CHILDREN In Need day may still be just over two-and-a-half weeks away, but Barnsley’s players got in benevolent mood nice and early on Saturday.
A piece of editorial advertising the worthy cause appeared in the match-day programme ahead of the Reds displaying their own charitable status on the pitch to provide Nottingham Forest with a rare afternoon to savour at Oakwell – a far from happy hunting place for the City Ground outfit over the years.
The East Midlanders, who had won just once in 10 visits to Barnsley since August, 1952, have probably never had it so easy just a short hop up the M1 from Nottingham.
The only thing missing as far as Forest fans were concerned was a commemorative goal from loan striker Billy Sharp, whose baby son Luey tragically died 12 months ago to the day.
But while it was a near perfect autumnal afternoon for Forest, there was only cold comfort for the 8,000 Oakwell regulars who braved the elements to attend, although the chill in the air was nothing compared to the 10-minute spell just before the break, which saw a 1-0 home lead dissipate into a 3-1 deficit and will have felt as biting as an Arctic blast.
The overall performance was hardly the sort that suggests confidence ahead of the nights drawing in and the Tykes faithful will be hoping manager Keith Hill can back his words with deeds this week and bring in some new recruits, which look badly-needed on this evidence.
On a wretched Saturday, Hill, whose side were unbeaten in five matches against Forest, reflected: “We came unstuck and it was down to ourselves more than the opposition.
“I cannot take too many positives out of the performance and it was an education for the players. We helped the opposition and they did not need any help.
“As a side, we usually manage the ball quite well. But on Saturday, we did not and when you give the ball away to the opposition, we – as a team – will get beaten. We are not good enough to let the opposition have the ball and defend for 90 minutes as we made some bad mistakes against Forest.
“We are not as good as Nottingham Forest, and we have to be better than what we were to be able to compete against the Forests of this world.
“Yes, we are an honest bunch, but when we just dip performance-wise and get one or two decisions wrong, we can get cut to shreds, as we did against the likes of Jermaine Jenas, Simon Cox and Billy Sharp.”
It was another striker Trent Enders know plenty about, in the shape of Marlon Harewood, who was the central figure early on and after fluffing his lines by firing two early sighters meekly off target, the powerful forward then blasted a free-kick high into the away contingent, much to their mirth.
Gentle mocking cries of ‘Marlon, Marlon’ followed but his wastefulness was soon matched at the other end by Sharp, with the Sheffielder heading a glorious chance wide from a pinpoint cross from Andy Reid.
While there was affection in the Forest fans’ chants for Harewood, they did not feel so warmly towards their former favourite on 24 minutes when the much-travelled frontman netted his first goal in the Football League in 18 months.
Brilliant interplay between Harewood and Nottingham-born Jacob Mellis ended with the latter sending the former clear with a sublime pass – the hosts’ most telling moment of quality on the day by a country mile – and the previously-misfiring striker coolly rounded advancing goalkeeper Lee Camp to tap into the empty net before adhering to his pre-match pledge not to celebrate if he scored.
Harewood almost set up a second on a plate for Matt Done soon after, only for a timely clearance from Brendan Moloney to save the day.
Then the ‘goodwill’ began, with a 35th-minute leveller, following some defending which Hill succinctly labelled as ‘suicidal’, restoring parity.
It was the sort of goal that makes managers apoplectic.
The hosts criminally switched off following a throw-in down their left, with Greg Halford allowed to meander infield unchecked before seeing his low shot with the outside of his foot deflected past the helpless goalkeeper Ben Alnwick by the outstretched leg of captain Scott Wiseman.
Another lamentable moment came seven minutes later when Chris Cohen supplied Sharp, whose low shot was parried out by Alnwick invitingly into the path of Simon Cox, who obligingly tucked the ball home.
With the shaken hosts desperately seeking the sanctuary of the dressing room, Forest plunged the knife in deeper seconds before the interval when Cohen’s long-range shot beat Alnwick too easily, the goalkeeper only helping the curling effort into the net.
That was pretty much that and despite Hill making three substitutions early in the second half, the changes could not inspire a home renaissance as they surrendered possession continually.
It was left to Forest to sign off with a flourish with substitute Jermaine Jenas – whose reported £45,000 weekly wage packet is probably not far off what Barnsley’s weekend starting XI collectively receive a week – showing consummate class to deliciously dink the ball over Alnwick after a delightful pass from Cox 13 minutes from time.
A bad day at the office for Barnsley, all right.