Barnsley 2, Bolton Wanderers 2
A stoppage time goal earned Barnsley a point against relegation rivals Bolton, but, in a game that had been billed as ‘must win’ for the Oakwell Club, that was scant consolation.
The draw left the Reds still in the bottom three, two points behind Wanderers and Birmingham City.
And while it can be argued that the game turned on a penalty that was awarded for the visitors and one that was denied them, Barnsley have only themselves to blame that they failed to pick up that vital victory.
Leading 1-0 at the interval, they allowed Bolton to dictate the pace and pattern of the game on the resumption and in the end were indebted to Oli McBurnie that they did not suffer a devastating defeat.
Indeed, were it not for the eight goals in 12 matches totted up by the on-loan striker, the Reds’ fate would have been already sealed.
As it was, it looks as though his contributions may have been merely delaying the inevitable.
All is not yet lost. The Reds still have four more games to play with a game in hand over all their rivals – so they could still pull off the great escape.
However, performances throughout the campaign suggest that this Barnsley squad is not equipped sufficiently in terms of both experience and quality to compete at Championship level.
On this occasion they were the better team in a first half of few noteworthy incidents, the one on-target attempt from either side giving them a slight advantage, but they did not have the mentality or the discipline to see the game through.
It was Bolton who showed the greater desire and purpose after the break and they always looked likely to level matters, but when they also went in front after netting twice in the space of three minutes Oakwell was stunned.
McBurnie stepped in at the last-gasp to save the day. But maybe not even he can save the season.
Bolton actually started the game more brightly than their hosts, and the Reds had to survive some early pressure, especially when a corner provided a goalscoring opportunity for central defender David Wheater, but his weak header went straight at Adam Davies.
Barnsley gradually began to dominate possession, but found it extremely difficult to penetrate the massed defensive ranks of a 5-4-1 formation obviously designed to thwart the opposition while relying on counter-attacks to try to snatch a knock-out blow.
That plan had to be scrapped in the 22nd minute when Gary Gardner, as he had done at the same stage of the previous home game against Sheffield United, fired home a rocket of a shot following a corner.
Kieffer Moore’s persistence forced a corner on the left; Adam Hammill took it; goalkeeper – and ex-Red – Ben Alnwick dropped it; McBurnie won possession beyond the far post and played the ball back across the face of goal; two shots were blocked in the ensuing melee; and then, third time lucky, Gardner smashed it home from just inside the box.
The Reds, however, failed to capitalise, their only other threat on goal coming from McBurnie who did wonderfully well to make space for a shot only to see it fly just the wrong side of the post.
Bolton had another good spell of pressure but failed to trouble Davies.
It was a different story after the break, when Bolton switched to a more attacking 4-4-2 formation, with the substitution of Will Buckley for Reece Burke.
Barely a minute after half-time Antonee Robinson sliced a shot wide from a good position and in the 54th minute the Reds had a double escape when referee Mike Jones stubbornly resisted Bolton appeals for a hand-ball penalty, pointing instead for a corner kick, and then when Andy Yiadom subsequently headed off the line from Wheater.
Three minutes later there was another spot-kick appeal when Moore appeared to be pushed to the ground by Barnsley-born Mark Beevers, but again the referee was unimpressed.
Another spell of Bolton pressure was relieved when Moore headed over from a Hammill corner and Moncur and McBurnie had efforts saved in quick succession.
However, the visitors continued to dictate matters, forcing corner after corner, and they had their reward in the 82nd minute when, from yet another flag-kick, they were awarded a penalty for a push by Moncur on Bolton skipper Darren Pratley.
It did not seem anywhere near as blatant as the flooring of Moore earlier, but this time Jones had no hesitation in pointing to the spot, a decision which sparked a confrontation between Pratley and McBurnie, for which both were booked.
That took the yellow card tally in a fractious, tension-filled game to nine.
By the time calm had been restored more than two minutes had elapsed, but Adam Le Fondre kept his nerve to rifle the spot-kick low into one corner of the net as Davies dived towards the other.
As if that was not bad enough, only three minutes later the away fans were ecstatic as substitute Craig Noone took advantage of a defensive mix-up to volley Bolton into the lead.
Not while McBurnie is around. Three of the five minutes of stoppage time had already gone when a desperate pot-shot from Moncur was deflected for a corner and from it Moore rose highest to knock it on for McBurnie to head home at the far post.
Then it was the turn of the Barnsley fans to celebrate. Their team had snatched a point at the death.
But was it enough? Will they be left reflecting, come relegation at the end of the campaign, that the two points which eluded their team here would have kept them in the Championship?
Barnsley (4-3-3): Davies; Yiadom, Jackson (Pinnock, 45 mins), Lindsay, Fryers (Mahoney 86 mins); Potts (Bradshaw, 71 mins), Gardner, Moncur; Hammill, Moore, McBurnie.
Bolton (5-4-1): Alnwick; Little (Noone, 71 mins), Burke (Buckley, 45 mins), Wheater, Beevers, Robinson; Ameobi, Pratley, Henry, Morais (Dervite (90+2); Le Fondre.
Bookings: Lindsay, Gardner, Moncur, Moore, McBurnie (Barnsley); Beevers, Ameobi, Pratley, Henry (Bolton).
Referee: Michael Jomes.