Stoke City, searching for their first home league win of the season, had to come from behind twice and then hold out for a draw with 10 men against Barnsley – and that’s only half the story.
Stoke were punished twice for poor defending in the first half against an energetic Barnsley side who looked nothing like a team still looking for its first Championship win.
Elliot Simoes scored the opener to kick Stoke into life but Tyrese Campbell had only just levelled when the visitors got their second through Dominik Frieser.
Tommy Smith, who will be haunted he didn’t more to prevent the Barnsley goals, struck back almost immediately after the re-start after a big error from Barnsley keeper Jack Walton.
But instead of getting in command, a mystery red card for Nathan Collins – accused of an off the ball elbow – saw Barnsley sniff a chance for a shock win. Adam Davies twice needed to make smart saves.
Yet Stoke then had the better chances to snatch the win, with James Chester, Harry Souttar and Jacob Brown all going close.
No one could read which way it was going to go – and in the end it went neither way.
Michael O’Neill made two changes, with Chester returning from a calf injury at the expense of Danny Batth as the manager kept faith in Souttar and Collins.
Sam Clucas was out too, nursing a calf injury that assistant boss Billy McKinlay said he had picked up at Luton. In came Jordan Thompson to partner captain for the evening John Obi Mikel in a 3-4-3.
McKinlay was keen to stress in his match preview that Stoke fans shouldn’t be over confident based on the results in this fixture last season.
“We have to be at full tilt,” he said, “We have to play with plenty of energy. They’ve got good players and a good shape to them.”
Sure enough, Stoke were evidently keen to move the ball quickly and get forward quickly – but on the flip side, that left space for Barnsley to try to find.
And there was more than a nervous moment when a long pass from Alex Mowatt over the top released Frieser and Cauley Woodrow behind the defence.
Frieser tore away down the inside right but by the time he chipped in a deep cross, Stoke defenders had recovered from appealing for offside and Collins was in place to make the block.
But Stoke didn’t heed the warning and Barnsley were ahead in the 19th minute.
Chester had dashed over to the left to concede a throw mid-way inside the Stoke half and the hosts just didn’t deal with it. Woodrow collected and span past Souttar before crossing for Simoes, free with Tommy Smith chasing, to slide coolly into the bottom corner.
O’Neill moved to act and tweaked his system, mirroring Barnsley’s by switching Powell to the number 10 role. Straight away, Stoke had their two best openings.
The first was when the ball was switched quickly to the left for Tymon to whip in a cross for Campbell, sprinting in to clip first time just wide. Encouraging even if the flag went up for a tight offside call.
Powell then slipped a lovely slide rule pass to Fletcher running in from narrow right direct at goal. Jack Walton was out well to save but Fletcher looked like he knew he shouldn’t have given him a chance.
In the end, however, it was Souttar with the defence-splitting pass one minute before half-time. He strode out of the back and took out the entire Barnsley team with a low ball to released Campbell, whose well-timed diagonal run got him one-on-one.
Campbell made no mistake with his finish under Walton and Stoke seemed set to have the second half to try to get their noses in front.
Except Barnsley had other plans – and Stoke had more terrible defending.
A dinked cross from just right of centre from Mowatt found Frieser, who was remarkably unchallenged by Smith as he improvised to poke a shot past Adam Davies.
Smith looked suitably admonished by the re-start and didn’t even raise a smile when he banged in his first Stoke goal – and first goal at all since scoring for Huddersfield against Aston Villa in March 2017 – moments later.
A high cross from Thompson wasn’t going anywhere but Walton came to claim and made a right hash, with no pressure, and presented the onrushing right-back with a chance to make amends. It was a neat finish with not much to aim at.
Fletcher had another chance when Powell, again, slipped a pass down the inside right. It was the same result as Fletcher hooked his shot over.
But Barnsley kept a spring in their step and they were helped no end when referee Michael Salisbury claimed he had spotted, eventually, an off the ball incident involving Collins.
Frieser had hit the deck as Barnsley chased a ball forward and, as they were preparing to take the free-kick nearly two minutes later, Salisbury pulled out a red card for a bemused Collins.
Barnsley sniffed their moment and cranked up the pressure. Clarke Oduor twice dinked through the box but couldn’t pick out a teammate with his final pass.
Davies needed to stand tall to stop a close range blaster from Callum Brittain, who had skipped past Tymon. And the keeper reacted well when Brittain’s ambitious effort from the subsequent corner
Stoke were nervous and O’Neill had to re-jig, bringing on Tashan Oakley-Boothe and Tom Ince to go 4-4-1 with Jacob Brown up front.
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And then Brown should have put his side ahead.
He latched onto a long pass from Souttar and turned inside past Michal Helik. He then knocked a shot behind Helik towards the near post – but Helik cut it out with the back of his foot as he’s going the other way. He won’t have known much about it.
But Stoke’s best hopes came from set pieces and Chester might have buried a cross from Thompson before Thompson picked out Souttar with a back post sizzler in the last minute. Souttar rose highest but headed wide.
It stayed 2-2 but it could have been anything and whether, it will be a point gained or two dropped will be judged in hindsight.