Barnsley 1 Reading 1: Missed chances proving costly for Gerhard Struber’s Reds
In danger of being cut miles adrift of safety before Christmas, victory against the Royals would have lifted the Championship’s basement boys to within five points of safety.
But, while he has brought hope, Reds boss Gerhard Struber is going to need his players to capitalise on opportunities such as these if he is to mastermind what would be something of a great escape.
The Austrian has overseen an improvement in terms of the amount of goals Barnsley are scoring - seven in their last four prior to their latest outing - however on this occasion it was a failure to make the most of a host of good chances that was to prove costly.
The visiting Royals had opportunities of their own and looked decent going forwards at times, but they were so pedestrian at the other end of the field that the home side really should have filled their boots.
Indeed, the match kicked-off at such a slow pace that, if it wasn’t for the freezing cold, spectators could have been forgiven for thinking that they were watching a pre-season friendly.
And it took just five minutes for the first opening of the evening to arrive, Jordan Williams doing well down the right to deliver an inviting low centre for Jacob Brown, who could only sweep over the cross-bar when he had time and space to do much better.
There was then a huge let-off for Barnsley as George Puskas beat the offside trap, ran clean through on goal and rounded the advancing Sami Radlinger, but took the ball too wide and failed to pick out a team-mate with his pull-back.
Next, centre-half Mads Andersen got his header all wrong when well-placed and skipper Alex Mowatt drilled a more difficult opportunity into the side-netting, but at least did so with something resembling conviction.
Things then went a bit flat for Struber’s men, the only incident of note during a scrappy 20-minute period arriving when ex-Liverpool and Scotland midfielder Charlie Adam stung the palms of Radlinger with a fiece long-ranger.
Barnsley did rally slightly during the moments before half-time and they fashioned probably their clearest sight of goal in the 44th minute, only for Cabral to save superbly from Conor Chaplin with his legs.
The hosts saw plenty of the ball during the opening exchanges of the second period, but were just too tentative in the final third, where they looked bright, but seriously wanting in terms of cutting edge.
A rare Reading foray forward saw Jordan Obita slid in behind the Reds back-four down the left, though his finish was a poor one and cleared Radlinger’s bar.
A minute later, Mowatt smashed one towards the bottom corner from distance, forcing another bit of good work from Cabral, and there were signs that the home faithful might be thawing.
Within 60 seconds they exploded into life as Barnsley took the lead.
It should come as no surprise that it was a Reading error rather than some home incision that led to the 58th-minute breakthrough, Michael Morrison’s attempted clearance being charged down by Brown and falling to Woodrow, who showed a cool head to slot beyond Cabral.
Adam threatened a near-instant response with a free-kick that might have been creeping into the bottom left-hand corner of Radlinger’s goal before the home custodian pushed it to safety, but the next quarter of an hour belonged to Struber’s troops.
Driven on by the excellent Mowatt in the centre of midfield, the Reds kept on pushing forwards without ever really being able to carve open the Berkshire outfit.
Disaster then struck, Barnsley failing to clear the intial danger following a right-wing corner, enabling Lucas Joao the chance to stab home a 76th-minute equaliser from close range.
Things could have got even worse soon afterwards when substitute Yakou Meite got just too much on his header.
Yet, credit where credit is due, the hosts got over the disappointment of conceding, rolled up their sleeves and had a real go at trying to force a decisive second goal in the closing stages.
They did manage to create two decent opportunities to do just that, but on both occasions, substitute Patrick Schmidt failed to apply a finishing touch.
On the first occasion, he raced in behind and into the right-hand channel but with the angle narrowing, Cabral was able to make another good save with his feet.
Then, in the fourth minute of stoppage-time, the ball again broke for the young Austrian inside the box, however he could only direct a tame strike straight into the grateful arms of the Reading gloveman.
Barnsley: Radlinger, J.Williams, Diaby, Andersen, B.Williams (Sibbick 60), Dougall, Mowatt, Brown (Schmidt 87), Bahre, Woodrow, Chaplin. Unused substitutes: Thomas, Oduor, Thiam, Mottley-Henry, Collins.
Reading: Cabral, Gunter, Morrison (Meite 75), Miazga, Moore, Rinomhota, Obita (Blackett 82), Ejaria, Adam, Joao, Puscas (Baldock 65). Unused substitutes: Walker, McCleary, Howe, Pele.
Referee: M Donohue (Sale).