Two South Yorkshire teams, one mission: to stay in the Championship.
The 2017/18 season has been wretched for both Barnsley and Sheffield Wednesday. Supporting them has largely become a labour of love with little to cheer.
And Saturday’s draw did little to help either team in their relegation fight.
The Reds, seeking a new manager following Paul Heckingbottom’s decision to take charge of Leeds United last week, fell into the bottom three in the wake of Hull City’s fine 2-0 away win at Nottingham Forest.
Their disappointing form is a big concern. It is now one victory in 17 in all competitions.
But caretaker Barnsley boss Paul Harsley couldn’t fault his players’ after their Oakwell exploits.
“From the second I walked into that changing room on Tuesday morning, it just felt like everyone was onside,” he said.
“When we did the session on Tuesday, that was it and we knew we had got them where we want them and had got the players on our side.
“We worked really clearly about what we wanted with slick, concise sessions, which I would always do anyway in getting the messages across.
“After the game, I said to the lads: ‘I can’t thank you for your efforts enough’. They have been first class; they could have easily had their heads turned with what has gone, but I don’t feel they have and their response to me has been fantastic.”
As for the Owls, the Hillsborough club remain in 17th position, six points above the drop zone. Manager Jos Luhukay is still waiting for his first league win.
After a frenetic opening, Wednesday took the lead slightly against the run of play in the 18th minute. Barnsley skipper Andy Yiadom was deemed to have brought down Lucas Joao after a lovely through ball by Ross Wallace, who was one of four changes for the injury-hit visitors. Atdhe Nuhiu stepped up and coolly struck his spot kick down the middle to claim the Owls’ first goal on the road this calendar year. The giant forward, who was booked for his celebrations in front of the away end, is in good form, having netted four goals in his last six appearances.
“I am trying to help the team all the time,” he said. “It was a difficult situation but I stepped up and took the penalty. That’s what I am here for.
“I won’t hide when there are possibilities to score. The new manager has given me confidence as he believes in me.”
Wednesday’s joy was short-lived as full debutant Oli McBurnie equalised in the 21st minute. The striker, on loan from Swansea City, skipped past a number of defenders before drilling an unstoppable left foot shot into the bottom corner. It was a wonderful solo run and finish but the Owls’ defending left a lot to be desired.
McBurnie said: “It was nice to finally get out there at Oakwell and get the goal and I think it was a good performance by the boys and we were a little bit unlucky not to get the three points.”
The impressive McBurnie and Lloyd Isgrove were direct and positive for Barnsley. Isgrove gave Wednesday’s left-wing back Morgan Fox a torrid time in the opening 45 minutes.
The hosts could have gone ahead but Joe Wildsmith pulled of two superb saves to thwart Tom Bradshaw.
McBurnie said: “I thought we looked comfortable for a lot of the game and had chances to win it as well. It was a good performance by the boys.”
The big flashpoint came in the 54th minute when Adam Hammill went down under a challenge from David Jones in the penalty area. Jones, deployed as an emergency centre-half due to the Owls’ lengthy injury list, appeared to trip Hammill but Premier League official Lee Probert was unmoved and awarded a goal kick. His call incensed the Reds players’ and home contingent. It looked a strong appeal.
That’s the way it goes down at the bottom.
No wonder Harsley felt hard done by.
He said: “I think it was a penalty. Adam has driven into the box and gone on the outside and he has come across and took him down. For me, it was a stonewall penalty. With theirs, the lads has got a couple of strides away from goal and then his momentum has taken him down.”
Luhukay disagreed with Harsley, saying: “The referee was not far away (from the incident). I think he made the right decision.”
There was plenty of endeavour in the second period but little quality. McBurnie, Bradshaw and Daniel Pinillos forced Wildsmith into action while Wallace and Joey Pelupessy curled shots narrowly wide at the other end.
Nuhiu said: “After the defeat last week, we managed to get a fair point.
“With a bit of luck we could have scored in the second half.
“In the upcoming games we need to be together. You cannot question anybody’s effort or commitment to fight. The players we have got will fight for each other In the end we need to try get the results, and today was the first step.”
It is a potentially season-defining period for Barnsley. Their next three matches against relegation rivals Burton Albion, Birmingham City and Hull City could go a long way to deciding their second-tier fate.
Wednesday, meanwhile, still have plenty of work to do themselves before they can stop looking nervously over their shoulders. Missing a raft of senior players through injury, the Owls have won a pitiful seven league matches all season.
Luhukay said: “We must work with these players and try to do the best.”
Things could get even worse for Wednesday before they get better. They play three of the top six in their next four fixtures.