cranked up the volume to provide the hosts with some welcome fuel.

Home patrons were soon animated again after Ince was booked for diving in the box after going down theatrically under pressure from Quina.

Reading had plenty of territory, but the one polished move came from Barnsley, but Morris’s header unfortunately lacked power and was straight at Orjan Nyland.

The tension rose as the half progressed. It was scrappy, which suited Barnsley - with their precious gain - more than the Royals.

But as Barnsley started to drop in the final quarter, Reading sensed their chance and broke the dam eight minutes from time.

It had been coming, with an earlier saving block from Callum Brittain preventing Joao. The pressure was sustained, with Swift - who no Barnsley player was able to look after - set up the leveller.

The visiting support broke into a chorus of ‘We are staying up’ with those in yellow scenting a winner.

It also came with Kitching making a key block to get in the way of Ince’s goalbound effort. At the other end, Brittain nearly nicked it, but Barnsley did not do enough in the second half.

Barnsley: Collins; Brittain, Andersen, Kitching, Vita; Wolfe (Adeboyejo 90), Gomes; Quina, Bassi, Styles (Oduor 69); Morris. Substitutes unused: Walton, Benson, Iseka, Moon, Palmer..

Reading: Nyland; Yiadom, Morrison, Holmes, McIntyre; Laurent, Drinkwater; Ince, Swift, Ejaria (Dele-Bashiru 78); Joao. Substitutes unused: Southward, Thomas, Rahman, Dann, Azeez, Ehibhatiomhan.

Referee: K Stroud (Hants).

Attendance: 14,149 (1,574 Reading supporters).