Sheffield United match verdict: Barnsley 0 Blades 2

Steve Davies scores. Picture: Martyn Harrison
Steve Davies scores. Picture: Martyn Harrison
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All victories are equal. But some, especially at such a pivotal stage of the season, are more equal than others.

It is a theory to which Sheffield United and Barnsley both subscribed after this South Yorkshire derby ended decisively, if not emphatically, in the visitors’ favour.

The result, which saw Nigel Clough’s side take a huge step towards qualifying for the League One play-offs and dent their opponents’ hopes of following suit, was significant for other reasons too.

Particularly, as Terry Kennedy acknowledged afterwards, seven miles away in the former mining village of Great Houghton.

“That’s where I’m from and so I had lots of friends and family here to watch,” Kennedy, who marked his return from injury with a commanding shift at the heart of United’s rearguard, said. “My dad is a massive Barnsley fan.

“I definitely can’t go round for dinner now. In fact, it’s just as well I’ve already moved out because, if I hadn’t, then I think my bags would be getting packed.”

Kennedy, whose career has been punctuated by injury and fitness issues, tackles every game with the passion of someone who fears it might be their last.

But, making his first professional appearance against the club which rejected him as a youngster - “I was about seven, I didn’t get in and I’ve been at Bramall Lane ever since” - it was the youngster’s ability to combine his natural instincts with a cold, calculating approach which best illustrated why United prevailed and Barnsley, suffering their first defeat of the Lee Johnson era, on this occasion at least, failed to impress.

While Johnson confessed his team were “mediocre”, Clough and his staff basked in the warm glow of knowing a tactically astute game plan had been perfectly excuted by their side.

“We were organised, we pressed in numbers and kept our shape when they had the ball,” Kennedy continued. “It was just a good professional performance.

“I’ve managed to train a few times and had the odd 45 minutes here and there for the under-21s. But there was no way I was going to miss this one because coming here was just such a massive buzz.

“You’ve still got to keep your head though. I didn’t want to let myself down in front of everyone.”

“We knew they’d come out fast and try and catch us off our guard. So, from our point of view, it was all about not conceding and then growing into the game as it went on.”

United, who remain fifth in the table ahead of tomorrow’s meeting with Doncaster Rovers but are now seven points clear of seventh place, did exactly that.

My dad is a massive Barnsley fan. I definitely can’t go round for dinner now. In fact, it’s just as well I’ve already moved out because, if I hadn’t, then I think my bags would be getting packed

Terry Kennedy

Steven Davies broke the deadlock during the closing stages of the first half with his first goal following a loan move from Blackpool before Jason Holt, scoring for the third time in as many outings, effectively put the fixture to bed.

“It’s like a balloon has popped,” Johnson, who enjoyed a brief spell under Clough as a player at Derby County, admitted. “But I have to be honest and say we probably lacked a little bit of savvy and never really looked like getting back in.

“I was disappointed with the goals because they came from things we call ‘the non-negotiables’ - taking up the right positions and things like that.

“I’m not going to look at the bigger picture now because I’m angry. I had to bite my tongue in there afterwards to protect a few people because that was medicocre and we don’t want mediocre. That’s something this club has had for far too long. Can I change it? Yes, I think I can.”

Barnsley, who are ninth, were four points off the top-six pace when Johnson was appointed eight outings ago but, crucially for his predecessor ,Danny Wilson, ranked 16th.

However, as the former Oldham Athletic chief emphasised, there will be plenty of twists and turns during the final six matches of the campaign.

Barnsley, who were indebted to the excellent Declan John for ensuring they remained in touch until Holt’s dramatic intervention, can take heart from the fact that only once in the last 10 years has a team outside the play-offs at this stage gone on to secure promotion. Them.

“We probably need four wins now but, because we’re playing a lot of those around us, it’s still more than possible,” Johnson said. “It looks like we’ll struggle to catch United now but you never know because football can change like the wind.”

Barnsley possessed plenty of endeavour but United the greater creativity and nous. Holt failed to beat Joe Wildsmith after meeting Ryan Flynn’s cross before Jamie Murphy saw his appeal for a penalty ignored following a tangle with Martin Crainie and Davies deposited a header on the roof of Barnsley’s net.

John, who later prevented Kennedy from pouncing seconds before the interval, made the first of three fine blocks when Chris Basham met Murphy’s centre but Davies made no mistake with a superb header from Kieron Freeman’s set-piece.

With Jabo Ibhere isolated in attack, Barnsley struggled to cope with United’s diagnonal passing and fell further behind when Holt thrashed home a powerful first-time shot after Basham had helped on Bob Harris’ long-throw.

“Davo’s header was great and he does that every single day in training,” Kennedy said. “Holty has got the technical ability to do what he did and we see that every single session too.

“We’re over the moon to have come here, done well and kept a clean sheet. The lads are buzzing because we know what a difficult place this is to come to.”

BARNSLEY: Wildsmith 6, Holgate 7, Cranie 6, Nyatanga 6, John 8, Scowen 7, Pearson 6, Hourihane*6, Stewart**6, Winnall 6, Ibhere***6. Substitutes: Dibble, Berry, Bailey, Jennings*(70), Hemmings***(76), Cowgill, Smith**(70).

SHEFFIELD UNITED: Howard 7, Harris 7, Brayford 7, Basham 8, Flynn***7, Murphy 7, Coutts 7, Freeman 7, Kennedy 8, S Davies*7, Holt***8. Substitutes: Turner, Doyle***(90), Scougall**(88), Baxter, McNulty, Done*(55) 7, McEveley.

MANAGER’S VIEW - Lee Johnson: “We can’t forget what has happened. But we can use the experience of failure to help us progress as a team. It’s going to be interesting now to see who can come with us and who won’t as we try and get to where we all want to be.”

MANAGER’S VIEW - Andy Garner (United coach): “I thought we dominated the game. I’d be interested to hear what Lee says but that’s how we saw it. We were solid at the back, worked extremely hard in midfield and put in a superb away performance.”

HERO: Josh Scowen won the sponsors’ man-of-the-match award for Barnsley but Declan John deserves special mention for defending with bravery and desire. Chris Basham and Terry Kennedy were excellent for Sheffield United in midfield and defence respectively.

KEY MOMENT: With Barnsley hoping to stretch their unbeaten run to eight games under Lee Johnson and Sheffield United recovering from a shock defeat by Crewe Alexandra, the first goal was always going to be crucial. It fell to the visitors who went on the deservedly claim their first win at Oakwell since November 2008.

VIEWPOINT: Barnsley have been transformed following Lee Johnson’s appointment but are still waiting for their first win, under his watch, over a team from the top third of the table. Sheffield United’s greater knowledge and experience told.

REF WATCH: Andrew Madley (West Yorkshire). Barnsley and Sheffield United each had a player cautioned - Cameron Stewart and John Brayford - as referee Andrew Madley and his assistants oversaw this South Yorkshire derby with a modicum of fuss.