It was a case of mixed emotions for Barnsley boss Danny Wilson after his side were dumped out of the FA Cup.
Championship high-fliers Middlesbrough were just too strong.
The Reds’ young side plugged away gamely against a team who look destined to be in the shake-up for promotion to the Premier League at the end of the season, although the final scoreline didn’t flatter the visitors to Oakwell.
Under Spanish boss Aitor Karanka - who ended up fielding questions about the possibility of him taking over the Newcastle United hot seat after Saturday’s game - Middlesbrough were head and shoulders above their hosts at times.
And Boro never looked in danger even though they had to play the final quarter-of-an-hour with just ten men following Adam Clayton’s second yellow card.
However, the manner of the two goals that Boro did score in the second period proved to be a source of frustration for Wilson.
The Barnsley boss said: “We set up to frustrate Middlesbrough if you like, and to a certain extent we did that.
“We did stifle them in the first half and of course it was still goalless at half-time.
“The two goals we ended up conceding were sloppy though. That was a major disappointment as far as I’m concerned.
“We’ve left their striker with far too much time and space for the first goal, though even then we were still in the game.
“We were still a threat and we were trying to put pressure on their back four.
“The second goal killed us. It was another disappointing one and once it’s 2-0 it galvanised them.
“Our retention of the ball could have been better, but let’s not forget that Middlesbrough are a very good side and they have got a great squad of players to call upon.
“At least we’ll have learned a lot from this defeat because Middlesbrough were so strong and they will undoubtedly be up there challenging towards the top of the Championship at the end of the season.”
It had been eight days since the Reds last played due to the postponement of their Monday night home clash with Oldham, so in the wake of the narrow League One defeat at high-flying Preston last time out on Boxing Day, Wilson made two alterations to his starting line-up.
Youngster Paul Digby was handed a rare start in the Reds midfield, at James Bailey’s expense, while between the sticks Ross Turnbull returned following his one-match suspension and fellow keeper Adam Davies dropped to the bench.
Peter Ramage took his place at the heart of the Reds’ defence again, just hours after extending his loan stay from Crystal Palace until the end of the season, but young striker Alex Kiwomya hadn’t been signed on loan from Chelsea in time on Friday, so was forced to sit this one out.
Boro’s boss Karanka unsurprisingly made a raft of changes to his starting XI, with potential promotion to the promised land of the Premier League clearly a major priority.
Despite all the alterations, and following a 13-minute delay to the scheduled 3pm kick-off time due to a reported gas leak scare behind one of the stands at Oakwell, Boro still looked strong from the off and bossed the first half, even though they didn’t manage to score.
They came close on a handful of occasions, with Lee Tomlin the first to test Turnbull as his cross-come-shot was plucked out of the air just as the ball looked set to drop into the corner of the net.
Belgian Vossen then missed a decent opportunity, firing tamely at Turnbull after a neatly-played through-ball from the impressive Clayton.
The first Reds chance came in the 20th minute, and Conor Hourihane ought to have done better.
He picked up a pass from Dale Jennings and was in space on the edge of the Boro box when he fired disappointingly over the top.
The visitors’ lone striker Kike then wasted the first of a number of clear-cut chances just past the half-hour mark.
The first of which was the most glaring as the Spaniard side-footed wide despite only having Turnbull to beat from just 12 yards.
Kike then fluffed a one-on-one opportunity as Turnbull got the better of another personal duel, so with the score at 0-0 at half-time, there was still hope for the Reds.
However, Boro did make the breakthrough they had fully deserved just three minutes after the restart.
Former Huddersfield Town maestro Clayton found Vossen in acres of space, and the Belgian made no mistake from just inside the box as he fired a shot across Turnbull and it to the far corner of the net.
That was the signal for Barnsley to come out and produce their best spell of the game.
Jennings lashed in a shot which Tomas Mejias saved well, while Leroy Lita - still looking far from his potentially lethal best - fired into the side-netting from an acute angle.
The woodwork then rescued the Reds, with teenager Mason Holgate heading inadvertently onto his own crossbar as he met Patrick Bamford’s cross, though an own goal would have been a totally harsh outcome for a young player who had been a revelation throughout the majority of the game .
Clayton received a second yellow card with 14 minutes to go and the Reds’ hopes were briefly raised, but the visitors bagged their second, killer goal in the 83rd minute.
This time Daniel Ayala powered home an emphatic header past Turnbull and that was the end of Barnsley’s FA Cup hopes over for another season.
Barnsley (4-4-2): Turnbull 7; Holgate 8, Ramage 7, Nyatanga 6, Smith 5;
Berry 5 (Boakye-Yiadom 82, 5), Digby 6, Hourihane 7, Jennings 5;
Hemmings 5 (Oates 68, 5), Lita 7. Subs: Davies, Brown, Abbott, Bailey,
Booked: None; sent-off: None.
Middlesbrough (4-2-3-1): Mejias 7; Williams 5 (Veljkovic 4, 6), Omeruo
7, Ayala 6, Husband 8; Clayton 5, Whitehead 8; Tomlin 7 (Leadbitter 78,
6), Bamford 8, Vossen 7; Kike 5 (Reach 67, 6). Subs: Friend, Gibson,
Booked: Clayton (54); sent-off: Clayton (76).
Referee: Dean Whitestone (Northamptonshire)