Blackburn Rovers 0, Barnsley 2
Barnsley look a much better team when counter-attacking than when they are faced with the task of breaking down defence-minded opposition.
They proved that again against relegation-threatened Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park, with a victory which means that they are themselves mathematically safe from the drop with five matches remaining.
With their extremely limited resources, compared to most of the other clubs in the Championship, that is a superb achievement in their first campaign since promotion from League One.
There had been a good deal of concern in recent weeks relating to the lack of goals in games in which the Reds had otherwise been the better side, but it took them a mere ten minutes to notch two on this occasion to record their first win in nine fixtures.
And head coach Paul Heckingbottom was naturally delighted. “In the last few games we’ve been really good with the ball and dominated,” he said. “Today we were more clinical, especially in the first 20 minutes.”
Then he added: “It was our work rate and mentality that won us the game. To a man, one to 11, and the subs, we defended really well and were a real threat on the counter.”
A corner after only three minutes led to the first goal, Mark Roberts rising highest at the far post to head home after Ryan Hedges had flicked on Ryan Kent’s flag kick, and seven minutes later Marley Watkins (pictured) let fly with a rocket of a shot from 25 yards which bounced down off the underside of the bar and required confirmation from the assistant referee that it had crossed the line.
It was almost 3-0 mid-way through the half when Blackburn goalkeeper Jason Steele was forced into a splendid save by George Moncur, diving low to his left to deny the Reds’ mifdielder.
Rovers gradually began to pose more of a threat, but produced nothing to worry Barnsley goalkeeper Adam Davies and it was his opposite number who was again called into agile action just before the break, diving low to save from Kent.
Blackburn, fighting for their Championship lives, looked far more threatening after the interval, and Danny Graham, who had replaced Danny Guthrie, was immediately involved in the build-up to a move which saw Angus MacDonald making a heroic block tackle as Lucas Joao prepared to shoot.
Generally, however, the home team’s finishing lacked both power and direction and Barnsley’s only moment of genuine concern came 25 minutes from time when Moncur, who fully justified his selection, headed off the line from substitute Sam Gallagher.
Victory was further evidence that, despite being marooned in a mid-table position which offers no hope of promotion nor any fear of relegation, the Reds are still treating every match with a very positive will-to-win attitude.
And Heckingbottom offered an explanation for that. “We’ve set the players a little target of finishing with as many wins as losses as a minimum,” he said, “plus a positive goal difference. We’re on course, and if we do, then we’ll probably be the best Barnsley team since the one that got into the play-offs in 2000”.
Blackburn: Steele; Nyambe, Brown, Hoban, Williams, Guthrie (Graham, 45 minutes, Gallagher, 53 mins), Lowe, Mahoney, Bennett (Emnes (Conway, 65 mins), Joao.
Barnsley:Davies; Janko, Roberts, MacDonald, Jones,James, Scowen, Moncus (Mowatt, 90+4 mins), Hedges (Bradshaw, 68 mins), Kent (Armstrong, 88 mins), Watkins.
Bookings: Hoban, Bennett (Blackburn); Watkins (Barnsley).
Referee: Oliver Langford.