Barnsley FC's progress in League One checked by late Port Vale leveller

Barnsley remain a work in progress.

Competitive against Leeds United in the EFL Cup and big-spending Ipswich Town late last month, they were excellent in inflicting a first home defeat on Sheffield Wednesday 10 days ago.

Those fixtures were played out in front of a combined crowd in excess of 90,000 people and the Reds rose to the occasion each time.

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There can be no questioning their desire and commitment to win against Port Vale on Tuesday night, even if Vale were plying their trade two divisions below the Reds last season.

Jordan Williams set up Barnsley's goal against Port Vale (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)Jordan Williams set up Barnsley's goal against Port Vale (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)
Jordan Williams set up Barnsley's goal against Port Vale (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

That they were denied victory late on after Elliott Harrison powered a header past Brad Collins was a bi-product only of a team far from the finished article.

They had enough chances to win having been given a lead late in the first half by Liam Kitching, but their inability to close out the victory in the second half offers Michael Duff and his team a lesson in capitalising when they’re on top.

Duff elected to replace all three of his most effective offensive players at various junctures of the second half in striker Devante Cole and his two creative forces in midfield, Herbie Kane and Luke Thomas.

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Take one off to try and protect what you have? Maybe. But all three.

Frustration for Michael Duff. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)Frustration for Michael Duff. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)
Frustration for Michael Duff. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

It meant that after Harrison’s 83rd-minute equaliser, they lacked the calmness and attacking thrust to go and win the three points all over again.

They were booed of at the end by a smattering of fans, frustrated as much as Duff no doubt that they had not taken maximum points.

Any fears that Port Vale would come merely to shut up shop and take a point were allayed in the early moments with Darrell Clarke’s team packing the box for a set-piece.

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The strength in numbers worked with the ball breaking to striker Ademipo Odubeko 15 yards from goal and on the angle, but he could only shoot straight at Brad Collins.

Barnsley gradually grew into the game thanks to influential Herbie Kane being afforded too much space in the centre of midfield to pick a pass either two his front men of Devante Cole and Jack Aitchison,or the wide men of Jordan Williams and Kitching.

It was Luca Connell who had the first meaningful shot on 16 minutes, taking a lay-off from Kane and drilling a shot goalwards from 25 yards that Jack Stevens turned around the post.

Vale, though, continued to carry their own threat, Odubeko this time played in behind the defence but Mads Andersen pushed him wide and he could only drag his shot across the face of goal.

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Ben Garrity should have done better than steer a free header over the bar on the half-hour before Barnsley’s midfield of Kane and the livewire Luke Thomas finally started creating chances on a more frequent basis.

First Cole turned and flashed a fierce shot that Stevens beat away and from the resulting corner, Andersen headed Kane’s dinked cross wide.

Thomas was then inches away from an opener when his rising shot from Kitching’s pull back flew over the bar and into the second tier of the North Stand.

But the pressure finally told on the cusp of half-time and it was Barnsley’s wide midfielders who did the damage, Williams released down the right and crossing to the far post for Kitching to race in and head home.

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If Port Vale had have been content to take a point from their trip to South Yorkshire, the goal coming just before the half-time team-talks was perfectly timed.

Barnsley were certainly not resting on what they had. Williams and Kitching tucked into a five-man defence when Port Vale were attacking, but more often than not the pair were racing down the flanks to support attracts.

It was from another Kitching cross that Cole saw the chance of a second goal ripped away from him by some brave defending from Connor Hall.

Barnsley’s need for a second goal was growing by the minute especially with Vale boss Clarke throwing in three players before the hour and one of those, James Wilson, having an instant impact, teeing Ellis Harrison who shot just wide.

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Cole then missed a golden opportunity to double the lead after Kitching robbed Dan Jones and sparked a four-on-two counter-attack. His cross to Cole was inviting but the former England Under-19s international could only fire straight at Stevens.

Barnsley breathed a sigh of relief midway through the half when Harrison headed a right-wing cross wide when he should have at least tested Collins in the Barnsley goal.

But Harrison had the last laugh. Just as a shout from the West Stand lambasted Barnsley’s defenders for ‘standing like statues’, Harrison raced through the frozen figures and powered a downward header past Collins.

Barnsley substitute James Norwood nearly won it with a fierce drive in stoppage time, but equally, Daniel Butterworth could have stolen all three points for Vale with his own fizzing drive.

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Barnsley: Collins; Andersen, Cundy, McCarthy; Williams, Kane (Wolfe 69), Connell, Kitching; Thomas (Phillips 82), Cole (Norwood 82), Aitchison (Martin 69). Unused substitutes: Walton, Edwards, Tedic.

Port Vale: Stevens; Forrester (Cass 58), Smith, Hall (Massey 58); Worrall (Butterworth 72), Pett (Politic 72), Ojo, Jones; Garrity, Harrison, Odubeko (Wilson 58). Unused substitutes: Stone, Benning.

Referee: T Parsons.