TUESDAY may have been a headline day at Westminster in the Brexit process, but supporters of Barnsley and Sunderland would have been forgiven for not paying too much attention.
Their preoccupation was likely to have been on their own summit meeting at Oakwell as opposed to the machinations of Parliament and in the event, this high-stakes affair ended in deadlock, perhaps with an air of predictability to many.
Granted, this was not quite the picture-perfect result for Daniel Stendel’s second-placed side, but it was one that it came with a nice caveat on a night when they did not blink at a direct rival’s expense and also created a spot of history into the bargain.
In front of a crowd of 18,282 – their biggest in the league at Oakwell since the home game with Newcastle United in October 2016 – Barnsley equalled a post-war record of 23 home league matches without defeat and extended their sequence without a loss at Oakwell past the 12-month mark.
On a wind-ravaged occasion, a 17th league game without seeing their colours lowered was another welcome development as Barnsley also become the first side this season to prevent Sunderland from scoring – as they maintained their four-point buffer over the third-placed Wearsiders.
This was a fixture which had leapt off the page for several months – and it had always possessed the look of a match-up which had the portents to arguably be the biggest in the renaissance of both clubs following the pain of relegation.
As is often the way, the game failed to quite live up to its pre-match build-up on an evening when manful defending, particularly from both sets of centre-halves, came to the fore.
The more cultured and expansive football, in conditions which deteriorated as the first half progressed, came from Barnsley, with Mamadou Thiam causing problems for make-shift right-back Luke O’Nien in particular with his pace and directness.
The Frenchman went closer than anyone to a breakthrough and was left to rue the intervention of the crossbar on 38 minutes when his curler slammed against the woodwork following Kenny Dougall’s neat pass. It was the prelude to a strong period of home pressure ahead of the break, with Jon McLaughlin blocking with his legs to keep out a rasping drive from Dimitri Cavare and the half-time whistle was well-timed for Sunderland.
Thiam had gone close early on after seizing upon O’Nien’s weak header, only for the alert McLaughlin to make a key parry to turn away his rising goalbound shot as he bore down on goal.
Forward raids by Sunderland, whose best moment came when Max Power’s arrowing drive was tipped around the post by Adam Davies, were sparing by comparison, but the interval scoreline was still a handy one.
It pointed to a game plan, justifiable in the circumstances given some disruption in terms of team selection, of snaffling a goal and then aiming to frustrate the life out of the hosts.
Proactive Barnsley’s intent to make things happen in the final third in tough conditions was commendable, but all the while, there was a nagging realisation that they would need to make their pressure count – or leave themselves increasingly open to a potential sucker punch at some point.
That nearly arrived on the hour mark when the hosts were caught square, but thankfully Power fired his low shot wide with just Davies to beat after Jack Baldwin’s fine pass.
The tempo that Barnsley had strove so hard to maintain started to fade and contending a hazardous wind in their faces proved a further issue for the hosts’ defence.
Lee Cattermole then saw his close-range effort inches flash wide, while an offside flag at the other end correctly cancelled out Cauley Woodrow’s header as the Reds sought relief.
The game was on a knife-edge with James Dunne steering the ball wide from Grant Leadbitter’s corner, but it ended in stalemate, with both sides having still not seen their colours lowered at league level in 2019.
Sunderland: McLaughlin; O’Nien, Baldwin, Dunne, Matthews; Gooch (Morgan 75), Cattermole, Leadbitter, McGeady; Power (Sterling 90); Grigg. Unused substitutes: Ruiter, Ozturk, McGeouch, Wyke, Hume.
Barnsley: Davies; Cavaré, Pinnock, Lindsay, Pinillos; Dougall, Mowatt; Green (J Williams 69), Bähre (Adeboyejo 80), Thiam; Woodrow. Unused substitutes: Walton, B Williams, Jackson, Hedges, Styles.
Referee: P Bankes (Merseyside).
Portsmouth closed the gap on second-placed Barnsley to six points after holding on to win 3-2 at Walsall.
Charlton remain fifth following a 2-1 home win against Burton.
Peterborough’s play-off hopes were dealt a blow as they lost 1-0 at bottom club AFC Wimbledon.