Barnsley 3, Sheffield United 2
In an intriguing tale of three strikers Barnsley not only earned the pride that comes with a South Yorkshire derby victory, but also, more importantly, clinched three precious points in their fight for Championship survival.
The triumphant triumvirate of Tom Bradshaw, Kieffer Moore and Oli McBurnie combined with devastating effect to spearhead the Reds’ successful bid to bring to an end the burden of a record-breaking 13 home games without a win.
It was Bradshaw (pictured) who notched the winner three minutes from time; Moore who provided the cross in a man of the match performance; and McBurnie who levelled the scores after United, having trailed at the break, had bounced back to lead 2-1.
But identifying those three particularly in no way disparages the contributions of all their colleagues in what was, essentially, a praiseworthy all-round team performance.
The Reds started brightly, attacking with energy and purpose; deservedly took the lead; and their steely resolve in defensive situations is reflected by the fact that not once was goalkeeper Adam Davies called upon to make a save throughout the first half.
It was inevitable that the visitors, still nursing hopes of a play-off place, would be on the offensive at the start of the second period, and the respective feelings of the two sets of fans were transformed with a two-goals-in-eight minutes blast which turned the game on its head.
It was then, facing the threat of being swept aside in wave after wave of United attacks, that the Reds displayed the character, resolve and never-say-die spirit which could yet stave off the threat of relegation as they responded with a quick one-two of their own to snatch all three points.
The Oakwell faithful were in raptures at the final whistle – and it was obvious that head coach Jose Morais was also quite pleased about the turn of events when he addressed the media smiling broadly.
“I’m happy for the team,” he beamed, “because they really deserved this. I’m happy for the fans,” he went on, “because they created a fantastic atmosphere. And I’m very happy that we turned a result that was negative in the second half into a positive result.”
Happiness all round, then. Ken Dodd would have appreciated it.
Morais also made the point that the long-awaited home victory could be the spur which elevates his side beyond the bottom three in the remaining six fixtures.
“We understand now,” he reflected, “that it is possible to win. Even when we are one goal down it’s possible to turn the result. We also understand that all the work we are doing can pay off – and this is the most important thing from the game today.”
It was good to see Morais opting for an unchanged team after all the chopping and changing of his earlier matches in charge, and that surely was a key factor in the improved teamwork and understanding which was evident from the outset.
The Reds were on the front foot from the off, forcing two corners in the first four minutes, and from the second of these, taken by Lloyd Isgrove, George Moncur hit the bar with a clever curling effort.
After John Lundstram had squandered a great chance for United following a slick passing move, another corner-kick led to Barnsley taking the lead in the 25th minute. Gary Gardner was lurking just outside the box as the ball fell to him from a partial clearance and he rifled an unstoppable shot through the crowd of players and past a startled goalkeeper.
There was no doubt that the Reds were the better team throughout the first half, but it still required a great last-ditch tackle from Adam Jackson to prevent substitute Billy Sharp equalising just before the interval, just two minutes after taking the field.
Making a second change only three minutes after the restart, Mark Duffy replacing David Brooks, United began to dominate possession and their increasing pressure was rewarded in the 57th minute when John Fleck equalised with his side’s first shot on target.
Eight minutes later it was 2-1 to the Blades, Leon Clarke netting from the rebound after Davies had blocked his initial effort, and few people at that stage would have bet on a Barnsley victory.
Indeed, it looked for all the world as though United would increase their lead, with the Reds under almost constant pressure and offering little in return.
However, in the 73rd minute, they launched one of their rare counter-attacks and substitute Adam Hammill forced Moore to save low down to his right. The goalkeeper could only turn the ball away and there was McBurnie, once again displaying his keen his eye for a goalscoring opportunity, to tap it home from close range.
There was another chance on the break three minute later, but Moore dwelt on the ball too long as Potts broke free to his left and the opportunity was lost.
However, Moore – a constant handful in attack, as well as using his height to great effect in defensive situations – more than atoned three minutes from the end of the 90 when he volleyed the ball across the face of goal following a free-kick for Bradshaw to leap and head home his 12th goal of the season at the far post.
In four minutes of nerve-wracking stoppage time Potts was narrowly wide with a daisy-cutter after a great run down the left by McBurnie, while at the other end Sharp fired over the bar when he had a chance to rescue a point for the visitors.
The explosion of delight – and relief – from three sides of the stadium when the final whistle sounded emphasised just how important a win this might prove to be in the final reckoning.
Results elsewhere mean that the third-from-bottom Reds are now only two points below Bolton and Birmingham – with a game in hand. They also, crucially, have a home fixture to come against Bolton next Saturday – after a trip to Mick McCarthy’s Ipswich on Tuesday night.
Barnsley (4-3-3): Davies; Yiadom, Jackson, Lindsay, Fryers; Potts, Gardner, Moncur (Bradshaw, 69 mins); Isgrove (Hammill 59 mins), Moore, McBurnie (Cavare, 90+3 mins).
Sheffield United (5-3-2): Moore; Baldock. Basham, Wright (Wilson, 90+1 mins), O’Connell, Stevens; Lundstram, Brooks (Duffy, 49 mins), Fleck; Evans (Sharp, 39 mins), Clarke.
Bookings: McBurnie, Lindsay (Barnsley); Stevens, Brooks, O’Connell (Sheffield United).
Referee: Scott Duncan.