BOBBY Hassell was the Reds’ unlikely hero as his first league goal for over two years upset promotion-chasers Watford.
Only on the field as an early substitute after Rory Delap limped off injured after six minutes, Reds stalwart Hassell pounced 10 minutes before the break to beat‘keeper Jonathan Bond with a thumping header.
Not bad for a player who has had to wait patiently for his chance this season and who last scored a league goal back in January 2011.
“It was all part of the plan,” joked Reds boss Dave Flitcroft after the game.
“Seriously, it just goes to show what this squad is all about.
“Bobby came in to score, but the whole team showed the quality, drive and desire that is needed if we are going to keep picking up the results we still need.”
It was another much-needed three points for Reds in their battle to avoid the drop.
And this battling win was secured at the expense of a Hornets team who have been pushing for automatic promotion all season.
Under the ever-popular Gianfranco Zola, the London club had been eye-catching until the previous weekend’s home defeat against Blackpool.
But, having been pipped to the February Manager of the Month award by Zola, Flitcroft was able to get one over the Italian, a fellow manager he holds in high esteem.
However, the job of guiding the Reds to survival is still far from done despite Flitcroft’s 10th win in just 16 games since taking over from Keith Hill.
The South Yorkshire club are now two places clear of the bottom three, but crucially still only two points better off than Peterborough United in the final relegation place.
“The timing of the goal was outstanding, it was special,” added Flitcroft.
“It gave us something to hang on to - and we did do.
“We’ve had to nullify a lot of threats, but we hit every challenge head on.
“We could have put them to the sword later on for sure, we showed great quality.
“We showed great endeavour and courage against a team with the power of Watford.
“These players need a rest now. I’m quite a relentless guy and these players deserve a rest.
“We’ve not got a game for two weeks now so they’ll get time with their families and come back fresh for our next match.”
Flitcroft stuck with the same starting line-up following the excellent victory against Brighton during the week.
The manager could have rested some of his players but kept faith with the 11 that had done the business to shock the Seagulls.
That meant Jason Scotland and Chris O’Grady continued up front, with 10-goal leading scorer Chris Dagnall having to be content with a place on the bench.
The only change on the bench saw number two keeper Ben Alnwick return from a dead-leg injury in place of Lukas Lidakevicius.
And it was the Reds who had the better of the relatively few chances which came after Delap was forced to limp off early off with his recurring calf problem.
Tom Kennedy fired a 25-yard free-kick over, but then the Hornets threatened when midfielder Jonathan Hogg saw a close-range header hacked off the line by the alert Scott Wiseman.
The Reds then monopolised the chances leading up to Hassell’s match-winner, with Jim O’Brien heading straight at keeper Bond and Scotland fluffing a great opportunity a minute before Hassell struck gold.
Scotland latched perfectly on to Mellis’ through-ball, but as he charged towards goal he shot low and straight at Bond and the keeper saved with his legs.
The Reds went on repel anything Watford could throw at them in the second half.
Matej Vydra wasted the Hornets’ best chance to level in the 72nd minute when his volley was comfortably saved by skipper Luke Steele, but apart from that it was the Reds who were the major threat.
O’Grady’s angled strike brought a great save out of Bond, then as the final five minutes approached Dagnall should have doubled the lead.
Teed up expertly by O’Grady, the striker blasted a disappointing effort way over the top from inside the box.
It didn’t matter, though, as the gutsy Reds hung on superbly to inflict a second defeat on the Hornets in the space of seven days.
A gracious Zola handed the Reds plenty of credit for their well-deserved victory.
He said: “Some days you have to praise the opposition when they’ve produced the better quality during the game.We saw that in this game. Barnsley are fighting for their lives and they pressed us hard thoughout.
“My players will learn a lot from that. There are definitely things we need to work on. We’ll come back stronger. There will be lots more ups and downs between now and the end of the season.”
Zola went on to praise Flitcroft’s efforts, adding: “David has done a great job. He should be congratulated for the way in which he has helped turn Barnsley’s fortunes around.”