Ipswich Town 1, Barnsley 0
It is ironic that Mick McCarthy’s last game in charge of Ipswich Town should have seen him oversee a victory which struck another blow to the chances of his home-town team escaping relegation.
The Oakwell legend (pictured) had planned to leave the Sussex Club by mutual consent when his contract expired at the end of the season, but his early departure was announced shortly after Tuesday night’s encounter.
McCarthy (59) told the Ipswich website: “I said I would see the season out, but it’s been a new experience, and it’s not one I have been enjoying to be honest.
“I have continued to do my job to the best of my ability, but there is something missing, and I’m not comfortable with that.”
As a Barnsley lad who had served the Reds with such distinction as a player he can hardly have been entirely comfortable, either, in being the architect of a defeat which could have dire consequences for the club for which he has always had great affection.
However, it is the current players themselves who have to shoulder the blame for this latest set-back to their revival hopes. They were clearly the better side before Ipswich scored, but failed to take any of the several chances that came their way, and ultimately paid the penalty.
That was exactly the point made by head coach Jose Morais when he spoke to Radio Sheffield after the game.
“We really expected to win,” he said, “so naturally we feel really disappointed with the result. We created good opportunities for us to lead the game in the first half. We didn’t do it in the second half.”
He also felt that a lack of concentration had led to Ipswich’s second half winner.
Confidence boosted by the 3-2 comeback victory over South Yorkshire derby rivals Sheffield United at Oakwell three days earlier the buoyant Reds started the game much the brighter of the two teams.
Showing just one change, Adam Hammill stepping in for George Moncur, who was unwell, they roared into the attack from the first whistle and only five minutes had elapsed when Kieffer Moore, continuing his recent fine form against one of this former clubs, hit the bar with a header from a Hammill corner.
Although much of the play was scrappy, the Reds continued to have the best of it and they went close again in the 25th minute when a slick inter-change of penalty area passes between Hammill and Brad Potts resulted in the latter powering a shot into the side netting from a difficult angle.
Then a Hammill cross seemed to be drifting towards the far top corner of the net before it was palmed away by Bartosz Bialkowksi.
Ipswich were rarely in the picture, but they did create a wonderful opportunity of their own when Martyn Waghorn’s perceptive pass sent Bersant Celina racing clear, but goalkeeper Adam Davies took the honours in the one-on-one situation which ensued.
Barnsley thought they had made the breakthrough seconds before half-time when Lloyd Isgrove had the ball in the back of the net after pouncing on a superb headed knock-down from Moore, only to see the raised flag of the assistant referee rule out the score for offside.
The second half began like the first, with the Reds on the offensive, and Moore was involved yet again as he narrowly missed the target with a header from a Hammill corner, but then came the moment of indecision and ill-discipline which saw the home team snatch an undeserved lead.
Denmark international Jonas Knudsen was allowed space at the near post to net with a glancing header from Mustafa Carayol’s flag-kick – and from then on it was Ipswich who called the tune.
The Reds failed to find the creative edge they had shown in the opening period, struggling to find a way through a resolute Ipswich defence, although they felt a sense of injustice when match-winner Knudsen brought substitute Tom Bradshaw crashing to the ground just outside the box, and was punished by only a yellow card. It could so easily have been a red.
The resulting free-kick, however, came to nothing, and it was not until late on that Barnsley threatened to salvage a point, the hard-working Moore again being denied, this time by a goalline clearance.
There was some consolation for the Reds in that all of their relegation rivals also failed to manage a win. Sunderland picked up a point with a 1-1 draw at home to Norwich, but are still four points behind the Oakwell team, while Bolton. Birmingham and Reading all lost, as did Burton Albion, now adrift at the bottom of the table with only 32 points.
Barnsley therefore remain in the relegation places, two points behind Bolton, who are on 39, three behind Birmingham (40) and five less than Reading (42).
However, they have a game in hand on all the other teams and have by far the best goal difference, apart from Reading.
Crucially, they also entertain Bolton at Oakwell on Saturday. A win would lift them out of the bottom three.
Ipswich Town: Bialkowski; Spence, Carter-Vickers, Knudsen, Cotter (Ward, 56 mins), Skuse, Connolly, Kenlock, Carayol (Folami, 60 mins), Waghorn, Celina.
Barnsley: Davies; Yiadom, Jackson, Lindsay, Fryers (Mallan, 82 mins), Isgrove (Hedges, 56 mins), Potts. Gardner, Hammill (Bradshaw, 63 mins), Moore, McBurnie.
Bookings: Knudsen (Ipswich); Yiadom (Barnsley).
Referee: James Linington.