AT long last there was some Christmas cheer for Barnsley boss Keith Hill.
But as usual the Reds kept their fans waiting patiently until the dying seconds to see an unwanted 11-game winless run finally ended.
And how much did Hill and the Reds need three points? The answer? Well, a lot!
It’s certainly not been through a lack of trying that things haven’t gone right in the past couple of months for Hill’s team, but results over performances are what counts in the final analysis. And Hill knows it.
“That’s what I wanted,” said Hill. “If you’re going to endure relegation and I’m going to lose my job, then I want to make sure I’m doing it the right way.
“Everything else like referee decisions, well you can’t legislate for them, and also player mistakes, which I’ll forgive.
“But results are the reason I retain my job or I lose my job, end of story.”
And this was a much-needed result, one which ended the club’s miserable run of just four points from their last l1 fixtures and saw the Reds claim their first win since beating Charlton 1-0 back on October 20.
A first-half strike from midfielder Stephen Dawson and an injury-time winner from Marcus Tudgay did the trick for Hill’s charges.
Not bad at all against opponents who had lost just one of their last 16 matches. Millwall missed a penalty with the game goalless and had a man sent off in the second half.
Former Sheffield United striker Darius Henderson blazed over from the spot after substitute Scott Wiseman felled him and then Adam Smith was harshly sent off for a lunge on David Perkins shortly after the break.
“I’ve seen the lads fighting again, the spirit on the pitch was evident,” added a delighted Hill.
“It was nice to see the players taking responsibility for the position we’re in.
“The performance was good - and the result matched the performance.
“It would have been a creditable draw but for the [Tudgay’s] opportunity at the end. Their goal was avoidable, but we have to forgive.”
Hill made four changes to his starting line-up with leading scorer Craig Davies a surprise absentee.
Midfielder Akos Buzsaky was forced out through injury, while Jonathan Greening and Tomasz Cywka were dropped to the bench.
In came Bobby Hassell for his first start since October 6 to stiffen the midfield, while winger Jim O’Brien, Perkins and Chris Dagnall all got the nod.
The 200 or so travelling Oakwell fans could have been forgiven for feeling a certain fear ahead of a game against a high-flying Lions side who had catapulted themselves up the table, but the Reds gave a great account of themselves in an entertaining first half and led at the interval.
Teenager John Stones saw an early shot trickle wide after he slipped just as he was in the process of shooting, while Liam Trotter was a threat for the hosts and he watched a crisp drive deflected just wide for a corner-kick.
The recalled O’Brien crashed an angled effort narrowly wide, before Millwall were handed a soft penalty kick in the 26th minute - an effort they were to dramatically squander.
Wiseman, who had only been on the field for five minutes after replacing the injured Martin Cranie, clashed with Henderson and the former Blades hitman tumbled to the deck. Referee Trevir Kettle pointed straight to the spot despite his nearside linesman remaining unmoved.
Reds players voiced their frustrations, but Henderson skied his effort horribly high to let the visitors off the hook.
Five minutes later the Reds punished the Lions in the best manner possible. Dagnall’s initial shot was parried by keeper David Ford, leaving Dubliner Dawson to lash home from close range.
Henderson looked to make immediate amends, but had a shot brilliantly beaten away by the legs of Reds keeper Luke Steele.
Nine minutes after the restart the Lions’ cause was further hindered when Tottenham loan right-back Smith was shown a straight red card for a tackle on Perkins.
The home faithful were predictably enraged, but their team did rally and the re-energised ten men went close to a leveller through former Reds loan man Chris Wood and sub Danny N’Guessan.
And, with ten minutes remaining, Wood bagged an equaliser to leave everything to play for. The West Brom striker latched on to a long through-ball from N’Guessan and lashed past Steele for his 11th goal of the campaign.
However, after Wood had again gone close, the brave Reds struck their glorious winner just as the game was set to enter the last of four additional minutes.
Tudgay charged through the middle to meet Scott Golbourne’s hopeful ball forward.
Just as he seemed set to tee up Dawson who was unmarked to his right, the Forest loanee lifted the ball cheekily over Forde and into the hosts’ empty net. It was mission accomplished.
“It’s a big game for us to have won, but it’s tiny steps,” stressed Hill.
“However, as long as I believe the players have got the fight, then we stand toe to toe with the opposition.
“We’ll win a few, we’ll lose a few and we’ll draw a few, but I can stand proud of the players when they’ve shown me that spirit, endeavour and commitment I’m looking for.”