“They’re a massive name coming into our territory,” said Adam Hammill before Leeds United’s visit to Oakwell, “but it’s time to show them who’s boss.”
It felt that way as Barnsley fought Leeds in the stands before overrunning the club in an absorbing derby. This was Oakwell as United remember it: brutal, full-blooded and hard to crack. Blood threatened to flow on the terraces as an evening kick-off and the scramble for away tickets brought predictable violence at both ends of the stadium, vindicating efforts by Leeds to resist a 5.30pm start. The club voiced opposition to Sky’s scheduling, requesting a lunchtime slot instead, after their allocation of more than 5,000 sold out in all of 35 minutes. Pockets of trouble suggested those who were late to the firesale found seats elsewhere in the ground.
Chris Wood’s goal, the first of five on Saturday, started the fighting in the 18th minute, igniting the mood as a blue flare burned under Rob Green’s crossbar. Leeds had Barnsley where they wanted them at that stage, in footballing terms and emotionally, but fixtures at Oakwell have a knack of finding weaknesses in the Elland Road club. Three Barnsley goals in nine minutes either side of half-time gave Garry Monk the unusual sensation of defeat.
Leeds were last beaten at Brighton seven games ago, a night which turned on an early red card, and it is fully two months and a loss to Newcastle United since Monk’s side have run aground without much complaint. Monk highlighted a penalty which might have been in the first half, one of several incidents which explained why Mike Dean had been banished to the Championship for the day, but the spot-kick converted by Wood after 68 minutes, reducing Barnsley’s lead to 3-2, was every bit as wrong. Monk was not about to hang the result around the referee’s neck.
“It’s a derby so there’ll be decisions for you and decisions which aren’t,” Monk said. “It had nothing to do with the game. We take responsibility for our own performance and for the loss.”
He is not accustomed to speaking like that but then Leeds are not accustomed to games like Saturday’s. A week earlier, after a 1-0 win over Derby County, Monk was reflecting on the finest performance his squad have delivered under him as head coach. Derby were crushed by the energy of Monk’s midfield and tied in knots by Pablo Hernandez. At Oakwell, Ronaldo Vieira – the star of the show against Derby, according to Steve McClaren and many others – was substituted early with Barnsley running him into the ground and an exhausted Hernandez ran on empty in the final 10 minutes. Still Leeds should have stolen a point in injury-time with a chance which Kemar Roofe slid past post from a few yards out.
“We were slightly off it, especially defensively in the second half,” Monk said. “We’ve been really good at anticipating situations quickly and dealing with them. We were a bit too reactive in certain situations and their first goal was a perfect example. It cost us and changed the game.
“But it was fine margins and as a game I thought it was quite scrappy. There wasn’t much great football played. It’s a feeling we haven’t had for a while, to lose a game, and everyone wants to ask questions but we’ve been playing at such a high standard that we will have the odd game like this now and then.
“We were performing at such a high level and when you get the disappointment it feels very hard to take.
“It’s a strange feeling but it’s good to be saying that. We’re doing tremendously well to be where we are and whenever we suffer we always react straight away. That’s the sign of a good team.”
He struck the right tone, even on a weekend when the pendulum swung against him. A week ago, Leeds were hassling the Championship’s top two, looking for errors from Brighton and Newcastle to clear the way to automatic promotion, but the gap to second place is nine points again and the gap to seventh five. Monk gave the impression that he would use the loss at Oakwell to sharpen minds. “There are going to be ups and downs,” he said, “and we have to make sure there are more ups than downs – which I’m sure there will be.”
There are factors which should help him; the transfer market for one, much as Leeds are running close to the deadline without a new signing on board, and the return of influential players. Pontus Jansson completed a two-match suspension on Saturday and the Swede was conspicuous by his absence. Flawless though a defence containing three right-backs had been against Derby, there was only so long Monk could continue with so little of his preferred back four in place. They were caught short when the match turned on 45 minutes; slow to react to a quick free-quick which Adam Armstrong crossed into Green’s box. Tom Bradshaw’s deft glancing header drew the match level at 1-1.
Leeds at that stage had been in front for much of the half, courtesy of Wood’s bundled finish which turned a Hernandez delivery in off the post. Hernandez’s crosses from a spate of corners – a number of them swung in as police and stewards fought to keep control of a volatile home end behind him – caused constant problems and it took a goalline clearance from Gethin Jones to stop Wood converting another.
Souleymane Doukara’s volley on the turn was beaten behind by goalkeeper Adam Davies but there was always the feeling that Barnsley’s midfield was punching too many holes in Monk’s.
“We got the goal but the crucial factor is that we should have scored a second,” Monk said. “We had a clear penalty on Bartley (who was dragged down beneath a corner) and that would have given us an opportunity. We had a couple more chances from set pieces. Then we made conceded before half-time, literally the last kick of the half. That was a critical mistake. We were too reactive and they got the goal.”
By the 54th minute, Barnsley had scored twice more, dragging themselves out of an undeniably bad week. The club lost top scorer Sam Winnall to Sheffield Wednesday and are likely to lose midfielder Conor Hourihane to Aston Villa shortly. They are without a chief executive at an advanced stage of January and exited the FA Cup at the hands of a mid-table League Two side on Tuesday. Bradshaw’s equaliser on the stroke of half-time was a badly-needed shot in the arm.
Three minutes into the second half, Green and Luke Ayling got in a tangle and Green headed a long ball out for a throw-in. Monk’s defence failed to set itself quickly and when Marley Watkins crossed to Ryan Kent, the winger turned Lewie Coyle and lashed a shot into the corner of Green’s net. All of Barnsley’s goals were taken with that accuracy.
Hourihane produced the pick of them on 54 minutes, whipping a free-kick up and over United’s wall after Barnsley’s pressure drew Kemar Roofe into a trip on Josh Scowen. It was Hourihane’s way of saying farewell, in a way he would have wanted.
Leeds grasped for control in the face of a 3-1 deficit, helped by Eunan O’Kane’s introduction but helped more by Dean awarding them a penalty on the say-so of his linesman for handball against Marc Roberts.
Replays showed the offence taking place outside the box, as he and Wood chased a bouncing ball. Wood took the penalty and sent it safely to Davies’ left, moving him to within one goal of 20 for the season. For him their was some personal consolation in that.
Roofe would have given Leeds more collectively had he slipped an injury-time cross from substitute Stuart Dallas into the net and Dallas himself smashed a dipping volley fractionally wide of Davies’ net with United’s last opportunity.
The time remaining left offering nothing more than a chance for Hammill to mark Barnsley’s territory further, with a volley which sailed over Green’s bar.
“I felt we deserved something,” Monk said. “But we didn’t get it and there are no excuses.”
There was no hint of undue concern either.