Sheffield Wednesday against Barnsley is a South Yorkshire derby that is rarely dull.
And under the lights at Hillsborough, the fixture once again didn’t disappoint. Ultimately, the Owls claimed the bragging rights and a morale-boosting three points following an own goal by Angus MacDonald and a rare strike by Sam Hutchinson.
Tempers boiled over in the closing stages as Reds substitute Adam Hammill was sent off following a collision with Hutchinson. It was a bizarre, confusing incident as it initially appeared referee Peter Bankes had brandished the red card to Hutchinson. However, TV replays suggested Hammill lunged in two-footed.
The decision incensed both teams, with Reds boss Paul Heckingbottom and Owls coach Lee Bullen sent to the stands.
The result extended Wednesday’s unbeaten run against Barnsley to seven matches and lifted them back into the play-off positions. Following their disappointing defeat at Reading, boss Carlos Carvalhal rotated his full-backs, bringing in Liam Palmer and Daniel Pudil.
Steven Fletcher was preferred to Atdhe Nuhiu up front, with Nuhiu and Ross Wallace dropping to the bench.
Both defences were well on top in the early skirmishes. It took an important interception by Sam Hutchinson to stop Josh Scowen following a deft flick by Reds top-scorer Sam Winnall.
It has been a phenomenal 2016 for Barnsley. Led by Heckingbottom, a League One play-off winner with the Owls 11 years ago, the Reds have performed admirably in their first year back in the second-tier. And the reigning JP Trophy holders looked lively in the final third with Owls captain Glenn Loovens superbly blocking Winnall’s low shot.
Conor Hourihane, who is attracting the interest of Premier League clubs, whipped in a free-kick which found Tom Bradshaw but the striker’s effort was kept out by Keiren Westwood. Midway through the half, Bradshaw wasted a glorious chance to put Barnsley ahead. He raced on to Winnall’s neat pass but Westwood rushed out to make an excellent save with his legs.
Hourihane, after a well-worked free-kick, and Andy Yiadom flashed shots over as the Reds continued to pose problems to Wednesday’s defence.
It was all too elaborate from the hosts. Without Fernando Forestieri, there was no imagination to their forward forays.
Lucas Joao, still searching for his first league goal this season, rose highest to meet Reach’s corner but the Portugal international steered his header inches wide.
In recent weeks, Carvalhal has bemoaned the Owls’ luck but there was a huge element of good fortune in the opener.
Hutchinson freed Palmer out wide with a crossfield pass and the right back’s centre was flicked on by Joao and MacDonald prodded the ball into his own net.
It was a lead they scarcely deserved.
But Barnsley still appeared more composed and could have levelled things up before the interval but Scowen headed another peach of a set piece by Hourihane over.
The Reds continued to get plenty of joy from set pieces and Ryan Kent’s teasing free-kick after the break was headed over by Bradshaw, who should have done better.
The Owls perked up as an attacking force following Wallace’s introduction and Reach’s looping header was easily gathered by ex-Wednesday shot-stopper Adam Davies.
Bannan glided forward at pace on the hour mark before cutting in on his favoured left foot and testing the reflexes of Davies.
It was then Westwood’s turn to show his class, with the experienced goalkeeper producing a stunning save to keep out Bradshaw’s header.
Whatever Carvalhal said at half-time worked a treat as Wednesday looked far more threatening.
Bradshaw had to be alert to prevent Fletcher from tapping in Pudil’s downward header and then Tom Lees some how blazed over after yet another cracking Wallace corner. It was a big chance which went begging.
The Owls were again indebted to Westwood as Barnsley pressed for a leveller. He was equal to substitute Stefan Payne’s clever back heel after a superb run and cross by Adam Hammill.
The hosts made the Reds pay for their profligacy in front of goal, doubling their advantage in the 80th minute through Hutchinson. His fierce attempt hit Winnall’s heel and flew past Davies. It capped a top performance by Hutchinson and he enjoyed celebrating in front of the Kop.
The first leg of the home derby double for Wednesday couldn’t have gone much better and Hammill’s late dismissal compounded Barnsley’s frustration.
Owls: Westwood; Palmer, Lees, Loovens, Pudil; Bannan (Jones 67), Lee, Hutchinson, Reach; Fletcher (Nuhiu 78), Joao (Wallace 54). Substitutes: Wildsmith, Sasso, Semedo, Hirst.
Barnsley: Davies; Bree, Roberts, MacDonald, Yiadom; Scowen, Hourihane, Morsy (Hammill 69), Kent (Janko 78); Bradshaw (Payne 69), Winnall. Substitutes: Townsend, Evans, Kpekawa, Williams.
Referee: Peter Bankes (Merseyside)