Barnsley 0, Cardiff City 1
A goal seven minutes from time at Oakwell brought an end to Barnsley’s unbeaten four-match run.
It came in somewhat bizarre fashion following a corner when Adam Hammill made a great goalline clearance only to see the ball ricochet back into the net off Calum Paterson.
It was tough on the Reds, who had produced a bright performance – they were distinctly the better side in the first half and had much more possession than the visitors overall – without ever really testing Neil Etheridge in the Cardiff goal.
And head coach Paul Heckingbottom (pictured) was obviously upset when he spoke to Sky Sports:
“It’s a disappointing way to lose a game,” he said. “But if any team was going to win it was going to be a goal like that.”
He went on: “Cardiff are difficult to play against. They have lots of goals in them, lots of experience” – then he added pointedly – “and gamesmanship.”
Warming to his theme he continued: “I’m not having a go at Cardiff, but I knew what the game was going to be like and you expect stronger refereeing. It was the exact game last season.”
Heckingbottom made five changes from the side which had earned a 1-1 draw at Norwich three days earlier, the most surprising being the recall of Ryan Hedges to the exclusion of Harvey Barnes, who had scored the equaliser on that occasion with his third goal in four games.
Recent signing Gary Gardner was drafted into the midfield starting line-up in place of the suspended Joe Williams; Matty Pearson replaced injured skipper Angus MacDonald in the middle of the back four, and Mamadou Thiam was preferred to Tom Bradshaw up front.
There was little of note in the first quarter-of-an-hour but gradually the Reds began to gain the upper hand and they went on to have the better of the first half chances.
Thiam cut in from the right to send in a shot which was diverted into the arms of Etheridge and the same player had a powerful header deflected narrowly wide.
Adam Hammill, who was a constant threat, was also off target with a 25-yarder after he had embarked on a typical solo run down down the right.
Try as they might, the Reds could not find a way through against an uncompromising City defence which has conceded fewer goals than any other in the Championship.
Cardiff showed a greater desire to get forward after the break. Craig Bryson sent a half-volley flying wide and Junior Hoilett tested Adam Davies for the first time.
The Reds retaliated with a Cameron McGeehan free-kick curler which just cleared the bar shortly before he was substituted by George Moncur.
By this time Barnes had gone on for Hedges as Heckingbottom made a double substitution, Bradshaw also replacing Thiam, and the winger immediately began to terrorise the visiting defence, but it was the Bluebirds who made the all-important breakthrough in the 83rd minute.
A Hoilett effort was deflected for a corner and from the resulting inswinging flag-kick Sol Bamba fired in a shot which was brilliantly stopped on the line by Hammill only for the ball to then ricochet into the net off Paterson as he lunged in to try to block the clearance.
It was a savage body blow for the home team and although they did their best to retrieve the situation, forcing several corners in the remaining few minutes, they could not prevent Cardiff from picking up the three points which hauled them back into the second automatic promotion place.
Now the Reds have to try to pick themselves up in the televised lunchtime derby clash with Leeds United at Oakwell on Saturday against another team who have eyes fixed on the Premiership.
Barnsley (4-1-4-1): Davies; Yiadon, Pearson, Lindsay, Fryers; Gardner; Hammill, Potts, McGeehan (Moncur, 74 mins), Hedges (Barnes, 64 mins); Thiam (Bradshaw, 64 mins).
Cardiff City: Etheridge; Ecuele Manga, Morrison, Banba, Bennett, Paterson, Gunnarson (Damour, 74 mins), Ralls, Hoilett, Bryson, Ward, Gounongbe (82 mins).
Bookings: Banba, Ralls (Cardiff).
Referee: David Coote.