Barnsley stretch unbeaten run with draw againts title-chasers

Barnsley players congratulate Jabo Ibhere on his equaliser.   Picture by Dean Atkins

Barnsley players congratulate Jabo Ibhere on his equaliser. Picture by Dean Atkins

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Character and consistency are what every manager craves.

And new Barnsley boss Lee Johnson believes his side are showing plenty of promising signs they have discovered the perfect blend.

Down at half-time to high-fliers Preston, the resurgent Reds showed plenty of character to battle back and earn themselves a deserved draw.

A battling point in front of a bumper crowd of 12,471 – the biggest home gate of the season – saw Johnson’s improving side stretched their impressive unbeaten run to eight games.

And although they slipped out of the play-off places from sixth to seventh position, the Oakwell side still have a great opportunity to sneak back into the play-off frame with eight games remaining.

“I’m impressed with the run, but what’s nice is that we came back [against Preston],” said Johnson.

“We showed the spirit we needed. If you are going to be in with a shout [of securing a play-off place] – and it’s still very tight – then you’re going to need to come from behind.

“And to do that, against a good side like Preston, will give the players that little bit more belief that if they do go behind then they can come back.

“I think the crowd went home and enjoyed the spirit of the players. We know we’ve got to stick in there. Don’t forget where we’ve come from. I think if you’re falling from second or third place and you slip out of the play-offs, that’s a disaster.

“But there’s going to be a spiral-affect hopefully and there is going to be a shuffling of positions.

“The pack will be shuffled, hopefully, and that means we’re still in with a shout.

“We’ll stay tight, we’ll stay together as a group and I think, if we can show the spirit like that then we’ll continue to pick up points. And that’s got to be the plan.”

Jabo Ibhere’s first goal for the Reds with 11 minutes remaining cancelled out Joe Garner’s 37th minute opener for the Lilywhites.

But despite slight frustration of just picking up one point against their second-placed visitors, Johnson should take plenty of confidence from the excellent turnaround since his arrival at Oakwell.

“I’ve got mixed emotions to be honest,” added Johnson, reflecting on the result. “Preston edged the first half and had a couple of very good chances, but we had a couple of good chances. We got into some good areas, but unfortunately didn’t quite produce.

“And then in the second half I thought we were the better side. I thought we had a lot of territory, a lot of possession and we had them on the rack.

“I’m disappointed not to get a win, but when you’re 1-0 down at half-time – to a good side like Preston – then you’re happy with a point.

“It was a good advert for League One football. It wasn’t the most silky of games, but again you have to play the conditions sometimes.

“I thought they played them slightly better than us in the first half, but I just said at half-time ‘look, we’re going to have to get on the ball, find the pockets and don’t fear anything, keep being brave with your passing and, sometimes, shorten it up’.

“Sometimes the players have that eagerness to go and get a goal too early, but our play was decent in the second half and we put a lot of good moves together and we thoroughly deserved our goal.

“It was a good little move, a cut-back from Mason Holgate and Jabo’s delivered with a good finish. I’m pleased for Jabo because he is a player who needs goals – and he’ll be cock-a-hoop with that goal.”

Johnson swooped to sign Ipswich Town – and former Manchester United winger – Cameron Stewart on loan until the end of the season just a few hours before kick-off.

And with Manchester United loanee Ben Pearson and fellow midfielder Josh Scowen both missing because of illness and a hamstring injury respectively, Stewart was given a baptism of fire and thrown into the action.

“We had a bit of adversity before the game because [Josh] Scowen [Ben] and Pearson both pulled out,” admitted Johnson.

“We lose John O’Sullivan [recalled by Blackburn Rovers after his loan has finished], so it was a case of can we get him [Cameron] registered in time and then a case of just chucking him in. We wanted to be nice and attacking, and bold.

“I thought Cameron did really well considering he turned up at 11.50, signed the forms and then ended up having to play when he wasn’t actually going to be in the squad.

“But with Pearson pulling out, and he’s one of our five match-day loans, I felt it was right to chuck him in.

“He did well. You can see what he’s got. He goes past people like they’re not there. He’s quick. We were planning on signing him at the weekend, but he gave us an option.”

O’Sullivan had a free-kick charged down after five minutes, before Sam Winnall – employed wide on the left instead of his natural role up front - came close to tapping in a Stewart cross soon after.

O’Sullivan hit the outside of the right post with a powerful drive, while at the other end in-form keeper Adam Davies made a brilliant point-blank block with his legs to deflect Garner’s goal-bound header over.

Garner had a penalty appeal turned down after his shot was charged down in the box, before Lilywhites skipper Tom Clarke blasted over from a good position.

But some poor defending from young right-back Mason Holgate allowed Callum Robinson to cross and an unmarked Garner fired into the bottom right-hand corner to give the visitors the lead just before the break.

Davies saved a Garner header three minutes after the restart with captain Martin Cranie heading over from a Conor Hourihane cross as the Reds countered quickly.

Debutant Stewart should have scored in the 53rd minute, but he somehow fired over from Declan John’s perfectly-weighted left-wing cross.

Centre-back Paul Huntington had a header goal ruled out for a foul following a goalmouth scramble soon after with the contest hotting-up nicely.

The Reds rallied well and 11 minutes before time they scored a deserved equaliser through replacemnt Ibhere.

The Colchester United loan striker pounced to head home from Holgate’s cross, as the defender made amends for his earlier error.

Next up is a tough away clash with league leaders Bristol City this Saturday at Ashton Gate and then a mouth-watering South Yorkshire derby showdown with Sheffield United seven days later at Oakwell.

“I’m really pleased the players are going to get a bit of rest before our next game,” offered Johnson. “We’ve had a lot of travelling and a lot of games. I’ve demanded a lot in training as wel.”

Barnsley: Davies 7, Holgate 6, Cranie 6, Nyatanga 6, John 8, Waring 6 (Ibhere 73, 7), Winnall 7, Hourihane 7, O’Sullivan 8 (Hemmings 86, 4), Bailey 8, Stewart 5 (Jennings 73, 4).

Subs: Dibble, M’Voto, Smith.

Booked: Winnall, Cranie.

Preston North End: Johnstone 6, Laird 6, Clarke 7, Wright 7, Beckford 5 (Little 84, 5), Gallagher 6, Garner 6, Welsh 7, Huntington 6, Johnson 6, Robinson 6 (Humphrey 65, 5).

Subs: Stuckmann, Kilkenny, Davies, Ebanks-Blake.

Booked: Laird, Gallagher.

Referee: Eddie Ilderton (Tyne and Wear)

Attendance: 12,471 (away 2,927)