Barnsley 0 Chelsea 1 - Blues survive FA Cup scare at Oakwell
Some 4,724 days had elapsed since Barnsley floored Chelsea in an FA Cup upset of the highest magnitude in front of an enchanted audience of millions watching on Match of the Day back in March, 2008 – complete with a mostly ecstatic full house at Oakwell.
Almost 13 years on, there was no similar stunner or post-match pitch invasion from joyous Reds supporters either.
The scenes could not have been more contrasting at a sadly-deserted stadium that was made for Cup nights like this, but thankfully this was still an occasion which showcased Valerien Ismael’s high-energy, incessant Barnsley in a good light even in defeat.
A 64th-minute close-range strike from Tammy Abraham enabled the relieved Blues to book a quarter-final date with Sheffield United and not the hosts.
But testament to Barnsley’s display was the fact that the striker had just as much of a telling impact at the other end as he made a key clearance over his own bar to keep out a goalbound effort from substitute Michael Sollbauer and prevent Barnsley from deservedly levelling.
Ismael was sage enough to realise that his side would have to deliver a faultless performance to go close to producing another famous shock, with the added proviso that the intensity that Barnsley showed for half an hour in their heavy 6-0 Carabao Cup loss at Stamford Bridge in the autumn would also have to be sustained over the duration of the piece.
They managed that and displayed trademark ferocity in terms of pressing allied to outstanding organisation. This was far removed from their visit to London in September.
There was disappointment at Abraham’s strike, with the striker seeming to be in an offside position ahead of the build-up to the goal – and no VAR in operation.
In fairness, replays had earlier showed that Chelsea were unfortunate not to be awarded an 18th-minute penalty when Toby Sibbick’s last-ditch tackle caught the boot of Abraham with things evening up.
But this was not a night to dwell on controversy. It was one where Barnsley – despite bowing out – showed how far they have come under a smart operator in Ismael.
Perhaps the major source of introspection was the fact that a Reds opener did not transpire before Chelsea’s strike. The Blues could surely have not argued if it had.
Two huge chances fell to the same player and an unlikely name in Callum Brittain. The only thing missing from an outstanding start to his Reds career has been a goal and his wait continues. Brittain’s opportunities bookended the first half and his opening on 10 minutes was one that will have particularly pained him.
With plenty of the goal to aim at after arriving at the far post following a deflected cross from Alex Mowatt, Brittain’s point-blank effort from close in was blocked by Kepa Arrizabalaga when it looked easier to score. Just before the interval, Brittain profited from an innovative short corner routine involving Mowatt and Conor Chaplin and his low angled shot crept agonisingly wide.
Chelsea, with Andreas Christensen being their only starter from Sunday’s game at Sheffield United, were largely passive by comparison and lacked urgency in their build-up.
A nice passing exchange which ended in Christian Pulisic sliding wide at full stretch was a rare scare for Barnsley.
At the break and clearly concerned, Thomas Tuchel switched from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3 at the start of the second half while also making two changes to a bid to instigate a response from the under-whelming visitors.
A shot which flew just wide following a weaving run from Callum Hudson-Odoi, one of the few visiting players to look on his game, threatened as did a header from substitute Antonio Rudiger which flew off target as Chelsea sought to restore some order.
That was finally confirmed when Abraham tapped home following a lightning raid on the right, with half-time replacement Reece James being the supplier with the hosts’ appeal for an offside flag being in vain.
It was not the precursor to a comfortable final half hour for Chelsea as Barnsley threw everything at the hosts and emptied the tank.
Ultimately, it was not to be. But this was the right way to exit a competition against exalted opponents.
Barnsley: Collins; Sibbick (Sollbauer 76), Helik, Andersen; Brittain (J Williams 72), Kane (Palmer 72), Mowatt, Styles; Chaplin (Frieser 59); Adeboyejo (Dike 59), Woodrow. Substitutes unused: Walton, Oduor, Sollbauer, Moon, Thompson.
Chelsea: Arrizabalaga; Christensen (Rudiger 45), Zouma, Emerson, Alonso (James 45); Kante, Gilmour; Hudson-Odoi, Ziyech (Anjorin 69), Pulisic (Kovacic 80); Abraham. Substitutes unused: Caballero, Kovacic, Giroud, Chilwell, Azpilicueta, Bate.
Referee: M Atkinson (West Yorkshire).
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