Assistant boss Chris Hutchings warned the Barnsley players that they would get their “butts kicked” if they didn’t perform against Port Vale.
And although the Reds were not completely blown off the park, it was fair to say they were second best pretty much all afternoon as the rejuvenated Valiants deservedly triumphed.
Having lost six games in a row the hosts were expected to lose this one, especially with caretaker manager Rob Page having had less than 48 hours to get his side ready for the visit of the Reds following the departure of long-serving boss Micky Adams on Thursday.
But Danny Wilson’s side struggled badly to impose any authority on the contest – and they were duly punished by opponents who have been severely lacking form of late.
It might have been an 89th minute goal from Mark Marshall that won it for the home side, but the writing had been on the wall long before then as the Reds were forced to soak up a barrage of pressure, particularly in the first half.
Port Vale could even afford to miss a second half penalty and still take maximum points as they climbed two places up the table and within a point of getting out of the relegation zone. Defeat for the Reds, which ended a four-game unbeaten away record, saw them slip four places to 19th in the standings, their lowest position so far this season.
And no wonder Wilson was left frustrated after his side failed to deliver.
“We were a shadow of ourselves,” Wilson admitted.
“We weren’t tight enough all over the pitch and that’s a concern for me.
“The fact young Mark Marshall danced around us like he did and we didn’t put a glove on him - it hurts a little bit more because it [the winning goal] was avoidable.
“It typified a lot of the play and our defensive work as we just weren’t tight enough.
“And then of course it’s always an extra bit of a hit when it [the goal] comes so late and the manner it came.”
Wilson made three changes to his side which ground out a goalless draw away to Fleetwood Town on Tuesday night, with striker Leroy Lita and winger Keith Treacy handed starting berths in place of Kane Hemmings and midfielder Luke Berry respectively.
Goalkeeper Ross Turnbull also replaced Adam Davies as he made his debut between the posts.
But the Reds were slow out of the blocks in the first half and weathered plenty of pressure in the opening exchanges.
Chris Lines shot over, Turnbull twice saved well from Marshall and Louis Dodds and Jordan Slew both had shots saved by the busy keeper in a frantic opening burst.
The pressure told when left-back Joe Dudgeon conceded a free-kick on the edge of his own penalty area and up stepped Michael O’Connor to beat with Turnbull with a curling shot.
At the other end Manchester City loanee Devante Cole forced a save out of Vale keeper Chris Neal, as did Lita, but the Reds lacked any real bite.
And they so nearly found themselves two goals down at the break but for Turnbull denying both Marshall and Dodds.
Wilson replaced Reece Brown at the break, the right-back having been tormented by Marshall, but the Reds nearly conceded after 16 seconds.
Turnbull did well to deny Dodds and then seven minutes later thwarted Slew.
But then the Reds were handed a lifeline when the impressive Conor Hourihane was bundled over by goalscorer O’Connor.
And the midfielder gladly stepped up to fire the penalty home, albeit off the inside of a post.
However, no sooner had the Reds got themselves back in the contest than they were under the cosh again.
Dudgeon and Jean-Yves Mvoto both cleared shots off the line and then, in the 71st minute Mvoto conceded a needless penalty.
It looked a harsh decision, but there was contact and Slew, who had been fouled, took the spot-kick.
But Slew blazed his shot well over and the Reds were still in the contest.
Substitute Sam Winnall and Cole both forced Neal into action, but no matter how hard they tried the visitors couldn’t bag a second goal.
And it was the hosts who won it with a minute of normal time remaining.
Some poor defending allowed the ever-present Marshall to dance through and fire into the roof of the net.
Turnbull was helpless despite having had a memorable debut.
“We were beaten by a very determined team,” reflected Wilson. “For the first 45 minutes we were second best, there’s no doubt about it.
“We had certain pockets of play, but certainly not enough to effect the game.
“It’s typical really of a team who go and play like that after they’ve lost the manager.
“It surprises me a lot, but it annoys me to a certain degree as well. We were much better in the second half and created chances, but still we didn’t function.
“The one thing I’m sure the lads will take from it is that this type of game typifies League One games.
“You’ve got to be committed, you’ve got to be energetic, you’ve got to have enthusiasm and be prepared to put your head in where it hurts.
“With all those things you’ve got to make sure you earn that right to play the way we want to play. It won’t be given to us.
“From our perspective, we have to make sure when we approach the game next week against Swindon will include all those things.
“You’ve got to go get your tackles in and put your headers in. That’s the essence of League One and after that you can go and play.”
Port Vale: Neal 7, Yates 6, Dickinson 7, McGivern 7, Duffy 6, Dodds 6 (Moore 76, 5), Lines 6, Pope 7, O’Connor 7 (Brown 62, 5), Marshall 8, Slew 7 (Williamson 76, 5).
Subs: Johnson, Robertson, Daniel, Jennings.
Barnsley: Turnbull 7, Brown 4 (Bree 45, 5), Dudgeon 6, Nyatanga 5, Mvoto 5, Cranie 5, Treacy 5 (Winnall 57, 6), Hourihane 7, Jennings 5, Lita 5 (Bailey 82, 4), Cole 6.
Subs: Davies, Hemmings, Berry, Noble-Lazarus.
Booked: Hourihane, Cranie.
Referee: Dean Whitestone (Northamptonshire)