Barnsley reach play-offs zone and win six on trot for first time since Norman Hunter’s days in 1980

Lewin Nyatangais congratulated after scoringhis second and Barnsley's third. Photo: Keith Turner
Lewin Nyatangais congratulated after scoringhis second and Barnsley's third. Photo: Keith Turner
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The decision of Lee Johnson to switch so dramatically from Oldham to Barnsley almost three weeks ago was all-but vindicated on Saturday as the Reds breezed to victory at Park.

Some questioned whether Johnson had made the right decision in switching allegiances when the chance came along to take over a Barnsley side who had endured a topsy-turvy Sky Bet League One campaign following last May’s drop from the Championship.

However, just four games later Johnson is flying high.

The Reds have won the lot since he took over from Danny Wilson - and have now won six league games on the spin for the first time since 1980 when Norman Hunter was the man in the hot seat at Oakwell.

Last week much had been made of Johnson’s swift return to his former employers at Oldham.

The home fans had already expressed their anger towards a man who some of them felt ‘jumped ship’ too early after their team’s hierarchy had given the rookie boss his first opportunity when a mere 31-year-old just under two years ago.

Oldham’s fans said Johnson should have shown a bit more loyalty.

However, the ambitious young boss’s decision to move to a perceived ‘bigger club’ already looks set to pay off eventually, judging by the start he has enjoyed at his new club.

He was unsurprisingly booed as he took his place in the technical area just before kick-off in this game and the bad feeling of some continued, but, dignified as ever, Johnson just got on with his job, directing his team to what, in the end, was another well-deserved victory, one which elevated the Reds menacingly into the play-off positions at long last.

Lewin Nyatanga scored twice, and Conor Hourihane fortuitously bagged his 13th goal of the season as Barnsley cruised to a win on a day when they also conceded their first goal in 498 minutes of football.

Reflecting on what must have been a difficult afternoon back amongst his former pals, Johnson said: “It was a tough day, but it was fantastic to get a win, and of course that’s what it is all about in the end.

“It hasn’t been an easy day and it still feels a little raw, but it was just a case of being as professional as I could here and getting on with the game.

“I understood the reaction of the Oldham fans before the game and I’m not going to hold that against anybody.

“Don’t forget I had two brilliant years he and everyone was always very supportive.

“I still don’t think everybody knows the full story, but I’m at Barnsley now.

“It’s a new club for me, a new beginning, and we got another great result here.

“The first 30 minutes weren’t great, but I enjoyed it because I thought the lads played the atmosphere very well.

“It was passionate and charged at times, but we got through it unscathed and we move on to Tuesday now.

“Confidence is high in the camp, so why can’t we keep this run going?”

Johnson made just one alteration to his starting line-up for the swift trip back to Park.

And that came in an already water-tight defence, with teenage loanee Declan John stepping in for a debut in the left-back role.

George Smith was dropped to the bench.

Oldham caretaker boss Dean Holden had been hit by something of an injury crisis since taking over from old pal Johnson.

He was forced to delve into the loan market in the run-up to the weekend, and both Mat Sadler - at left-back - and Luke Woodland - in central midfield - were thrust straight in for Athletic debuts.

The hosts’ substitutes’ bench featured three youth team regulars.

The opening half-hour was, as Johnson eluded to, dismal.

Neither side created much, aside from Reds skipper Martin Cranie heading narrowly over the top from Hourihane’s corner.

Then the game burst into life with three goals in eight minutes during the run-up to the interval.

Nyatanga struck first, ramming home a rebound after Josh Scowen’s initial effort had been beaten into his path by Oldham ‘keeper Jake Kean.

Five minutes later the lead was doubled, this time thanks to a large slice of luck.

A Carl Winchester attempted clearance simply struck the heel of Hourihane and flicked back into the corner of the hosts’ net, though the Reds’ leading scorer celebrated as though he’s just scored a 40-yard thunderbolt!

The Reds’ defence was finally breached another three minutes later when Mike Jones latched on to Conor Wilkinson’s knock-down and drilled past Adam Davies clinically, but the visitors still seemed well in control.

In fact, Hourihane almost restored the two-goal advantage in first-half stoppage-time when his pilderiver from 30 yards brushed the top of the crossbar.

Oldham enjoyed the better of the second half’s opening exchanges, with Jones and Wilkinson both forcing Davies into decent stops, but the Reds are resolute at present and it was no surprise when another setpiece strike made it 3-1 with 20 minutes left on the clock.

This time it was Nyatanga again in the right place at the right time, nudging the ball home from close range after John O’Sullivan’s header had rebounded out off the post.

Oldham kept going and Jonathan Forte’s header was tipped onto the crossbar by the agile Davies, but they had been second best on the day and their skipper Adam Lockwood was sent off in the dying seconds after a lunge on Josh Scowen earned the big centre-half a second yellow card.

Oldham (4-4-2): Kean 6; Brown 5, Lockwood 5, Kusunga 6, Sadler 7; Winchester 8 (Turner 86, 5), Woodland 5, Jones 8, Forte 5; Wilkinson 6, Philliskirk 5 (Murphy 71, 5).

Subs not used: Coleman, Mellor, Dieng, Bove, Jacobs.

Booked: Lockwood (7), Brown (34), Woodland (44), Wilkinson (90).

Sent-off: Lockwood (90).

Barnsley (4-4-1-1): Davies 6; Holgate 8, Cranie 7, Nyatanga 8, John 6; O’Sullivan 6, Pearson 6 (Bailey 80, 5), Scowen 7, Lalkovic 5 (Winnall 61, 6); Hourihane 8; Waring 7 (Ibehre 86, 6).

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

Booked: Pearson (74), Ibehre (88).

Sent-off: None

Referee: Mark Heywood (West Yorkshire)

Attendance: 6,344