Bristol City 2, Barnsley 0: Cole Skuse sets City on survival track
By The Bristol Post | Monday, April 23, 2012, 07:30
IT WAS wholly fitting that Bristol City loyalist Cole Skuse should play such a major part in helping the club secure their npower Championship future in front of a near full-house Ashton Gate crowd.
Cole Skuse scores the first City goal as Barnsley's Nathan Doyle closes in too late Pictures: Dan Regan
Jon Stead celebrates his goal
Albert Adomah faces Jim McNulty
Yannick Bolasie tries his luck
Job done for Derek McInnes
Supporters' Club and Trust player of the year Jon Stead with club president Marina Dolman and great-grandson James Crossley-John
Born in Yate and a big City fan as a boy, the midfielder came through the ranks, starting in the Academy and working his way through to the first team.
Given his background, he knows better than most what this result will mean to those Robins fans who have suffered along with the players during what has, at times, been a tortuous season.
On a day when the final outcome was all that really mattered, it was Skuse who put his side on course for victory. He made one of his trademark surging runs from midfield to fire City in front after 11 minutes, adding to the precious goal he scored against West Ham four days earlier.
Unfortunately for the fans, his goal did little to calm the nerves that were evident from the first whistle.
In the circumstances, it was always going to be a pressurised match and City's players were understandably edgy given that they needed a win to be sure of averting the threat of relegation.
Having taken the lead, the Robins made the mistake of surrendering territory to a Barnsley side that needed no second invitation to pass the ball.
City may indeed be safe, but their first-half performance betrayed the weaknesses that have forced them to battle relegation throughout the season and served to remind those watching that major recruitment will be needed in the summer if a similar scenario is to be avoided in future.
City were guilty of poor passing, surrendering possession far too easily and failing to hold the ball up in the final third. In the process, they offered Barnsley enormous encouragement and had the Tykes, who were driven on by the industry and invention of Nathan Doyle, David Perkins and Kallum Higginbotham, possessed a cutting edge in and around the penalty area, the home side might well have been in trouble.
As it was, the visitors did not test Robins keeper Dean Gerken nearly as often as they ought to have done and City rather fortuitously reached the sanctuary of half-time with their lead intact.
Forced into an unwanted reshuffle owing to an injury sustained by Skuse towards the end of the first half, manager Derek McInnes demonstrated a shrewd understanding of what was required.
He sent on veteran centre-back Louis Carey to partner Liam Fontaine at the heart of the back four, moving Andre Amougou into a holding midfield position and then taking off striker Chris Wood, replacing him with Neil Kilkenny and altering the formation to match Barnsley's five across the middle.
In every case, the changes he made proved spot on as City stemmed the flow of Barnsley attacks and gradually wrested control of the game. But they urgently required the cushion of a second goal and, thankfully for the anxious fans, it came early in the second half.
Whether referee Darren Deadman was right to award a penalty when Ryan McGivern came together with Jim McNulty is immaterial. What matters is that Jon Stead, displaying impressive composure under extreme duress, kept his cool to beat David Button from the spot.
With Coventry losing at home to already-relegated Doncaster and Portsmouth failing to get their noses in front against Derby, City were able to relax thereafter.
In truth, once the second goal went in, City were the better side and they came close to scoring a third goal when Stead sent his rising shot crashing against the crossbar.
Certainly, the manager's substitutions and tactical changes rendered the Robins more solid after the break and they ran out comfortable winners to condemn Coventry and Portsmouth to the drop.
Although their performance left a good deal to be desired, City's players deserve immense credit for the manner in which they stuck to their task in trying circumstances.
Few would have given this team much chance of pulling clear of trouble a few weeks ago when, having failed to beat Watford and Derby at Ashton Gate, they dropped back into the bottom three.
An unbeaten seven-match run has come in the nick of time and, even though there is little to celebrate as they approach the end of what has been a bitterly disappointing season, McInnes and his charges will at least have the satisfaction of knowing they have secured safety themselves, not through the failings of others.
Now, the task of building for a better future can begin in earnest.