Vital win for Barnsley

Barnsley's Luke Steele punches clear.
Barnsley's Luke Steele punches clear.
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Jim O’Brien was the Barnsley hero on Saturday as his crucial early strike proved the difference between two Championship strugglers.

In the end the brave Reds hung on for what could well turn out to be a priceless win against one of their main drop rivals, and what was only a second success in their last 14 league and cup matches.

The victory wasn’t enough to propel the Reds any higher than second-bottom in the table - thanks to wins for Yeovil and Charlton - but they are now just two points shy of the fourth-bottom Lions, and still have a game in hand.

There was a nervy end to the game as the hosts hung on gamely, but it was still a surprise when manager Danny Wilson opted against offering his thoughts on such a vital win - instead he was left to munch over a pizza along with his players.

Reds assistant boss Micky Mellon said: “That was a very valuable victory.

“It’s disappointing to hear about results from elsewhere but we have to make sure we don’t lose focus on ourselves.

“From now until the end of the season it has to be about what we do, but to get three points and a clean sheet against Millwall is a bonus.

“It’s going to be a tough end to the season, but we’ve shown in this match that we can defend leads and that’s what we’ll need if we are to stay up.”

It had been a largely disappointing performance from the Reds during the midweek defeat at Wigan, but Wilson opted against making wholesale changes to his starting line-up for what was clearly a huge game.

Jack Hunt was back in at right-back, taking over from the unfit Ryan McLaughlin, while in the midfield, Jacob Mellis returned from suspension to take the place of Martin Woods, who was relegated to the bench.

It was a bench consisting of one experienced goalkeeper in Iain Turner, and six midfielders.

The Reds got themselves off to a dream start, and ultimately one they were to hang on to.

With less than four minutes on the clock skipper Martin Cranie lifted a rather hopeful ball forward to O’Brien, but the Scot produced terrific composure as he skipped easily past Lions centre-back Danny Shittu before slotting coolly past goalkeeper David Forde from 15 yards.

It was a perfect start for Barnsley during these continuing worrying times, but they ought to have doubled their lead just minutes later.

Dale Jennings - a real livewire down the flank from start to finish - pulled a neat cross back into Chris O’Grady’s path, but the burly leading scorer scooped an effort disappointingly over the top.

Jennings then charged through to face Forde after pouncing on a loose ball, only for the ‘keeper to emerge on top as he saved with his legs when the ex-Bayern Munich man really should have scored.

Finally the Lions roared back into contention and Scott McDonald was thwarted by a brave block from Peter Ramage, while DJ Campbell thought he had scored, only to be denied by a superb point-blank stop from the ever-reliable Luke Steele.

The visitors went in at the break on top, but a few words from Wilson and Mellon clearly had an effect, as the Reds went for the jugular upon the restart.

Substitute Stephen Dawson - on for the ineffective Mellis - twice went close from distance, while O’Grady totally mis-cued a shot when superbly placed just 12 yards from goal.

O’Grady and O’Brien were thwarted by a smart double-stop from Forde, but at the other end it was Steele who was to emerge the real hero as he somehow kept out headers from Steve Morison and Campbell in rapid succession.

Both efforts were heading for the corner of the goal as Millwall pressed desperately, and both efforts were beaten away by breath-taking diving saves.

Once Shaun Williams had fizzed a low free-kick inches wide for the visitors, their game was effectively up.

Packed full of character and resilience, the Reds hung on gamely for a massive three points, a win which left Lions boss Ian Holloway in a rage as he took more than an hour to emerge and offer his thoughts on his team’s predicament.

Holloway moaned: “I take full responsibility for results, and I’ll back my players to the hilt.

“But we’ve got to show that we’re strong enough to survive in this division.

“Things are only to get harder from now until the end of the season, so we need to stick together.”

The Reds just need to try and take as much heart as possible from this victory as they head to Huddersfield next weekend - the scene of last season’s most dramatic of final-day survival specials of course.