Barnsley out of top six on goal difference after fifth successive win

George Waring celebrateshis and Barnsley's second goal. Photo: Dean Atkins
George Waring celebrateshis and Barnsley's second goal. Photo: Dean Atkins
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Brilliant Barnsley marched to a fine fifth straight Sky Bet League One victory at the weekend to climb within touching distance of the play-offs.

And it’s no secret that all five victories have been secured without conceding a single goal.

It’s the first time since November 1981 that the Reds have won five successive league matches.

The resurgent Reds are now on a roll under new boss Lee Johnson - and incredibly are only out of the sought-after top six on goal difference.

It truly has been a remarkable turnaround from the previously misfiring Reds.

Just three weeks earlier they had been comprehensively thumped 5-1 at relegation-threatened Crawley Town in what many fans described as the worst team performance in decades, leaving them just two points from the relegation drop-zone themselves.

On that day the players on duty appeared to have simply thrown the towel in during the first game since the surprise sacking of Danny Wilson.

Mick Burton and Paul Heckingbottom were drafted in on a caretaker basis and managed to steady the ship with six points from the following three games, and now the Reds’ team looks totally and utterly transformed, both physically and mentally, especially since Johnson’s Oakwell arrival.

Even after a thoroughly convincing win against woeful Walsall, Johnson said: “We’re still nowhere near the level that I want us to be playing at.

“However, the conditions and the pitch were difficult and we did find it a bit tough in the first half.

“My initial remit when I joined the club was for us to stay up, though, so in terms of that aspect it’s been a fantastic run we’ve been on.

“Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves just yet, but undoubtedly we are on a good run of form, one that I don’t think they’ve had here for quite a long time.

“I’m keen to continue this pursuit of excellence, though, if you like.

“We’ve shown a solidness in these recent games that definitely gives us a base to work from.

“I’ve asked the players to try and play in a certain way and so far they’ve certainly bought into it.

“We’ve shown some real quality, and so hopefully we can continue like this from now until the end of the season.”

There had been no dramas before the match when the teamsheets revealed that boss Johnson had named an unchanged starting XI for the third game running.

With the team on such an impressive run, and following the hard-fought success against Coventry City four days earlier, Johnson was clearly keen to stick with a winning formula.

Leading scorer Sam Winnall was on the substitute’s bench as he continues his slow recovery back to full fitness from a troublesome hamstring injury, while new loan capture from Colchester United - Jabo Ibehre - was also among the replacements.

However new signing Declan John didn’t make the match-day squad.

Saddlers boss Dean Smith also named an unchanged team following his side’s 1-0 triumph at Yeovil Town in midweek.

The first half was all Barnsley, but rather surprisingly they only had a single-goal lead to show for their dominance at the interval.

Conor Hourihane had already gone close by the time George Waring opened the scoring after 16 minutes.

It wasn’t a spectacular opener, and Saddlers chief Smith later complained it looked like the young Stoke City loanee had pushed the ball into the net, but Waring dived to meet Hourihane’s in-swinging corner-kick and looked to have headed the ball past despairing Walsall ‘keeper Richard O’Donnell.

John O’Sullivan was full of trickery and he fizzed a shot narrowly wide before Hourihane curled an effort over the top as the Saddlers offered precious little resistance during a dire first-half performance from the visitors.

The theme continued into the second period, with O’Sullivan setting the tone as he volleyed into the side-netting barely 30 seconds after the restart.

Jordy Hiwula-Mayifuila finally registered a strike towards goal for the visitors when he really ought to have at least have got it on target, before the Reds got the goal and effectively another deserved three points with 19 minutes left.

And it was the clinical Waring again who registered a fourth goal in his last three games.

This time the tall front-man took a short pass from O’Sullivan before gliding confidently past three weak Walsall challenges and driving superbly into the corner of the net from an acute angle.

The Reds were rampant at that point and O’Donnell was called into action to thwart O’Sullivan (twice) and Hourihane late on, before substitute Winnall grabbed the coup-de-gras just before the game entered stoppage-time.

It’s been a while since Winnall had scored his ninth goal of what has turned into an injury-interrupted campaign, but he took his 10th with some aplomb.

The former Scunthorpe man side-footed past O’Donnell superbly from 10 yards as he met O’Sullivan’s pinpoint cross, and he celebrated hard.

Johnson’s charges are clearly hitting form at precisely the right time, and who’s to say they won’t make it into the cherished top six and secure what would be a dream play-off spot.

Such have been the ups and downs of the Reds’ campaign so far, anything is still possible - even promotion back to the promised land of the Championship.

Barnsley (4-4-1-1): Davies 7; Holgate 6, Nyatanga 7, Cranie 6, Smith 7; O’Sullivan 8, Pearson 6 (Bailey 56, 6), Scowen 8, Lalkovic 7 (Winnall 62, 7); Hourihane 7; Waring 9 (Ibehre 79, 6).

Subs not used: Dibble, Berry, M’voto, Jennings.

Booked: None

Walsall (4-2-3-1): O’Donnell 8; Purkiss 4 (O’Connor 46, 5), Downing 5, J Chambers 5, Taylor 6; A Chambers 5, Flanagan 5 (Cain 68, 6); Baxendale 5 (Grimes 46, 5), Sawyers 7, Hiwula-Mayifuila 6; Bradshaw 4.

Subs not used: MacGillivray, Mantom, Preston, Bakayoko.

Referee: Stuart Atwell (Warwickshire)

Attendance: 9,275