JUST when it was looking like Ipswich had completed a late smash-and-grab raid at Oakwell on Saturday, up popped Chelsea loan man Jacob Mellis to rescue a valuable point for the Reds.
Substitute Jason Scotland pounced to fire the visitors ahead with just eight minutes left despite the hosts having been well on top.
But deep into added time Mellis rifled home a low shot from 15 yards which crept in despite the gutsy efforts of Town sub Darren O’Dea on the line.
That goal halted the Tractor Boys’ impressive recent run which had seen them win their previous three games under new boss Paul Jewell, and in the end Reds manager Mark Robins was relieved after what had been a less-than-sparkling performance.
Robins said: “It was just a lack-lustre game for us, and so I’m grateful for a point.
“We knew Ipswich would be coming here on a high after their recent run, and, although we managed to stop Jimmy Bullard from playing, too many of my players had a quiet afternoon.
“It would have been harsh if they had gone on and won the game, but we stuck at our task and I do feel that a draw was a fair result in the end.
“We were waiting for things to happen, a bit lethargic even, but we’ll get on the training ground in the week now and work on a few things in preparation for the trip to Portsmouth next weekend.”
Robins made just a single change to his starting line-up following the 4-1 reverse at Leicester seven days earlier.
It was good news, though, as Stephen Foster was back at the heart of the defence after missing the previous three games thanks to a nasty shin injury.
Foster partnered Jason Shackell at centre-back, with Kieran Trippier unluckily dropping to the bench as Bobby Hassell – making his 200th start for Barnsley - was able to move back to his more familiar right-back role.
The first half was a dour affair with few clear-cut chances for either side.
Ipswich went closest to scoring in the 24th minute when the woodwork came to the Reds’ rescue.
Bullard curled in a free-kick from wide on the right and as Matt Hill tried to cut it out the ball flicked off his knee before looping over keeper Luke Steele and striking the crossbar.
Shackell had seen an early glancing header well saved by Hungarian keeper Marlon Fulop, but Garry O’Connor ought to have broken the deadlock after 17 minutes.
His initial shot was brilliantly beaten away by Fulop, but as the rebound fell kindly back to the big frontman he fired disappointingly high and wide from just 12 yards.
After the break the game opened up and both sides traded chances during an end-to-end 45 minutes.
Danny Haynes and Hassell both saw deflected shots well saved by Fulop, while at the other end Steele had to be alert to keep out shots from Tamas Priskin and Gareth McAuley.
In the 68th minute Ipswich veteran Mark Kennedy had to be at his best to hack a goalbound header from O’Connor off the line.
Mellis saw another drive saved by Fulop and Hassell stooped to head inches wide at the far post, but with just eight minutes left the deadlock was broken.
Sub Scotland - who had been on the field only eight minutes - pounced to stun the home fans as he tucked home a rebound after Steele had saved Lee Martin’s initial shot.
It was beginning to look like a day of ultimate frustration for the Reds, until Mellis made his crucial intervention deep into added time.
Many home fans had already made for the exits when the Chelsea midfielder guided home a shot which O’Dea reached but couldn’t stop from hitting the back of the net.
Robins’ opposite number, Jewell, was clearly stunned.
He said: “It really feels like a defeat when you concede a goal like that, so late in the game.
“It’s hard for us all to take and we feel a bit sick, to be honest.
“It was difficult for us to truly get going as the pitch isn’t the best here, but we managed to create a few chances and I thought we’d snatched it when Jason came on and got the goal.”
It’s difficult to be too positive after a performance like that.
It was poor, and that’s about as positive as I can be.
It was lack-lustre at times, and in the end I suppose I have to be grateful for a point.
Despite that, we did stick at our task and I feel it would have been harsh on us if they’d have gone on to win the game.