Barnsley 1 Nottingham Forest 1: Match Report

Barnsley v Nottingam Forest'Korey Smith gets the ball away
Barnsley v Nottingam Forest'Korey Smith gets the ball away
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KEITH Hill left Oakwell on Saturday planning to take a long soak in a hot bath.

And who could blame the Barnsley manager, having seen his side avoid a third successive Championship defeat on the way to putting more daylight between themselves and the bottom three.

Barnsley v Nottingam Forest'Matt Done sees Lee Camp get hand on his shot

Barnsley v Nottingam Forest'Matt Done sees Lee Camp get hand on his shot

The Reds are now 15 points clear of third-from-bottom Coventry, with the Sky Blues and fellow strugglers Portsmouth both beaten over the weekend.

Not that Hill’s side are anywhere near getting dragged into a relegation battle, instead they still have an outside shot at the play-offs with 12 games remaining.

Credit to the manager, his assistant David Flitcroft, his coaching staff and, arguably most of all, the players who in Hill’s eyes are over-achieving this season.

But fixtures are running out in the hunt to sneak into the play-offs and two tough outings away to fifth-placed Middlesbrough tomorrow night and then away to league leaders Southampton on Saturday will surely test the Reds’ resolve.

Four key players remain sidelined with injury and won’t be available for the trip to the Riverside Stadium, but Hill took plenty of positives from a commendable second half fightback which saw striker Craig Davies bag his 11th goal of the season.

Davies’ 80th-minute sweet 25-yard left-foot strike cancelled out Garath McCleary’s 33rd-minute deflected opener.

A fine injury-time save from Reds keeper Luke Steele helped the cause, as well as a penalty appeal for Forest which was turned down, although the Reds could have had a spot-kick themselves.

“For whatever reason this club seems to be engrained with negativity,” said Hill. “Sometimes you can’t avoid getting involved with the negativity which does surround Barnsley Football Club.

“People refuse to listen to what it is we’re trying to achieve at this football club. We’re trying to turn a corner.

“The negativity would have got even worse if we’d have lost this game. It would have been real doom and gloom, but I would have been the only one coming in on Sunday or Monday morning with a smile on my face and enthusiasm.

“Everywhere you walk somebody has a negative opinion rather than a positive opinion.

“I just keep my positivity up, it was great to get the point. It separates us even further from the bottom three and that’s encouraging.

“I said last week that I was tired and I wanted to just go home to bed, but don’t read too much into that.

“I can fill myself with enthusiasm after I go home tonight and have my much-deserved hot bath.”

Teenager Paul Digby was handed a starting role and forward Matt Done was recalled as Hill made two changes to his side which lost 1-0 away to Coventry last Saturday.

Defender Rob Edwards missed out altogether because of injury, with midfielder Stephen Dawson dropped to the substitute’s bench.

But an attacking formation in the first half didn’t reap the rewards Hill was look for as the visitors created the better of the chances.

Midfielder Andy Reid forced a save out of Steele with his 20th-minute free-kick, before Adlene Guedioura blazed over.

Done shot wide at the other end and then picked out Scott Golbourne with an inch-perfect cross to the back post, but the defender headed over the bar.

Then, shortly after the half-hour mark, McCleary saw his left-foot shot deflect off Jimmy McNulty’s body and beyond Steele into the bottom left corner for his third goal in five games.

And the former non-league winger could have netted a second when, moments later, his powerful shot struck McNulty again, but this time flew wide for a corner.

Former Sheffield Wednesday striker Marcus Tudgay headed against the bar from a Dexter Blackstock chipped cross as the Reds went in at the break just a goal down.

Thankfully for Hill his half-time team talk asking his players to “show themselves in a true light” worked, with the Reds playing much better.

However, they were first fortunate to get away with what Hill later described as a “stone-wall penalty” when Jonathan Greening’s shot looked to have struck Davies on his right hand.

Norwich City loan recruit Korey Smith, who has signed a deal to keep him at the club until the end of the season, had a powerful shot charged down by defender Scott Wootton as the home side pressed for an equaliser.

Done fired wide before Steele saved well to deny goalscorer McCleary.

Then it was Davies’ turn to steal some of the limelight. His dink away from a defender allowed the former Chesterfield marksman to pull the trigger and beat Forest keeper Lee Camp from distance.

Done had a shot saved late on, but it was Steele who spared the Reds’ blushes with a brilliant one-handed close-range block to thwart substitute Greg Cunningham and deny Forest a third successive league win.

“We were lacking a bit of self-belief and courage in the first half,” admitted Hill.

“The first half didn’t resemble the type of performance that I expect from the players. But I thought the players represented themselves well in the second half.

“We could have nicked it, but it would have been harsh on Forest.”