Oldham Athletic 1, Barnsley 3
(SkyBet League One)
Barnsley fans have suddenly fallen back in love with their football team.
The supporters – well, the vast majority of them – have remained faithful this season, despite the fact that their ‘loved one’ has not been particularly ‘reliable’.
Just a few weeks ago a turbulent, up-and-down campaign threatened to end in disaster, with the Reds slipping towards the relegation dogfight and parting company with an Oakwell managerial legend (well, the first time anyway) in Danny Wilson.
A 5-1 hammering at Crawley immediately followed.
A love story with a happy ending? It certainly didn’t appear to be anything like!
But then Cupid’s arrow hit the mark – and the Reds, first under caretakers Mark Burton and Paul Heckingbottom, and now under new Head Coach Lee Johnson, have rediscovered their ‘joi de vivre’.
All of a sudden six-y football has seen a new, alluring Barnsley shoot up the League table.
And the Reds are now eyeing up an end-of-season date! With the play-offs.
Yes, the Oakwell outfit may have conceded a goal at Boundary Park on Saturday – their first in 498 minutes of football – but the 3-1 success over Johnson’s former club lifted Barnsley into the sixth and final play-off spot on goal difference.
It was also their sixth straight league win – – a feat not enjoyed by the Reds since 1980, when Norman Hunter was in charge, having taken over what was predominantly Allan Clarke’s team.
Almost 2,500 Barnsley fans were at Boundary Park to watch win number six unfold. The goals may have been scrappy, two from central defender Lewin Nyatanga and one from Conor Hourihane which he didn’t know very much about, but they all count and there was an undeniable feeling of ‘something building’, a momentum that could yet catapult the Reds into the play-offs – and a promotion bid.
What a difference a month or so can make!
However, Johnson was not fully happy, despite the result, and warned his players that defeat at Leyton Orient on Tuesday was a definite possibility if they deliver a similar performance.
“If we play like we did then I think we will get beat at Leyton Orient. I don’t think we had enough going forward apart from our set-pieces,” said Johnson.
“I think Orient will be our toughest game. This will be our real marker – the so-called ‘big’ games against Preston and Sheffield United at Oakwell will take care of themselves. Leyton Orient are an excellent side in a completely false position and we will have to make sure we keep the hammer down and not let complacency creep in.”
Johnson had made one change for Saturday’s clash against the club he had left just 17 days before, Cardiff teenager Declan John being handed his debut at left-back in place of George Smith, who dropped to the bench.
John was the 40th player used by Barnsley this season.
It was his Welsh international colleague Nyatanga who was the unlikely goal ace for the Reds on the day – his twin close-range efforts helping him post a career-best season’s tally of five goals. He’s got time for more yet too!
Nyatanga opened the scoring in the 32nd minute, prodding home after Hourihane’s inswinging free-kick had not been dealt with by home keeper Jake Kean.
Eght minutes later Carl Winchester could only hit an attempted clearance from a corner against the challenging Hourihane – and the ball ricocheted into the Oldham net for 2-0.
Mike Jones finally breached the Barnsley backline just before the break, a low shot from inside the box giving Adam Davies no chance.
Oldham pressed in the second half but Barnsley stood firm, and their strength at set-pieces was again evident 20 minutes from the end of normal time when Hourihane’s free-kick led to panic in the home side’;s six-yard box and Nyatanga netted from less than three yards.
Hourihane almost added a fourth when his 25-yard drive flashed inches over the top.
At the other end, substitute Rhys Murphy squandered a great late chance for the Latics, while Reds keeper Davies tipped Jonathan Forte’s header onto the top of the crossbar.
Oldham were reduced to 10 men in stoppage-time, defender Adam Lockwood being sent off after being shown a second yellow card for a block on Josh Scowen.
Next up for Johnson’s Red and White Army, the tilt for a ‘magnificent seven’!
Barnsley go to Leyton Orient on Tuesday night bidding for a seventh successive League One victory. The supporters are right behind them.
Oldham (4-4-2): Kean; Brown, Lockwood, Kusunga, Sadler; Winchester (Turner, 86 mins), Woodland, Jones, Forte; Wilkinson, Philliskirk (Murphy, 70 mins). Unused subs: Coleman, Dieng, Mellor, Bove, Jacobs.
Barnsley (4-4-1-1): Davies; Holgate, Cranie, Nyatanga, John; O’Sullivan, Pearson (Bailey, 80 mins), Scowen, Lalkovic (Winnall, 60 mins); Hourihane; Waring (Ibehre, 86 mins). Unused subs: Dibble, Smith, M’voto, Jennings.
Referee: Mark Heywood (West Yorkshire).
Attendance: 6,344 (2,471 Barnsley).