In-form Barnsley passed the half-way mark in their impressive Sky Bet Championship season by seeing off 10-man Blackburn in some style.
The Reds moved up to ninth position ahead of Sheffield Wednesday’s clash at Newcastle last night, easing to within just three points of the Owls in the final play-off position.
Sam Winnall and sub Marley Watkins struck early and late for the Reds, whose boss Paul Heckingbottom was delighted as he reflected on a fourth win in five games.
He said: “It was great to get the win again. The application and the mentality of the players was first class.
“There’s still bits of decision-making we can be better at, but we soaked up some pressure in the second half and then got the killer goal right at the end.”
The Reds, unchanged following the dramatic victory last time out at Cardiff, had led at the interval after what proved to be an end-to-end opening 45 minutes.
Heckingbottom’s men dominated the early stages, with Tom Bradshaw lashing a shot on the turn narrowly over, then being denied by a superb stop from Jason Steele. It was no surprise when the Reds took the lead after 14 minutes.
Again it was the hosts’ most ruthless duo who combined, with Conor Hourihane crossing over his 10th assist of the season for Sam Winnall, who powerfully headed home his 10th goal of the term.
Owen Coyle’s strugglers went close through Danny Graham and Marvin Emnes, who forced a breath-taking stop from the ultra-reliable Adam Davies.
Davies then produced a brilliant point-blank save to keep out a bullet header from veteran former Manchester United defender Wes Brown.
The Reds impressed early in the second period and a quick break found Hourihane in space inside the Rovers box, but the talismanic midfielder blazed a shot disappointingly over the top.
Soon after, Bradshaw dived in acrobatically to head Josh Scowen’s neat cross just the wrong side of the post.
As the hosts continued their pursuit of what would probably be a match-clinching second goal, Scowen then curled a free-kick a whisker over the crossbar.
At the other end there was a mighty let-off for the Reds in the 70th minute. After Davies ha miscued an attempted clearance, Rovers’ sub Corry Evans fired an effort straight back in from distance, and the ball struck the post before being cleared to safety.
The Reds responded to the scare positively, however, with Hourihane forcing Steele into another decent save from a curling 20-yard effort.
Once Darragh Lenihan was sent off with five minutes following an ugly lunge on Sam Morsy, it appeared Rovers’ game was up.
It definitely was when Watkins slotted home James Bree’s cross as the substitute made it two in the 92nd minute.
Barnsley (4-4-2): Davies; Bree, MacDonald, Roberts, Yiadom; Morsy, Scowen, Hourihane, Kent (Watkins, 72); Bradshaw (Brown, 86), Winnall (Armstrong, 72). Subs not used: Townsend, Kpekawa, Jackson, Williams.
Blackburn (4-2-3-1): Steele; Williams, Lenihan, Brown (Evans, 64), Mulgrew; Gallagher, Conway (Feeney, 71); Nyambe, Akpan, Emnes; Graham. Subs not used: Raya, Greer, Guthrie, Mahoney, Bennett.
Referee: Andrew Madley (West Yorkshire).
Star man: Conor Hourihane.