Once again, it was derby day at Oakwell.And this one, between Barnsley and Sheffield United, had a little extra edge.
Both teams entered the contest with genuine hopes of reaching the Championship next season.
Win, lose or draw, as both managers had insisted during the week, they still would afterwards too.
But, psycholigically speaking, there was a huge amount at stake.
Joe Wildsmith, the goalkeeper Barnsley had signed on-loan from Sheffield Wednesday, received his first touch of the ball in the second minute when Jamie Murphy and Kieron Freeman combined to try and find Steven Davies inside the six yard box.
Conor Hourihane followed suit for the hosts, albeit with an eight minute free-kick which sailed dangerously across Mark Howard’s area, before floating out of play. The best chance of the opening skirmishes, however, fell to Jason Holt. The midfielder, who entered this contest searching for his third goal in as many games, timed his run to perfection as he raced to meet Ryan Flynn’s cross. The resulting header, though, was directed straight at the youngster who comfortably saved.
Jabo Ibhere forced Howard to collect under pressure following a decent passage of play from the hosts before United, again, nearly broke through.
Barnsley’s defence somehow survived a skirmish in front of Wildsmith which saw Murphy and at least two of his colleagues go close. The former Scotland under-21 international ended the 18th minute exchange with a strong
appeal for a penalty after tangling Martin Crainie. But referee Andrew Madley remained unmoved.
Nevertheless, it underlined the fact that United had won the opening skirmishes.
Freeman clipped a clever ball above Barnsley’s rearguard as Lee Johnson, the hosts’ manager, held a conflab with his assistant Tommy Wright. Moments before, Flynn had also been sent scampering through by a delightful crossfield pass only to slip at the vital moment.
Chris Basham had already made his presence felt in midfield when, soon after, he met another sweeping centre from Murphy but Declan John did superbly well to block. John saved Barnsley againin the 36th minute when, somehow, he prevented Flynn from prodding home.
United, pressing hard and displaying impressive energy levels, took a deserved lead in the 40th minute.
Freeman dispatched a free-kick across the penalty area and DAVIES, rising confidently above his marker, headed back across Wildsmith and into the back of Barnsley’s net.
A second would have followed but for John, Johnson’s stand-out player, who hacked Kennedy’s glancing header clear. Barnsley tried to impose themselves at the start of the second period but, with Basham a formidable presence in midfield and attacking positions, quickly lost their impetus and shape.
So it was no surprise when HOLT doubled their advantage with 20 minutes remaining. Harris’ long throw caused problems after being helped on by Basham and, when the ball fell into his path on the edge of the area, he powered home an excellent first time strike.
Johnson brought on Dale Jennings, Kane Hemmings and George Smith in an effort to change the course of the game but to no effect as United, who introduced Matt Done, Michael Doyle and Stefan Scougall, demonstrated they can, despite claims to the contrary, manage a game. From that point on the result was never in doubt.
Barnsley, suffered their first defeat since Johnson’s appointment. United silenced some of the criticism which has come their way in recent weeks.
Barnsley: Wildsmith, Holgate, Cranie, Nyatanga, John, Scowen, Pearson, Hourihane, Stewart, Winnall, Ibehere. Subs: Berry, Hemmings, Jennings, Smith, Dibble, Cowgill, Bailey.
Sheffield United: Howard, Freeman, Kennedy, Brayford, Harris, Coutts, Basham, Holt, Davies, Murphy, Flynn. Subs: Doyle, Scougall, Baxter, McNulty, Done, McEvekely, Turner.
Referee: Andy Madley.