Fleetood 0 Barnsley 2: Reds return to play-off places with nine games to go
The Reds are rolling again, and roared back into the Sky Bet League One play-off places thanks to a well-deserved 12th victory in 15 games at stuttering Fleetwood Town.
An own-goal and a late predatory strike from substitute Josh Scowen grabbed Barnsley a victory which helped them quickly shrug off the disappointment of the previous week’s home defeat by fellow top-six hopefuls Southend United.
It wasn’t pretty at times, but boss Paul Heckingbottom was delighted with the defensive shut-out, a crucial trait which will be vital if they are to remain in the play-off frame withm just nine games to play.
Heckingbottom said: “To record a clean sheet was massive for us here. To be honest, that is what we have built a lot of our recent success on.
“Adam Davies made a couple of really important saves early in the game, but I felt we finished the first half much the stronger team.
“We scored the first goal by putting their goalkeeper under pressure. In that respect we got our rewards for all the hard work we’d put in.
“Josh Scowen then made a great impact when he came on. He was our best player at the beginning of the season, but he picked up an unfortunate injury which kept him out for a while.
“I’m delighted he came off the bench and got the goal towards the end.”
The overall work ethic of his team particularly pleased Heckingbottom once again.
He added: “The determination and the work rate has formed the backbone of the players’ recent run of form.
“If you want to win titles, trophies or promotions, that is what you have to have. You need that know-how to see games out.
“We weren’t the most fluent with possession here, but out of possession this was probably one of our best performances of the season.”
Heckingbottom made a couple of changes to his starting line-up.
Marley Watkins was injured so his place was taken by leading scorer Sam Winnall, while across the middle of the park, Lloyd Isgrove returned in place of fellow loanee Harry Chapman, who dropped to the bench.
It proved to be a cagey opening spell, with few chances created by either side.
Fleetwood’s Scottish international midfielder Thomas Grant proved a threat early on as he fired a shot over from inside the Reds’ box, then forced Adam Davies into a decent save.
Davies was also called upon to keep out a well-struck effort from Jimmy Ryan.
Arguably the most entertaining feature of the first period came after 31 minutes when Winnall and Joe Davis were booked after an unseemly off-the-ball clash.
The Reds went on to boss the closing stages of the opening period with Winnall seeing a ‘goal’ ruled out by a linesman’s flag and Adam Hammill going on a trademark mazy run before slotting an angled effort inches wide.
The game needed a spark, and thankfully Barnsley got it just two minutes after the restart thanks to a rather comical own-goal from Fleetwood.
A long ball forward from the Reds wasn’t dealt with by the Cod Army’s back-line, and under pressure from a combination of Winnall and Isgrove, Davis could only nod a loose ball over ‘keeper Chris Maxwell and into the gaping goal.
It was a perfect fillip for the Reds at an ideal time, but the visitors didn’t really build on the platform.
The hosts roared back in search of an equaliser, and Davis almost atoned for his earlier howler when he forced Davies into another smart stop.
David Ball then fired over the top when it looked easier to get his effort on target.
At the other end the Reds thought they had doubled their lead when Hammill latched onto sub Scowen’s through-ball, rounded ‘keeper Maxwell, but was then thwarted by a frantic goal-line clearance from Grant.
Victory was finally wrapped up with just six minutes remaining. It was Scowen who pounced, registering his fifth goal of the season as he charged in to nod home a corner-kick from Hammill.
The Reds hung on comfortably from that point, leaving Fleetwood boss Steven Pressley to reflect on a disappointing afternoon.
He said: “When we lost the goal early in the second half, we let it impact on our performance. We have to react to setbacks much better.”
FLEETWOOD (4-3-3): Maxwell 7; McLaughlin 7, Nilsson 7, Davis 7, Bell 7; Ryan 7, Grant 7, Jonsson 5 (Scougall 70, 5); Burns 7, Ball 6 (Sarcevic 58, 6), Ameobi 5 (Cole 31, 6). Subs not used: Gogic, Jordan, Forbes, Hunter.
BOOKED: Davis (31).
BARNSLEY (4-4-2): Davies 7; Connolly 6, Mawson 8, Roberts 7, Williams 6; Isgrove 8 (Chapman 89, 5), Brownhill 8, Hourihane 7, Hammill 6; Winnall 7, Fletcher 6 (Scowen 76, 7). Subs not used: Townsend, Smith, Khan, Tuton, Nyatanga.
GOALS: (Davis (og) 47, Scowen 84)
BOOKED: Winnall (31), Fletcher (40), Scowen (87).
REF: Kevin Wright (Cambridgeshire).