Barnsley’s 5-0 thumping of Rochdale on the final day of last season seemed like a million years ago as Keith Hill’s side gained sweet revenge at Spotland.
The Reds were out-thought and out-battled by Dale as goals from Calvin Andrew, Peter Vincenti and Ian Henderson handed former Oakwell boss Hill a hugely satisfactory victory on a miserable afternoon for the Yorkshiremen.
It looked as if a number of Reds’ players were feeling the effects of their exertions in taking Everton all the way to extra-time in their heroic Capital One Cup performance three days earlier.
But credit to boss Lee Johnson, he simply held his hands up when reflecting on what had been a dismal performance from his players.
“You can have all the excuses in the world, and we all know what they are, but we just didn’t do enough in this game, right from the start,” admitted Johnson.
“Can I write it off? No, because there were two or three players who weren’t strong enough mentally and I will be speaking to them about it.
“We just lacked what we’ve normally got - that bit of quality and that bit of energy.
“That’s not an excuse, it what just a fact after this game.
“Fair play to Rochdale, they had a game on Tuesday as well, but that’s one for us to right off. Individually players have got to learn their lessons, but I don’t want them to lose any confidence. They need to take that into Tuesday and next Saturday now.”
The visitors had been second-best all day as the lively hosts stretched and harassed their opponents into far too many unforced errors.
Surely the only positive on an afternoon to forget was the support and noise generated by the loyal Barnsley travelling faithful.
They never gave up singing right until the final whistle, and Johnson acknowledged that much-needed backing.
Johnson added: “Thanks to the fans, they still enjoyed the game even though we didn’t give them much to enjoy. They’re an educated bunch - they can see what we’re trying to do. They knew they hadn’t seen a good enough performance from us as far as energy levels were concerned, and that’s what cost us.”
Johnson had made three changes following the terrific effort in the thriller against the Toffees.
Arsenal loanee Dan Crowley, fellow midfielder Josh Scowen and front-man Sam Winnall were handed a rest and took places on the substitutes bench, to be replaced by Joe Rothwell, Conor Wilkinson up front and Kadeem Harris, with the wide-man making his first start following his recent loan capture from Cardiff.
Roses rivals Rochdale featured ex-Reds Jimmy McNulty and Tom Kennedy in their starting line-up, as well as Hill directing proceedings from the touchline.
And it was Hill’s side who totally dominated the first period, and were excellent value for their 2-0 lead at the break.
Well-travelled front-man Andrew got them on their way, beating Adam Davies with a venomous drive from 20 yards, though the Reds’ ‘keeper did get a hand to the shot.
The lead was doubled shortly before half-time when the Reds were disappointingly undone by a routine setpiece situation.
The impressive Donal McDermott flung over an in-swinging corner-kick and Vincenti rose almost unchallenged to head down and into the net.
The theme continued into the second period and Vincenti ought to have done better when he headed straight at Davies.
A third goal came just after the hour mark, and again the Reds’ defence disappointed as Jamie Allen played in Henderson, who neatly chipped an effort over Davies and into the gaping goal.
Worryingly the lacklustre visitors didn’t register a shot on target until the 71st minute.
Manchester United loan midfielder Ben Pearson took aim from 20 yards, only for shot-stopper Josh Lillis to show agility in diving low to palm the ball around the post.
Rochdale boss Hill, sacked by Barnsley in December, 2012 after 18 months in charge, beamed: “That was both a sick and slick performance from my players.”
ROCHDALE (4-1-4-1): Lillis 7; Rafferty 6, McNulty 7, Lancashire 8, Kennedy 5; Allen 7; McDermott 8 (Noble-Lazarus 84, 6), Vincenti 8 (Bunney 75, 6), Henderson 7, Cannon 8; Andrew 8. SUBS: Eastham, Alessandra, Collis, Rose, Camps.
Booked: Kennedy (27)
BARNSLEY (4-4-2): Davies 7; Wabara 5, Roberts 4, Mawson 6, Nyatanga 5 (Smith 65, 5); Harris 6, Pearson 5, Hourihane 6, Rothwell 4 (Crowley 46, 6); Wilkinson 4 (Winnall 46, 6), Watkins 5.
SUBS: Walton, Scowen, Maris, Digby.
BOOKED: Hourihane (5)
REFEREE : Gary Sutton (Lincolnshire)