The match neither team dared to lose predictably ended in a draw.
But the final scoreline does not tell the entire story of a match which, despite failing to produce the desired result for either manager, will provide both Lee Johnson and Nigel Adkins with some much-needed encouragement as well.
Barnsley, who finished the afternoon languishing at the foot of the League One table, displayed a tenacity which suggests relegation could yet be averted when, having earlier missed a penalty, Conor Hourihane claimed a memorable 94th-minute goal.
Sheffield United might harbour more immodest aspirations but, following an anaemic performance against Shrewsbury Town four days earlier, travelled to Oakwell knowing it was imperative they at least produced a response.
Adkins’ players obliged on that score although, as John Brayford admitted afterwards, still finished the contest feeling aggrieved.
“It feels like a loss, the deflation in the dressing room is unbelievable,” the United defender said. “Even though we got the same result as Barnsley, they’ll be going home a lot happier than us.
“If we could have just held on for another two minutes then our fans would have been buzzing. They didn’t deserve that after what happened the other night.”
Ten places and 11 points off the automatic promotion place, United need more than hard-luck stories to keep their hopes of an immediate return to the Championship alive.
Adkins, describing the midweek 4-2 defeat as “unacceptable”, insisted beforehand these are the moments when a team proves whether it will sink or swim.
Instead, after taking the lead through Chris Basham, United found themselves treading water as a combination of profligate finishing and Adam Davies’ athleticism ensured the contest was still alive when Hourihane pounced.
“A few words were exchanged after the last match because we know it wasn’t good enough if we want to compete at the right end of the table,” Brayford, making his first appearance since May, said. “We shouldn’t have to say those things to each other, to be fair, because they should come naturally. But we’ve shown we’ll fight.
“You can’t let people get away with things because, if you do, then you’ve got a sloppy attitude. But we showed the right attitude, in my opinion, out there. If we do that, then the fans will stick with us. If we don’t, then they’ll turn on us, which they’ve got every right to do.”
“We just wanted to but a bit of pride back out there,” Brayford continued. “These fans pay a lot of money to come and watch us and they travel all over the country to do that. We know what happened against Shrewsbury wasn’t good enough.
“It was an old-school performanc. We headed it, kicked it and played some good stuff too. But we didn’t win..
“If people took away the last five minutes from that game, they’d say we played well. But football isn’t played for 90 minutes, it’s played for 94 or 95.”
United, like Barnsley, will look back on this compelling fixture with mixed emotions.
Brayford, having confirmed his recovery from a serious knee problem, impressed on his return to the starting 11. Likewise Matt Done and Jamal Campbell-Ryce, until injury curtailed his afternoon.
Basham, profiting from Bob Harris’ ability at dead-ball situations, punished Lloyd Isgrove’s glaring miss by heading the visitors in front after Done had earlier seen a shot deflected behind. Basham, restored to his preferred midfield role, should have doubled the lead just after the break but dragged Billy Sharp’s centre wide.
With George Long producing an excellent save to thwart Hourihane from the spot - Neill Collins adjudged to have tripped Adam Hammill after being left exposed - United seemed destined to take full advantage, with Sharp and Done both denied by Davies before Paul Coutts and Basham shot wide.
But it was Barnsley who had the last word when Hourihane redeemed himself with a superb long-range strike after Sam Winnall and Lewin Nyatanga had hit the woodwork.
United are now without a win in six league outings while their opponents have taken only four points from a possible 33.
“We created a number of opportunities to put the game to bed,” Brayford said.
“Even if we didn’t take them, we went in with the mindset that, come what may, we weren’t going to concede, because the amount of goals we have been letting in hasn’t been good enough.
“Promotion is still definitely do-able.
“We’ve set the right foundation out there in terms of attitude and application.”
Barnsley: Davies 8, Wabara 6, Mawson 6, Nyatanga 6, White 6 (Smith 78), Isgrove 6 (Williams 71), Hourihane 7, Pearson 6, Hammill 7, Watkins 7 (Toney 71), Winnall 6. Not used: Townsend, Roberts, Toney, Bree, Jackson.
Sheffield United: Long 7, Campbell-Ryce 6 (Woolford 70), Harris 7, Edgar 6 (McEveley 90), Basham 7, Collins 7, Sharp 7, Done 7, Hammond 7, Coutts 6, Brayford 7. Not used: Howard, McEveley, Freeman, Reed, Adams, Sammon.
Referee: Neil Swarbrick (Lancashire).