OPTIMISM swept through the 2,000-strong travelling Barnsley army after Saturday’s impressive shutout at Nottingham Forest.
Pre-season had gone well for the Reds with only one goal conceded, but this was the real test against one of the title favourites at the City Ground, and Keith Hill’s new look outfit passed with flying colours.
They didn’t score when maybe they ought to have done once or twice in the first half, but defensively the Reds looked water-tight and this was a result for the squad to build on. Hill said: “It’s only the first game of the season, but I’m over the moon for my players. We have seen two evenly-matched teams battle it out. We had a game-plan and that was to win the game. We’ve not quite done that but both teams created opportunities.”
As if the step up to Championship level wasn’t daunting enough for the former Rochdale chief, Hill prepared to face Forest at a packed-out City Ground, an opposition who had a former England manager in charge, in Steve McClaren.
As a sixth consecutive season in the second tier was to get underway, Hill named five debutants in his first starting XI.
Rob Edwards skippered the side from the heart of the defence, Scott Wiseman was in at right-back, while left-footer David Perkins was to play on the right side of a midfield five.
Miles Addison sat in a protective role just in front of the back four, while Craig Davies made his Reds bow as a lone striker.
It was a tight opening period, but the Reds missed probably their best chance of the whole game after just 16 minutes.
Jacob Butterfield whipped in a dangerous free-kick from the right, and as Davies leapt unmarked to meet the ball, he headed wide from barely six yards.
It was a miss that could well have affected lesser strikers, but Davies does have character and he went on to stick to his task superbly and tested the Forest centre-backs on plenty of further occasions.
Forest had the better of the remainder of the first half as defender Wes Morgan headed into the side-netting and Lewis McGugan blazed over, but the visitors had more than held their own.
After the break Davies tested keeper Lee Camp with a smart low drive, but McGugan should have scored when he guided a rebound wide from close range after Luke Steele had only parried Paul Anderson’s shot.
Skipper for the day Edwards glanced a header over the top after latching on to Perkins’ cross in, but the latter stages saw Forest push for a winner and come close to getting it on a couple of occasions.
Morgan again found space in the box as he headed thankfully wide, while the gutsy Addison was forced to desperately block McGugan’s well-struck effort.
Sub Radoslaw Majewski should have beaten the ever-alert Steele with five minutes to go, but in the end the Reds saw out the game relatively comfortably and left former England boss McClaren feeling frustrated after keeping his players locked in the dressing room for 45 minutes.
He said: “It’s been a bit of an anti-climax to be honest. There was a lot of expectation, a big crowd, but we’ve come up against a well-organised Barnsley side and it’s turned into a frustrating day.
“I know a lot more about this team now though, and it’s clear that we need to improve the squad.
“The backing is there, it’s just about going through the processes now. There is still time to change things, but I’ve got to have that backing over the next three weeks or we’ve no chance. We won’t score enough goals.”
“I’ve really enjoyed the game, in fact to be honest I’ve enjoyed the whole day.
“I’m over the moon with my players – to a man they’ve produced the goods and in the end I believe it was a very evenly-matched 90 minutes.
“It’s not a one-game season I know, but after all the preparations we’ve put in for today I felt great before the game and I feel great now.”