Barnsley stumble at Cheltenham Town hurdle but remain in League One promotion race

Barnsley remain among the runners in the League One promotion race - but stumbled at a hurdle against Cheltenham Town.

Like a seasoned race horse familiar with the track, Barnsley are in a place they know well, in the midst of a tense battle for a spot in the Championship.

However, they were in somewhat unfamiliar territory as they huffed and puffed to no avail in search of a goal against Cheltenham.

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The Reds have scored 70 goals in League One this season, a tally only bettered by Peterborough United. As they squandered chance after chance against a plucky Robins side, they did not look like the clinical outfit they have been for most of the campaign.

Neill Collins' Barnsley are still in contention for promotion to the Championship. Image: Stu Forster/Getty ImagesNeill Collins' Barnsley are still in contention for promotion to the Championship. Image: Stu Forster/Getty Images
Neill Collins' Barnsley are still in contention for promotion to the Championship. Image: Stu Forster/Getty Images

Having suffered play-off final heartbreak last year, the Oakwell faithful could be forgiven for dreading a return to the end-of-season showcase.

Despite recent setbacks, and the development of an seven-point gap, Collins still has sights set on the top two.

When asked about the club’s automatic promotion ambitions after the 0-0 draw, Collins said: “That’s not changed. We’d have liked to have been five points behind them [Derby County] but there’s a lot of football to be played. I think we’ve made it more difficult for ourselves, quite clearly, but eight games left, we’re going to give it our best shot to win all eight and see where that leaves us.”

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Barnsley did actually create a plethora of opportunities, even if their spark did fade and slowly die out as the game went on.

Cheltenham were bombarded with crosses, with Corey O’Keeffe, Nicky Cadden and Adam Phillips among those who sent dangerous deliveries into the mixer.

It was rare a delivery did not find a Barnsley head or foot but the finishing touch is something the Reds could not find.

The result was not a fatal blow to Barnsley’s automatic promotion hopes but was still a bitter one, something felt in the Reds changing room post-match.

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Collins explained: “The players are in there, you’d think we’d been beaten because it feels like a defeat. We really wanted the three points with where we’re at in the table. We knew how important this game was, to get three points. But we didn’t.

"I think a lot of aspects of the performance were good, we just need to learn a couple of lessons and move on. It was just one of those days.

"It’s hard to be too critical because I think on another day we get that goal, that first goal, and we go on and win."

At this stage of the season, clubs have a delicate balancing act in the aftermath of games. Analysis and scrutiny remains important but sides cannot afford to be haunted by the ghosts of frustrating afternoons.

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There is no worse time for a crisis of confidence and the importance of moving on is not lost on midfielder Luca Connell.

A classy orchestrator of attacking moves, the 22-year-old is likely to be key if the Reds do escape the third tier.

He said: “You can’t think too much into it and dwell on it. But obviously we’ll probably look into it more than we usually would because we’ve got two weeks before our next game. We’ll analyse it, see what we’ve done wrong. I think we created chances and we deserved to score goals, if not win the game.

“In this league, if you look through, there’s still big games to happen. Anything can happen in this league. Anyone can beat anyone. I think seven points behind, three games a week, you can catch that up pretty quickly if you’re getting three points each game. We just need to be positive.”

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In the absence of Jordan Williams, Connell was given the captain armband and stood up to the challenge.

He described wearing the armband as a “pleasure” but made a point of referencing regular captain Williams.

He said: “It’s a pleasure to captain this football club. Obviously, following in Jordan’s footsteps, he’s our leader in the changing room as well as on the pitch. It was good for me personally but I’m sure Jordan will be back before you know it.”

League One’s hectic schedule rarely allows for wound-licking but Barnsley do have nearly two weeks until their next game. An international break means the Reds will not be back in action until Friday 29, when Cambridge United will visit South Yorkshire.

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Barnsley will once again be favourites to emerge victorious, although their Cheltenham stutter is a stern reminder that the division does not always bow to the odds.

Barnsley: Roberts, McCart (Williams 80), de Gevigney, Earl; O’Keeffe, Russell (Grant 71), Connell, Cadden (Cotter 80); Phillips; McAtee (Marsh 80), Cosgrove (Cole 57).

Unused substitutes: Killip, Benson.

Cheltenham Town: Southwood, Davies, Smith (Bradbury 64), Freestone; Long, Pett (Thomas 74) Ferry, Sloggett (Bonds 64), Kinsella; Lloyd, Keena (Nuttall 73).

Unused substitutes: Pardington, Harrop, Sercombe.

Referee: Daniel Middleton (Derbyshire)