Sunderland remain in the hunt for automatic promotion out of League One after earning a hard-earned point away at Oakwell.
Barnsley were a tough test for the Black Cats, but failed to breakdown the Wearsiders in part due to an awful wind which restricted both team’s abilities to get the ball down and play.
The Mackems are four points back from tonight’s opponents in third place having played a game less heading into the final stretch of the campaign.
Mamadou Thiam came closest to scoring hitting the bar in the first-half, but neither team created many clear cut chances in a tense arm-wrestle of a game between two of the division’s top sides.
Barnsley dominated the early proceedings and nearly opened the scoring in the first ten minutes through Thiam. The forward was first onto Luke O’Nien’s poor defensive header and raced through on goal, his shot was fierce, but too close to Jon McLaughlin who parried over.
After a hairy first 15 minutes Sunderland began to settle into the game. Tykes’ keeper, Adam Davies, was at full-stretch to tip Max Power’s curling effort wide.
In a half where both teams struggled mightily with the hazardous wind, the hosts were still clearly the superior side and nearly scored ten minutes before the break.
Thiam this time hit the crossbar, turning Adam Matthews inside out before blasting onto the bar with McLaughlin well beaten. The chance came after further Sunderland sloppiness, with Grant Leadbitter inexplicably passing straight to a red shirt in his own area.
The second-half started far more evenly with the visitors looking much more comfortable playing with the wind. The first clear chance of the half was squandered by the Black Cats with Power missing one-on-one.
Power battled his way to be first to Jack Baldwin’s delicately weighted through ball, but dragged his shot horribly wide of the on-rushing Davies and the far post.
For the first-time in the game the Mackems were the better side they very nearly broke the deadlock when a dangerous Lynden Gooch cross deflected wide. Lee Cattermole was closest to turning the cross in, which appeared to slice wide off a Barnsley defender.
Moments later Barnsley had the ball in the net. Cauley Woodrow headed in Alex Mowatt’s cross from close range, but the goal was flagged off, as Woodrow had scored from an offside position.
The game became much more open in the final 20 minutes with Barnsley committing more and more players forward in search of a winner. This tactic opened up greater space for Sunderland on the counter, but the away side couldn’t conjure up a game winning chance, with Lynden Gooch especially being guilty of overplaying and making the wrong decision, when found in acres of space.
Both sides were forced to settle for a point as the race to return to the Championship looks likely to go down to the wire.
Jon McLaughlin, 6/10: Had a nightmare kicking in the wind, but made big saves to bail out his teammates.
Luke O’Nien, 5/10: Probably time to end the O’Nien at right-back experiment, he’s made way too many errors in the last three games.
Jack Baldwin, 7/10: Made one crucial last-ditch challenge and played with an aggression Dunne and Tom Flanagan aren’t capable of.
Jimmy Dunne, 5/10: Started well before morphing back into the nervous wreck we witnessed make mistake after mistake at Adams Park.
Adam Matthews, 5/10: A performance littered with mistakes.
Lee Cattermole, 7/10: Sunderland’s most effective player, made a series of important challenges to protect his back four in a tough fixture away from home.
Grant Leadbitter, 4/10: Well off the pace and booked early, surprisingly slack in possession too, his worst game since returning to the club.
Max Power, 6/10: Effective off of Grigg on the rare occasions Sunderland had possession in the Barnsley half.
Lynden Gooch, 5/10: Wasteful in possession, threw away his chance to reclaim a starting place.
Aiden McGeady, 6/10: Managed to produce a few typically eye-catching touches, but was was otherwise quiet.
Will Grigg, 5/10: Brought his fellow forwards into play a few times, but too often was lightweight and ineffective when the ball was played up to him.
(SUB) Lewis Morgan, 6/10: Provided better thrust and end product than Gooch.
(SUB) Kazaiah Sterling, n/a/10: Came on too late to make an impact.
Man of the Match: Lee Cattermole