Derby County 2, Barnsley 1
There was a general feeling amongst those of a Barnsley persuasion that the Reds could – and possibly should – have taken at least a point from their visit to Pride Park.
With Steve McClaren’s side lacking confidence after suffering three defeats in their previous four fixtures the encounter seemingly offered the opportunity for the team from Oakwell to continue a splendid away record which had seen them beaten only once in the last seven games on opposition soil.
And the first half-an-hour reflected those contrasting fortunes, with the Reds dominant and the Rams slow and sluggish by comparison.
However, not for the first time in recent weeks, Paul Heckingbottom’s side again failed to take advantage of their superiority and by the time the interval arrived Derby had begun to find their feet.
The Reds did manage to find the net shortly after the restart, courtesy of a long throw from skipper Marc Roberts, but County then showed the value of having strikers of the quality of Tom Ince and David Nugent in their lione-up to claim their first win in seven games.
Afterwards Heckingbottom pin-pointed the giving away of two ‘sloppy’ goals as the main reason for the defeat, but it has to be said that a lack of goals at the other end – the Reds have notched only three in the last six games – would appear to be a more pressing concern.
Adam Armstrong, quick, energetic and a real livewire, was again his side’s main threat, especially in that first 30 minutes when he tested veteran goalkeeper Scott Carson on several occasions, but even he could not force the breakthrough that the Oakwell outfit so desperately needed.
Adam Hammill brought another save from Carson with a low drive, and at that stage the quicksilver Reds were in full control.
As half-time approached, however, there were signs that the Rams were beginning to turn the tide and Adam Davies had to be at his best to deny Ince and Julien De Sart in rapid succession. Ince also saw a cheeky chip just clear the bar.
It was Barnsley, however, who struck just seven minutes after the break when a trademark long throw from Roberts was headed home by the on-loan Matty James (pictured) for whom it was his first goal since scoring for parent club Leicester City in a 2-2 draw with Watford more than three years ago.
That should have provided a springboard for success but the Reds then committed the cardinal sin of losing concentration immediately after scoring, and barely a minute later the Rams were back on level terms.
The Barnsley defence failed to clear their lines and when the ball fell at the feet of Ince he showed the instinct of a natural marksman by tucking it away in clinical fashion.
Ince continued to torment the Reds as Derby went in search of the winner. A dipping free-kick brought a good save from Davies, who then pushed another effort from the same player on to the post before exceeding all his previous exertions by acrobatically tipping a goalworthy attempt from Russell over the bar.
There was no denying the home team, however, and Davies was eventually beaten 14 minutes from time when Nugent struck what proved to be the winner, albeit with the aid of a deflection which wrong-footed the unfortunate Barnsley ‘keeper.
County almost added a third when Alex Mowatt cleared a header off the line shortly after going on as substitute, and Davies was forced into another save from Will Hughes.
Yet the never-say-die Reds almost snatched an equaliser in stoppage time when another substitute, Ryan Kent, fastened on to a knock-down header from Roberts only to see Carson well positioned to make a crucial save.
Speaking to the media afterwards a disappointed Heckingbottom reflected: “I didn’t think we gave a true account of ourselves today. I know, and the players know, that we could have done better. But we should still have got something out of the game. My job, and the players’ job, will be looking at why we didn’t and what we can do better.”
But he then added: “Despite the result, it is testament to the side that they are leaving Pride Park disappointed that they have not taken a positive result from the game. It is a reflection of how far we have come.”
Derby County: Carson; Christie, Baird, Pearce, De Sart (Butterfield, 46 mins), Johnson, Russell (Hughes, 78 mins), Ince, Vydra (Anya, 84 mins), Nugent.
Barnsley: Davies; Jones, Roberts, MacDonald, Yiadom, Watkins, Scowen (Lee, 87 mins), James, Hammill, Broadshaw (Kent, 75 mins), Armstrong (Mowatt, 75 mins).
Referee: Keith Stroud.
Nugent (Derby); Yiadom, Scowen (Barnsley).
Attendance: 30,280 (2,500 Reds)