Leicester City 1, Barnsley 2
By Andrew Lodge
Reds boss Keith Hill opted to change his attack for the tough test at big-spending Leicester, handing new signing Chris Dagnall his debut, in the number 13 shirt, but also bringing back Andy Gray at the expense of Craig Davies.
And what an inspirational decision it proved to be, as veteran Gray scored both Barnsley goals to bag a magnificent away victory and take his personal tally for the season to six.
The gulf between the Foxes and the Reds in terms of finance might well be massive, but it is on the field that matters, and Barnsley’s 11 proved to be superior to their Midlands’ counterparts.
The three points lifted Hill’s warriors up two places to 14th in the Championship, six points off the play-off places and 12 points clear of the bottom three.
The Reds held off late Leicester pressure, and could even have added to the Foxes’ misery had they been more clinical on the counter-attack, with Ricardo Vaz Te particularly profligate.
But 2-1 will do very nicely thank you! The underdogs had delivered a terrific counter-attacking display to leave Leicester shellshocked, and their supporters angry.
Firstly 33-year-old forward Gray sidefooted the Reds in front after 13 minutes.
Miles Addison started the devastating counter-attack with a superb pass down the left flank for Vaz Te to race onto. The Portuguese attacker powered into the penalty area before slipping a short pass to Danny Drinkwater, who pulled the ball back from the byline for Gray to sweep home.
But not for the first time this term Barnsley’s joy was shortlived. Just three minutes later Leicester’s wide man Lloyd Dyer drifted into a central position, fastened onto a pass from Neil Danns, and drilled a low 18 yard shot beyond Luke Steele and into the far corner.
Bobby Hassell had been handed the captaincy as Hill went with the same back four that conceded four against Premier League Swansea last time out. But yet again the Reds could not keep a clean sheet, for the ninth game in a row.
Thankfully 10 minutes before half-time Barnsley got their noses back in front.
Again Vaz Te and Drinkwater were heavily involved in the build-up, Drinkwater drifting over to the left to receive a pass from the Portuguese player, and the resulting cross was superbly headed past Kasper Schmeichel by Gray.
Two efforts on target, two goals. It can be such a simple game, football!
There was half-a-chance for new boy Dagnall after just four minutes but the ball just ran away from him at the vital moment inside the Leicester penalty area.
A minute later Stephen Foster was harshly adjudged to have sent Dyer tumbling to the floor at the edge of the Barnsley box, but Paul Gallagher’s low free-kick, curled around the Reds wall, was brilliantly turned away one-handed by Luke Steele.
Dagnall operated just behind Gray and leading scorer Vaz Te, who was given much more of a free rein in what was more of a 4-3-1-2 system. Drinkwater operated on the right flank, tucking in and being much closer to the central midfield bulwarks Addison and David Perkins.
Leicester striker David Nugent was rightly booked on 40 minutes after he let his frustration get the better of him with an unnecessary late challenge on Hassell.
Addison quickly followed Nugent into the book after deliberately blocking off Richie Wellens in the centre circle.
Gray almost completed a sensational first half hat-trick, when he got in front of Matt Mills to connect with Vaz Te’s cross, but the effort was blocked.
It was a pity, because Barnsley had played ever so well in the opening 45 minutes, and gave the Foxes backline a tough time.
In first half stoppage time Vaz Te tried his luck from 25 yards but his shot was high and wide.
Boos rang round the home sections of the King Power Stadium as the referee blew the whistle for the interval.
And it could have been even worse for the Foxes right at the start of the second period, when Vaz Te was twice presented with great openings. Firstly he was sent clear by Jay McEveley’s lofted pass but dallied too much inside the penalty area and Paul Konchesky got back to make a block tackle.
Seconds later a sloppy back pass from Lee Peltier provided Vaz Te with another opportunity, but he failed to get the ball up and over the advancing Schmeichel on the edge of the Leicester penalty area.
Had Vaz Te taken one of those chances then the Reds would have been firmly in the driving seat – and all three points would have already been in the bag, much to the delight of the 762 Barnsley fans in a crowd of 22,116.
Leicester had received a double let-off, and they went close to hauling themselves level in the 56th minute when Wellens struck the crossbar from close range.
And on the hour mark a poor clearance by McEveley presented the ball to Wellens inside the box but his shot was blocked by the covering Foster. It was a crucial challenge by the Barnsley centre-back.
Moments later Reds boss Hill made his first change, bringing off Dagnall and sending on Matty Done. The latter took up a position wide on the right, with Drinkwater moving inside.
And Drinkwater was sent clear by Gray in the 63rd minute but the loan ace had drifted into an offside position.
As the dark descended, Barnsley were put more and more under pressure.
But they managed to break out in the 66th minute and neat work from Gray and Drinkwater gave Vaz Te the chance to come inside from the right touchline but his angled drive, although well struck, was always rising and did not trouble Schmeichel.
At the other end Andy King fired wide from eight yards.
Hill made his second change on 68 minutes, sending on Craig Davies for Addison. That also led to a formation change, with the Reds going 4-4-2.
And moments after that switch McEveley found Done on the edge of the box but the substitute saw his low drive well saved low down by Schmeichel.
Foxes right-back Lee Peltier became the third player to be booked in the game, after he missed the ball entirely and caught Perkins with a rash sliding challenge.
With 18 minutes left Drinkwater broke forward and found Davies, who attempted a right-footed curler from the edge of the box which was pushed clear by Schmeichel.
The Foxes’ fans were getting increasingly restless but they cheered the decision to take off Gallagher and send on ex-Leeds striker Jermaine Beckford.
Seconds later a quite magnificent tackle by the covering McEveley denied Nugent what looked like a certain equaliser.
The game had become fully stretched and Vaz Te picked up a yellow card for what Northamptonshire referee Dean Whitestone deemed a deliberate dive inside the Leicester box.
Done then got the ball stuck under his feet when sent into the penalty area by Drinkwater, before the game switched to the other end and Dyer was inches away from a leveller, his 20 yard left-footer flashing just past the upright.
In stoppage time Vaz Te burst clean through, with time to settle it, but his shot was blocked by the legs of Schmeichel. Another glorious chance gone begging! The game should have been done and dusted there and then.
But no matter. The final whistle came shortly afterwards, and the Barnsley celebrations began in earnest! It was a superb success.
Leicester City (4-5-1): Schmeichel; Peltier, Mills, Tunchev, Konchesky; Dyer, Wellens, King, Gallagher (Beckford, 73 mins), Danns; Nugent. Unused substitutes: St Ledger, Weale, Abe, Kennedy. Shots on target: 4. Shots off target: 7. Corners: 8. Bookings: Nugent, Peltier. Goal: Dyer (16 mins).
Barnsley (4-3-1-2): Steele (mark out of 10: 7); Hassell 7, Foster 7, McNulty 8, McEveley 7; Drinkwater 8, Addison 7 (Davies, 68 mins 7), Perkins 8; Dagnall 7 (Done, 61 mins 7); Vaz Te 7 (Wiseman, 90 mins 6), Gray 8. Unused substitutes: Preece, Edwards. Shots on target: 6. Shots off target: 5. Corners: 2. Goals: Gray (13 and 35 mins).
Referee: Dean Whitestone (Northamptonshire).
Attendance: 22,116 (762 from Barnsley).
Barnsley’s man of the match: Andy Gray.