Second-half lapse costs impressive Reds their unbeaten run
TWO mad minutes halted Barnsley’s impressive seven-game unbeaten run as they slipped to their first away defeat of the season, at Portsmouth.
But it could have been a different story if Keith Hill’s side had taken their chances, particularly after some excellent first-half dominance.
Skipper Jacob Butterfield hit a post and the Reds played well in patches after their long journey to the South Coast. They certainly created enough opportunities to hit the back of the net.
However, it was ultimately lapses in concentration which cost the visitors dear
Goals from David Norris and, less than 60 seconds later, Luke Varney made sure the Pompey fans were celebrating following a turbulent 24 hours which had seen them lose manager Steve Cotterill to Nottingham Forest. “Unfortunately they scored the first goal - and goals do change the course of the game,” reflected Hill. “To concede a second goal so soon after the first goal didn’t give us an opportunity to get back into the game.
“We had some great possession and we created some good opportunities; if we had converted one of those opportunities then the game would have probably swung in our favour.”
In front of the Sky Sports cameras, the home team looked galvanised and played well for their new caretaker management duo of Stuart Gray and Guy Whittingham.
“We played against a very good side. The match was live on Sky and, maybe, there was a better performance out of the home side than recent ones suggested,” added Hill.
“But I can’t take anything away from my players because they’re doing 99.9 per cent of what I expect.
“The way we’re trying to develop and our style of play is obvious to everybody.
“I’m proud of our players. They did 85 per cent of what I expected.”
Hill resisted the temptation to make any changes to his side which impressed with a 2-0 home win over Coventry City prior to the recent international break.
Defender Rob Edwards was fit but not rushed back and didn’t even take a place on the substitutes bench after his a hamstring injury.
But there was a welcome place for Craig Davies, the striker used as a late substitute in his first match since late August following recovery from a troublesome groin injury.
And for the first half particularly Hill’s ambitious side showed exactly why they had gone seven games unbeaten, with some crisp passing and some excellent chances as a result.
It was Pompey, though, who had the first chance of the contest in the fourth minute when Liam Lawrence whipped in a delightful free-kick and centre-back Jason Pearce - a one-time target of Hill - headed over at the back post.
At the other end Butterfield who forced a good low save from Pompey keeper Stephen Henderson.
The impressive Varney shot well wide from distance before full-back Bobby Hassell broke from the halfway line, dinked his way past three defenders and struck a low left-foot shot straight at Henderson.
Hassell picked out Jim O’Brien wide on the right, the Scot did really well to get a good delivery in from the byline in the 23rd minute, but the out-of-sorts Ricardo Vaz Te blazed over in a great position. It was a glaring miss.
Butterfield had a shot charged down soon after and then Varney rifled over having cut inside his marker.
Greg Halford headed narrowly over from a Lawrence corner, before Varney combined with Norris and the latter forced a smart save from Reds keeper Luke Steele.
A great strike from Butterfield beat Henderson in the 37th minute, but rebounded to safety off the inside of the right upright.
Hill substituted Vaz Te at the break after a poor first-half showing and handed Middlesbrough loan winger Cameron Park the chance to impress, while Hassell had to go off after a reoccurence of his groin complaint. It got worse later on for the Reds when they had to play with ten men, Jay McEveley hobbling off injured.
Pompey were much better in the second half and Halford had a shot charged down in the first minute and Norris fired over. Benjani dragged a shot wide of the target and then Stephen Foster made a brilliant goalline clearance from Norwegian Erik Huseklepp’s close-range shot.
However, Norris broke the deadlock, teeing himself up to strike a sweet left-foot volley beyond Steele.
The Reds hadn’t caught their breath when substitute Dave Kitson did well to cut the ball back from the byline and pick out Varney who poked home from close range.