Walsall 1 Barnsley 3: Reds stay cool despite reaching play-off place
Brilliant Barnsley might be on the back of a superb run of 11 wins in their last 13 games, but little will change in the squad's approach to the remaining 11 matches of the season.
Saturday’s superb win at fellow play-off chasers Walsall lifted the Reds into the top six for the first time this season, but caretaker Paul Heckingbottom is clearly keen to keep everyone’s feet firmly on the ground.
Reflecting on another well-deserved success, Heckingbottom said: “It makes no different to us, we know what we’re chasing and what we’ve still got to do.
“Maybe it changes other people’s mindset.
“It can be a distraction, dealing with any potential hype, but those same people will be saying different things when we lose a game.
“We’re the same team whether we win or lose, and we’ll just approach the next game with the same mentality as we always do, and that is to win it.”
The Reds were good value for their victory at Walsall, though an appreciative Heckingbottom could have been happier.
He added: “It was a game of two halves. We were second best in the first half. There just wasn’t enough intensity there to press higher up the pitch.
“I felt we were giving the ball away too cheaply, so a few things were said at half-time.
“Credit to the players, they knew they could do better at half-time as well.
“It wasn’t a case of ranting and raving, there were just two or three specific points that needed to be made.
“They carried out the instructions perfectly in the second half.
“We scored two fantastic goals, but we’re still nowhere near where we want to be.
“It was a great result, but there are still other areas that we want to be better in.”
Barnsley were without injury victims James Bree (hamstring) and leading scorer Sam Winnall (ankle) after picking up knocks during the week in the match against Coventry.
Both the replacements stepped up to make their full league debuts.
Defender Callum Connolly was in for an immediate start just days after his loan switch from Everton and Middlesbrough loanee Harry Chapman got the nod after making two previous appearances from the Reds’ bench.
Walsal’s former Doncaster boss Sean O’Driscoll made only one change to his stuttering team who were desperate to end a run of five matches without a win.
Former Red Milan Lalkovic was dropped to the bench, in favour of fellow midfielder Kieron Morris.
It proved to an entertaining end-to-end opening period which ended one apiece.
The Reds suffered an early scare when they found themselves rescued by the woodwork in the 15th minute.
Anthony Forde sailed a super curling free-kick over the Reds’ defensive wall, but the ball bounced out off a post.
The Reds responded by firing themselves into the lead just two minutes later.
It was a terrific individual strike, with Manchester United loanee Ashley Fletcher charging forward before slotting comfortably past ‘keeper Neil Etheridge.
Centre-back Alfie Mawson headed narrowly over as the visitors almost doubled their lead, before the Saddlers went on to level matters shortly before the half-hour mark.
A suspiciously offside-looking Tom Bradshaw lashed home a rebound after an initial strike had been blocked by ‘keeper Adam Davies.
Etheridge came to the Saddlers’ rescue minutes before the break when he leapt to keep out Lloyd Isgrove’s snapshot.
The Reds were irresistible at times in the second period.
Within 11 minutes of the restart they were 3-1 up and coasting to another maximum points haul.
Fletcher had already stabbed a shot inches wide by the time Josh Brownhill fired the Reds back in front in the 50th minute.
It was a truly special strike from the Preston loanee, who latched on to a short pass from Fletcher before smashing a 25-yard drive unerringly into the net with power and precision.
Chapman’s maiden goal, on such a landmark day for him, was arguably even better.
The young Boro’ starlet ran from the halfway line brilliantly before eventually tucking a low shot clinically past Etheridge from a tight angle.
The almost 1,000-strong Reds’ travelling army were in dreamland as their side were heading unstoppably into the top six.
Marley Watkins almost scored again late on when he almost diverted Conor Hourihane’s wayward shot home, while Fletcher curled a super strike narrowly past the post.
The Saddlers, meanwhile, were a spent force in the closing stages.
The closest they came to grabbing a second consolation goal came when familiar foe Lalkovic forced Davies into a wonderful point-blank stop.
WALSALL (4-3-2-1): Etheridge 6; Demetriou 7, Downing 5, O’Connor 7, Taylor 5; Chambers 5, Forde 7, Mantom 7; Bradshaw 6 (Cook 77, 6), K Morris 5 (Lalkovic 66, 7); Sawyers 6 (Hiwula 66, 5). Subs not used: MacGillivray, Henry, Preston, B Morris.
GOAL: (Bradshaw 28)
BARNSLEY (4-4-2): Davies 7; Connolly 7, Mawson 7, Roberts 7, G Williams 7; Isgrove 7 (Scowen 81, 6), Hourihane 7, Brownhill 7, Chapman 9 (Tuton 90, 6); Watkins 7, Fletcher 8 (Khan 90, 6). Subs not used: Townsend, Smith, Nyatanga, McCourt.
goals: (Fletcher 17, Brownhill 50, Chapman 56)
BOOKED: Connolly (79).
REF: Chris Sarginson (Staffordshire). Replaced by Mr C Ward after 37 mins.