Barnsley came within the width of a post of beating runaway Sky Bet League One runaway leaders Bristol City at a noisy Oakwell.
The Reds matched their lofty opponents stride for stride, particularly during a barnstorming second half performance, and it was little surprise to hear boss Danny Wilson hugely encouraged as the build-up begins ahead of this weekend’s big South Yorkshire derby at Bramall Lane.
The hosts were unsurprisingly underdogs ahead of their acid test against a Bristol side who were flying under Steve Cotterill.
The Robins were undefeated in 14 matches before the weekend and six points clear of second-placed Peterborough.
After the disappointment of midweek when the Reds chucked away a two-goal lead before losing to Notts County, some of the Oakwell faithful could have been forgiven for feeling slightly fearful.
However, their charges didn’t let them down and a rousing second-half was almost rewarded with a coupon-busting maximum points haul.
It didn’t quite happen thanks to Aaron Wilbraham’s clinical strike 11 minutes from time, but asked to weigh up how he felt his young side had fared against undoubted automatic promotion contenders, Wilson said: “I thought we were very unlucky not to have come away with a win.
“In fact that little bit of luck just seems to be deserting us at present.
“The second goal saw the ball hit one of our players in the face, it’s bounced down and Aaron Wilbraham hit it into the net.
“It was the same against Notts County when the ball hit Martin Cranie in the face, fell to one of their players and we ended up losing 3-2.
“Little things like that, little quirks in the games are costing us, but we’ve just got to keep believing in ourselves.
“Again this game has highlighted just how tight this division is.
“We came up against a team that was well clear at the top of the table, and there was nothing between the two sides.
“Would you have thought the sides were where they are in the table? Probably not, and that has to be an encouraging thing from our point of view.
“We’ve only come away with one point from games against Peterborough, Notts County and Bristol City, but in all three games we’ve played really well.
“We’ll take confidence from that, and take that into next weekend and the Sheffield game.”
Wilson had made a couple of changes to his starting line-up in the wake of the midweek collapse against a similarly in-form Notts County side.
James Bailey was back following his one-match suspension, while loan man Joe Dudgeon was drafted back in on the left side of the defence.
James Bree was dropped to the bench, while fellow youngster Paul Digby was left out of the Reds’ 18 altogether.
Of course the Robins were already flying high at the division’s summit, so their boss Cotterill made just the single alteration following a 2-2 home draw against Bradford four days earlier.
Former Reds loanee Korey Smith was back to tighten up the centre of the midfield, with Marlon Pack dropping to the bench.
The Reds competed well in the opening stages as Wilson was to pit his wits against a City side he managed - largely successfully - between 2000 and 2004.
Sam Winnall was proving a real threat and forced Frank Fielding into a smart stop, while the home fans were screaming for a penalty when Derrick Williams looked to have impeded namesake Ryan as the Fulham loanee darted into the Robins’ box.
Referee Darren Deadman was unmoved, so the Reds continued probing, with Devante Cole twice forcing Fielding to save competently.
At the other end Joe Bryan had gone close, before the visitors surged into the lead nine minutes before the break with a disappointing goal from a Reds point of view.
Defender Luke Ayling was left in plenty of space to nod confidently home from Bryan’s cross, meaning every Bristol outfield player on show had now scored this season.
The Reds cranked it up in the early stages of the second period. Cole saw a well-directed header hacked off the line by Aden Flint, before the fightback began in earnest in the 58th minute.
Winnall was the hero again, curling home a leveller from 15 yards after an initial effort had been blocked by Flint.
Ten minutes later the hosts stunned Bristol by taking the lead.
This time the goal came from the penalty spot, with the increasingly impressive Conor Hourihane coolly slotting home after he’d been clumsily tripped by Ayling.
Suddenly the most dramatic of Reds victories was well and truly on the cards, but after the defence failed to clear the ball on the edge of their own box, they were punished clinically by veteran Wilbraham, who smashed his ninth goal of the season into the top corner of the net.
The Robins were now threatening to deny Barnsley a deserved share of the spoils, but it was the Reds who came closest to grabbing victory when Hourihane’s brilliantly-struck left-footed shot struck the post with Fielding well beaten.
Barnsley (4-4-2): Turnbull 7; Cranie 8, Nyatanga 6, Ramage 8, Dudgeon 7; Bailey 5, Berry 6, Hourihane 7, Williams 7 (Jennings 84, 5); Cole 6, Winnall 8.
Subs not used: Davies, Treacy, Hemmings, M’voto, Bree, Lita.
Booked: Winnall (56).
Bristol City (3-5-2): Fielding 7; Ayling 6, Williams 6, Flint 7; Little 8, Elliott 7, Smith 5, Freeman 5 (Emmanuel-Thomas 69, 5), Bryan 8 (Cunningham 90, 5); Wilbraham 7, Agard 5 (Wagstaff 86, 5).
Subs not used: Richards, El-Abd, Burns, Pack.