Why return of Kenny Dougall could be pivotal for Barnsley
To be precise, 218 days since the Australian’s last appearance in a Reds shirt in a 0-0 draw at Doncaster Rovers on March 15, in League One.
To say Barnsley have missed the midfielder’s influence is a huge understatement.
Dougall may only be 26 but that is elder statesman proportions in a youthful Oakwell dressing room.
So when your side has not won since the opening day of the Championship campaign – a 10-match winless streak which led to head coach Daniel Stendel departing – and you are hosting top-six opposition in Swansea City, the sight of Dougall back on the pitch was a welcome sight for Tykes supporters.
While team-mates Alex Mowatt – for his equaliser to cancel out Andre Ayew’s opener – and goalkeeper Brad Collins grabbed the headlines, it was Dougall’s return which could have a bigger impact on bottom-of-the league Barnsley’s poor start to life back in the Championship.
So how did Dougall feel after seven months on the sidelines?
“It’s 218 days,” he underlined. “It was great, I felt good out there. I felt leggy near the end, but I was just buzzing to be back.
“My head’s a bit sore, too, I got a knock in the first half.
“I have missed playing games, so I might be a bit stiff in the morning.
“I am only 26, a old head in this team but I am still young.
“Whenever you can’t help the squad – injured or just not picked – it’s frustrating when you can’t help the boys.
“We are bottom of the league so things aren’t going well and when you can’t step on the pitch and help the lads it’s frustrating.
“But I have got myself fit and can play my part to help us back up the league.”
The Tykes might be in limbo, as they search for a replacement for Stendel but they should have been ahead after an impressive opening 45 minutes.
Top scorer Cauley Woodrow proved to be a constant menace and forced Freddie Woodman into a smart save at his near post.
The Swans goalkeeper then clawed away Woodrow’s long-range strike and midfielder Cameron McGeehan fired wildly over the crossbar.
It would not be McGeehan’s only missed chance for, in the second half, he also spooned his effort high and wide from eight yards out after a teasing cross from Conor Chaplin.
Woodrow had a ‘goal’ ruled out for offside, captain Mowatt headed over, and McGeehan dragged a 20-yard effort wide.
All that was missing from the first half was a Barnsley goal.
Third-placed Swansea had rarely troubled the hosts, their only real chance seeing goalkeeper Collins diving low to deny Ayew after 20 minutes.
But the Welsh visitors stepped up a gear after the interval, and Collins produced several top-class saves to keep the game scoreless.
He denied Ayew from close-range and an outstretched boot diverted Sam Surridge’s effort wide, before he produced the best block of the afternoon.
Ayew wriggled clear and his back-post cross picked out the unmarked Bersant Celina, whose header looked a certain goal until Collins popped up with a terrific save.
But the pressure was mounting, and despite a one-handed save from Collins to again deny Celina, Ayew poked the rebound over the line at the second attempt on 67 minutes, the goal confirmed by goal-line technology.
Then the passion and spirit in the ranks of this youthful Reds team shone through and three minutes later it produced the equaliser, Chaplin crossing from the right, and Mowatt side-footing home.
Mowatt skimmed the top of the bar and Chaplin was thwarted by Woodman, who also dived full length to deny Woodrow a late winner.
“Whenever you don’t win games, there’s always a bit of disappointment,” said Dougall. “I thought, particularly in the first half, we were on top.
“That’s when we really have to score, ultimately we didn’t and went behind once again. But we showed our character to get a draw, and it’s been a while since we even got a point, so we will take that. If anybody was going to win at the end, I thought it was going to be us.
“Overall, I thought it was a great performance, especially after the couple of weeks which we have had.
“You get encouragement from playing well and getting points. Ultimately we got one point, and in my opinion it was a good performance, I can’t fault anyone.
“It’s bittersweet, but we take 1-1 and move on to Tuesday.”
Caretaker Adam Murray is expected to take training today, planning for tomorrow’s trip to leaders West Brom.
The former Mansfield Town manager said he was unaware how long the Reds would take before appointing Stendel’s replacement.
Dougall praised Murray’s impact on the squad.
“He has shown great enthusiasm, I can’t say a bad word about him,” said Dougall. “The last few weeks have been really positive in training. We showed today, it was a great performance.
“It’s difficult circumstances whenever a manager goes, everyone’s position is up for grabs. That’s showed in training, the intensity has lifted a little bit, and, hopefully, that’s good for the future.
“Swansea are obviously flying, so 1-1 is a good result. To get a good performance against a top side in this league gives us the confidence, especially at home, that we can beat anyone.
“West Brom are top, so going to their place will be difficult. We have got to expect an electric atmosphere.”