Barnsley 1 Portsmouth 1 – Neil Allen’s match report

Gareth Evans strokes home a left-footed shot to hand the Blues the lead at Oakwell. Picture: Joe Pepler/Digital South
Gareth Evans strokes home a left-footed shot to hand the Blues the lead at Oakwell. Picture: Joe Pepler/Digital South
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Daniel Stendel circumnavigated the well-occupied press room, shaking the hands of those sheltered inside.

An honourable outcome, point shared, unbeaten records preserved, Merry Christmas one and all.

Harmony descended upon Oakwell on Saturday, a hearty congeniality emanating from both camps to warm the freezing souls.

Managers and players can agonise over missed opportunities, they may lament the passing of a lead, yet there was a distinctive sense of serenity following a hard-fought 1-1 draw in bitterly cold South Yorkshire.

Sometimes there can be mutual triumph amid stalemates.

Many of those of Pompey persuasion would have gleefully accepted a point before kick off, certainly a potential conclusion which grew in popularity as the encounter progressed.

The spectre of back-to-back defeats was an unpleasant proposition for the League One leaders, particularly as they gallop towards the pivotal clash with Sunderland.

Kenny Jackett’s men pitched up at a sodden Barnsley striving to tame a proud side unbeaten in nine Oakwell league matches this season.

In terms of all competitions, Stendel’s team’s sole loss in 13 matches on home turf was inflicted by a penalty shoot-out against Manchester City under-21s in the Checkatrade Trophy earlier this month.

The venue is also where second-placed Luton incurred their only defeat in the last 15 league matches during an increasingly-compelling charge which is beginning to alarm promotion rivals.

As for Barnsley, they hosted opposition who in the build-up boasted a club-record 13 fixtures unbeaten on their travels and a six-point advantage at the table’s summit approaching the half-way mark.

In addition, the Tykes subsequently fell behind on 43 minutes as Gareth Evans registered his eighth goal of the campaign.

Something had to give – yet didn’t. The air of contentment at the final whistle was unmistakable.

Perhaps desperation to escape the wretched weather and seek solace indoors had reconfigured the mindsets of many huddled into Oakwell, particularly supporters.

Nonetheless,the draw announced at the final whistle was accepted in good grace and with concord during this season of goodwill.

No inclination to wail about match officials, bemoan footballing injustice or berate playing individuals, merely an acknowledgement of a satisfactory result.

Barnsley boss Stendel, during attempts to master the language barrier in his post-match address, briefly touched upon how he felt his side should have won, while voiced the disappointment at slipping out of the top six.

The ever-respectful German than carried out his custom of approaching each person gathered for a handshake, even interrupting oblivious photographers gazing into their laptops and chuntering about the weather.

A noble act following a match which generated widespread unity at the outcome.

Granted, the Blues have seen their lead cut to four points, yet one of the toughest trips of the season has been negotiated without allowing Barnsley to close their own gap.

No question about it, Stendel’s side are a promotion threat, irrespective of their present seventh placing, and they emphasised such a regard during the 90 minutes.

Pompey’s half-time advantage had arrived against the run of play, albeit in largely a tight contest hampered by conditions goal-scorer Evans later branded ‘treacherous’.

Just two minutes before the break, Alex Mowatt had done well to read Lee Brown’s movement down the left to intercept Ben Thompson’s pass inside the box.

However, his clearance perfectly picked out Evans lurking on the edge of the area, who took a touch on his right foot before driving home a finish with his left in front of jubilant visiting supporters.

At that stage Pompey had barely been able to eke out an on-target attempt on Adam Davies’ goal, yet once again the midfielder with a precious knack of scoring had struck.

Certainly the hosts could have felt a little hard done-by as they returned to their dressing room shortly after, having drawn Craig MacGillivray into several saves.

The Scot firstly thwarted Cauley Woodrow’s 25-yard attempt, with Brad Potts’ follow-up comfortably clearing the bar, while the striker then saw another tipped over.

Cameron McGeehan, who once broke his leg against the Blues at Fratton Park while on Luton duty, next tested MacGillivray with a stinging drive tipped over.

Those trio of efforts came from outside the box, demonstrating Barnsley’s intent to rightly exploit the conditions, yet Pompey’s keeper was equal to each during that opening 45 minutes.

In fairness, the hosts never matched that period of play following the interval, although still posed a consistent threat to a line-up operating with a back three and Ronan Curtis pushed up centrally alongside Oli Hawkins.

Amid such a system change, Jackett had retained his trusted regular side, and Nathan Thompson was outstanding throughout in a more central-defensive role.

The only alterations for the Oakwell trip centred on the bench, with the recalled Alex Bass in place of wrist-injury victim Luke McGee, who could be out for up to six weeks.

There was also a return for Dion Donohue, available once again following two months sidelined with the hamstring problem collected while on duty against Burton Albion.

As it was, for a manager who sparsely uses his substitutes, only Anton Walkes was employed, as a second-half entrant for the limping Ronan Curtis, coming in at right wing-back.

Still, Jackett’s tactical changes were unquestionably effective, and only Woodrow’s 62nd-minute goal denied them victory.

Potts’ measured delivery from the right was turned home on the stretch by the loanee from Fulham at the near post – and Barnsley had their well-deserved leveller.

Opportunities for either side were rare during the second period, although Hawkins did see a drive from outside the box blocked by the legs of Davies as the rain increased its intensity and conditions worsened.

So a point it was for this hard-working Pompey side, whose attitude, heart and desire never fails to impress, even on occasions hampered by the weather and at venues such as Barnsley.

The energy levels remain remarkable in the face of fixture congestion and the manager’s understandable preference to retain a starting XI which continues to inhabit League One’s top spot.

On Saturday they dug in for a point but, in truth, it was an outcome applauded by both sides as, rather fittingly, goodwill reigned at Oakwell.