TALK about mixed emotions.
The battle-hardened Reds almost pulled off a famous victory at high-flying Leicester, only to be pegged back in the 90th minute – a result which meant they fell into the Championship drop zone.
Emotions apparently proved a little too much for manager Keith Hill, who failed to emerge to speak to the media after the game, but assistant boss Dave Flitcroft spoke glowingly about his team despite a 10th match without a win.
It was a blow for the Reds to take after they had led since Reuben Noble-Lazarus’s magical overhead strike in the 39th minute.
But Flitcroft was determined to take the positives ahead of a New Year battle against the drop.
Flitcroft said: “We’re aiming to stay in the Championship this season, it really is a wonderful league. You could say it’s like a Premier League Two due to the quality of teams in there.”
Boss Hill made five changes to his starting line-up against one of the Championship’s biggest spenders. There were one or two surprises, with Stephen Foster being replaced by Martin Cranie at the heart of the defence.
Centre-back Jim McNulty was out, replaced by Scott Wiseman. Teenager John Stones returned at right-back, while across the middle Noble-Lazarus earned his recall, along with Stephen Dawson, in a holding role in front of the back four.
Wide-man Jim O’Brien returned, while dropping to the bench were Foster, Emile Sinclair and, despite two goals in the Reds’ previous two games, Marcus Tudgay. The first half had looked grim early on as the Foxes stormed out of the blocks.
Wiseman’s failed attempted clearance of Martyn Waghorn’s cross fell for Anthony Knockaert who fired home the loose ball to register his fifth goal of the season. Waghorn then saw an effort ruled out for offside as the Foxes sought to turn the screw, but huge credit to Barnsley, they responded positively and levelled matters – against the run of play – just before the half-hour mark.
An intended clearance from keeper Kasper Schmeichel to Paul Konchesky failed to meet its target, so in nipped O’Brien.
He hooked the ball back to Craig Davies, and after his initial shot was blocked by Schmeichel, the loose ball fell invitingly for Dawson who was perfectly placed to comfortably slot home his second goal of the season.
The Foxes responded immediately with Lloyd Dyer going close and skipper Wes Morgan heading inches wide, but a very special goal for Reds kid Noble-Lazarus saw his side take a shock lead six minutes before half-time.
Akos Buzsaky’s corner-kick went deep to fellow loan man Jonathan Greening, and though the ball was slightly behind Noble-Lazarus he swivelled and fired home a quite breath-taking overhead kick past a rooted Schmeichel.
That goal lifted the Reds and Buzsaky tried his luck from distance, but after the restart – and presumably after a few choice words from manager Nigel Pearson – the Foxes roared out of the blocks.
Reds hero Luke Steele came to the fore, saving brilliantly from Knockaert and Andy King, then with five minutes remaining he dived acrobatically to palm away a well-struck half-volley from centre-back Zak Whitbread.
Just when it was starting to look like Barnsley would hang on for a priceless victory, the hosts’ pressure paid off as they levelled it up seconds shy of the 90-minute mark.
Whitbread nodded the ball into the danger zone and there was substitute Jamie Vardy and the former non-league hit-man swept the ball easily past Steele.
Even then the Reds keeper had to be alert to keep out King’s stoppage-time bid for a winner, while goalscorer Dawson was called upon right at the death to clear Ritchie De Laet’s header dramatically off the line.
It was another without a win, but the Reds had shown once again that they are capable of competing with the Championship elite – a warning for Wednesday ahead of next Saturday maybe.