Cardiff City 2, Barnsley 1
It may have been another defeat, but Barnsley can surely take hope from their performance against second-from-top Cardiff City, who were on a run of four successive victories.
Two-nil down a minute after the break, the Reds rolled up their sleeves to produce a rousing second-half fight-back which had the Premiership-chasing Welsh side hanging on for dear life.
Statistically Jose Morais’ side were superior in all departments except the one that mattered most. They bossed possession by 61 per cent to Cardiff’s 39; they had 19 shots to the home team’s 11, and forced six corners to the opposition’s two.
However, it is goals that count, and Neil Warnock’s promotion hopefuls were the more clinical, their four shots on target producing two vital goals and three points which took them to within three more of leaders Wolves.
Nevertheless, the Reds could claim, with some justification, that they were unlucky not to take at least a point back to South Yorkshire.
Said Morais in his post-match press conference: “I can be proud of how the players played the game and the attitude they had, especially in the second half, and I have a very positive outlook for the future.”
It was Barnsley who threatened first in the 13th minute when Brad Potts embarked on a weaving run from midfield, but his right-foot shot from outside the box was comfortably saved by Neil Etheridge in the Cardiff goal.
As play swung from end-to-end it was Neil Townsend’s turn to be brought into action five minutes later, the Barnsley ‘keeper being tested by a powerful effort from Craig Bryson, and shortly afterwards he had to be alert again, this time to deal with a shot from Kenneth Zohore.
He was well beaten, however, in the 31st minute when Junior Hoilett made headway down the left and crossed for Calum Paterson to tuck away his sixth goal of the season after Zohore had fluffed the initial opportunity.
Paterson thought he had doubled his side’s lead seconds before the half-time whistle, but the goal was ruled out for offside.
There was no such reprieve for the Reds a minute after the interval when midfielder Marko Grujic, on loan from Liverpool, picked up the ball on the edge of the area before unleashing a fierce low shot which beat Townsend at his near post.
Cardiff fans were convinced there was no way back for their relegation-threatened visitors, but the Reds had other ideas and from then on there was relentless pressure on the City goal.
That pressure was rewarded on the hour mark when Potts and Andy Yiadom combined down the right-hand side; the latter swung in a cross which was helped on by half-time substitute Christoph Knasmullner to Oli McBurnie, who took a touch at the back post before smashing the ball home.
The Swansea City loanee had been mercilessly taunted by the fans of the Swans’ Welsh rivals, and he took great delight in his exuberant goal celebrations.
It was his fifth goal in six games since joining the Oakwell Club until the end of the season, and it was the first that Cardiff had conceded in almost eight hours of football.
Two minutes later McBurnie (pictured) had another effort saved by Etheridge, who then denied McBurnie, Kieiffer Moore and Ethan Pinnock in quick succession following a Mamadou Thiam corner as the Reds roared forward in search of the equaliser.
Potts was the next player to bring Etheridge into action and an obviously shaken Cardiff were struggling to survive the onslaught.
However, Bryson missed a good chance to wrap things up for the home team as they launched a rare counter-attack, and in the dying seconds Nathaneal Mendez-Laing hit the post.
But there was no doubt as to which team was the more relieved to hear the final whistle.
The one consolation for the Reds was that their four main rivals in the bid to escape relegation – Hull City, Burton Albion, Birmingham City and Sunderland – were also beaten on the night.
Barnsley therefore remain in 21st position, two points above the relegation places.
And if they can continue to produce spirited performances such as this hope must be high that they can survive for another season in the Championship.
Cardiff City: Etheridge; Connolly, Ecuele Manga, Bamba, Bennett, Paterson (Damour, 62 mins), Grujic (Halford, 56 mins), Bryson, Hoilett, Zohore, K Harris (Mendez-Laing, 70 mins).
Barnsley (4-4-2): Townsend; Yiadom, Pinnock, Lindsay, Fryers; Potts, Williams, Gardner (Knasmullner, 45 mins), Thiam; Moore, McBurnie.
Bookings: Grujic, Halford (Cardiff); Yiadom, Gardner, Moore (Barnsley).
Referee: Robert Jones.