Port Vale 0, Barnsley 1: Reds march on thanks to Hourihane's free-kick winner
Conor Hourihane's early strike sealed a 13th victory in just 17 Sky Bet League One games for Barnsley as they managed to grind out another precious success, this time at Port Vale.
The three points still weren’t enough to haul the Reds back into the play-off positions, but a fourth straight away win - and a first at Vale Park in 20 years - keeps Paul Heckingbottom’s men still firmly in the hunt for potential success on two separate fronts.
The Reds defended stoutly, particularly in the second half, but their hard graft paid off in the end and the team will head to the Johnstone’s Pain Trophy final at Wembley at the weekend in terrific heart, and terrific form.
Caretaker boss Heckingbottom said: “This is another great result for us, and we definitely earned it.
“Port Vale made life really hard for us, but as a team we’ve ground out the result.
“There were one or two difficult moments in the second period, but hats off to the players. They’ve shown a real desire to secure what is a fantastic clean sheet.”
Heckingbottom had made one alteration to his starting line-up in the wake of the Good Friday goalless draw at home to Scunthorpe.
That came up front, with the now international-free Ashley Fletcher recalled to partner Ivan Toney. Harry Chapman was dropped to the bench.
Vale boss Rob Page made two changes following Friday’s draw with Shrewsbury as Ajay Leitch-Smith and Anthony Grant both returned from injury. There wasn’t too much goalmouth action in the first period at a blustery Vale Park, but crucially the Reds struck early.
They grabbed what turned out to be the winner after just nine minutes courtesy of a rather fortuitous goal.
Hourihane floated over a free-kick from out wide which evaded everyone before dropping over Jak Alnwick’s head and in at the far corner.
Hourihane’s 10th goal of the campaign gave the visitors a perfect early boost, and the lead was almost doubled midway through the period when Adam Hammill saw a well-struck effort saved competently by Alnwick.
As the interval approached the Valiants grew more and more into the game, and twice Reds’ ‘keeper Adam Davies was called into the action.
He produced an excellent low stop to deny the recalled Leitch-Smith, while the same player then fluffed a terrific one-on-one opportunity as he fired straight at the Barnsley stopper.
The Reds had been decent value for their lead, though, and created the final chance of the opening half when Josh Brownhill saw a 30-yard free-kick well smothered by Alnwick. The Valiants made a positive start to the second period.
Anthony Grant was afforded too much space inside the Reds’ box, but blazed a shot woefully over the top.
The Reds came roaring back, however, and they almost went two clear following a piece of brilliance from Hammill. He turned inside before curling an exquisite strike inches wide of the far post.
Back came Vale, with Sam Foley the latest to blow a decent chance as he hit an effort dreadfully over the top with the goal almost gaping.
The closing quarter-of-an-hour was bossed by Vale, but they simply couldn’t find a way through Barnsley’s brick wall. Defender Richard Duffy fluffed a great chance late on as he screwed a shot inexplicably wide from eight yards, while sub Theo Robinson nodded over the top when it looked easier to score.
port Vale: Alnwick, Purkiss, Inniss (Kelly, 75), Duffy, Dickinson, Dodds, O’Connor (Brown, 58), Grant, Foley, Hooper (Robinson, 58), Leitch-Smith. Subs not used: Boot, McGivern, Kennedy, Moore.
Yellow cards: Dickinson (8).
Red cards: None.
Barnsley: Davies, G Williams, Roberts, Mawson, White, Scowen, Brownhill, Hourihane, Hammill, Toney (Tuton, 62), Fletcher.
Subs not used: Townsend, Bree, Khan, Nyatanga, McCourt, Chapman.
Yellow cards: Toney (17), White (56), Hourihane (69).
Red cards: None.
Referee: Scott Duncan (Newcastle).
Star man: Marc Roberts