Fleetwood Town 1, Barnsley 3
(SkyBet League One)
Barnsley players said they were determined to pick up all three points at the Highbury Stadium for club volunteer Stephen Croft, who suffered a cardiac arrest just before the kick-off of the match against Burton Albion at Oakwell a week earlier.
That game was called off after the 61-year-old was taken by Yorkshire Air Ambulance to the Northern General Hospital in Sheffield, where he is continuing to make a recovery.
And the Reds did Stephen proud with a a hard-earned third away victory of the season to haul themselves back into the top six, with a game on hand over all their opponents.
Although keenly contested, it was was not exactly a prime example of free-flowing football, but Daniel Stendel’s team showed character to bounce back after falling behind; their resilience to withstand Fleetwood pressure after the break; and their stamina in finishing with a third goal flourish in stoppage time – all necessary attributes of a team with promotion in mind.
It was also a special occasion for Jacob Brown, who notched his first senior goal for the club, while Alex Mowatt produced a man of the match performance in midfield.
The Reds made just one change from the team selected for the aborted clash with Burton, Mike Bahre being preferred to Victor Adeboyejo, which meant that Adam Jackson played the first League One appearance of his career at the expense of Liam Lindsay, who had started all of the previous 50 matches since making his debut in August last year.
The official explanation was that there was a desire to have a right-footed and a left-footed player in the two central defensive positions and Jackson fitted the bill in partnership with Ethan Pinnock.
Jackson was quickly in the thick of the action, but in an attacking role rather than a defensive one, rising to head narrowly wide from a Mowatt corner in the tenth minute.
It was the Barnsley rearguard, however, which was breached nine minutes later with a story-book goal for Fleetwood striker Harrison Biggins.
Released as a teenager by the Oakwell Club, Biggins followed the Jamie Vardy route back to the Football League, a spell with Stocksbridge Steels resulting in his signing for Fleetwood, and his Vardy-like fox-in-the-box finish from James Husband’s teasing cross brought him his first League goal.
Barnsley almost equalised when a long range free-kick from Mowatt was tipped over the bar by a surprised Alex Cairns, but they were not to be denied, and a two goals in nine minutes spell just before the break turned the game on its head.
In the 32nd minute Brown did well to hold off a strong challenge from Ash Eastham to prod home his first senior goal after a brilliant chip from Mowatt had set up the opportunity and then, four minutes before half-time, Kieffer Moore put his side in the driving seat when he outwitted Cian Bolger before steering the ball powerfully into the bottom corner of the net.
As expected, the home team reacted strongly after the break and the Reds were subjected to mounting pressure, but they defended doggedly and diligently and chances were few and far between, Bolger going closest with a header that just cleared the bar.
As Fleetwood’s energy drained Barnsley began to threaten on the counter and, after Mowatt and Moore had both tested Cairns, two second half substitutes teamed up to extend their side’s lead in the third minute of stoppage time, Adeboyejo providing the assist for Mamadou Thiam, who this time gave the goalkeeper no chance with a superb shot that curled unerringly into the back of the net.
The Reds will now be bidding to extend their unbeaten home run to nine matches on Tuesday night when they entertain bottom team Plymouth Argyle.
Fleetwood Town: Cairns; Coyle, Eastham, Spurr (Bolger, 36 mins), Husband, Taylor, Biggins (Dempsey, 72 mins), Holt (Long, 67 mins), Burns, Evans, Wallace.
Barnsley (4-4-2): Davies; Cavare, Jackson, Pinnock, Pinillos; Bahre (Aseboyejo, 78 mins), Dougall, Mowatt, Moncur (Thiam, 68 mins); Brown (McGeehan, 87 mins), Moore.
Bookings: Dempsey (Fleetwood); Moncur, Brown, Moore (Barnsley).
Referee: Martin Coy.