A scrappy, occasionally feisty and sporadically entertaining derby saw Town escape from the bottom 3 with a victory which should’ve been far more comfortable than it ultimately became.
The visitors were marginally the better side in a first half where their hosts began poorly and on the back foot for much of the first 20 minutes as the hangover from the anaemic midweek performance persisted.
Barnsley’s lively but largely ineffective start pinned Town in to their own half for fully 15 minutes but, lead by a reinvigorated Hogg with a more than welcome return to form, the home team worked their way in to the game without causing too much consternation to the Reds’ defence.
On the half hour, an innocuous looking free kick just inside enemy territory was taken quickly by Simpson who found Grant down the right. Beating his man far too easily from the visitors’ perspective, the striker played an excellent ball across to Schindler who converted with ease.
Barely deserved, Town conspired to almost lose their lead within minutes. Making a complete hash of a free kick on the left and losing possession, the hosts presented Barnsley with their best opportunity of the game as McGeehan, taking advantage of good work by Woodrow, lifted his effort over the bar.
It was a totally needless and brainless error at a time when consolidation of a fortunate, if well executed, lead should have been established.
Rather than lifting the away side, however, it was the Terriers who regrouped more effectively and the rest of the half was navigated in relative comfort.
In the second half, Town took a stranglehold over the game and, with O’Brien surging forward, became a much clearer threat to the South Yorkshire side who began to wilt under pressure.
It was the flame haired maestro’s determined run which lead to the second goal but it was Grant’s sublime finish which will be rightly remembered. Taking the ball in his stride, Town’s top scorer created a tiny amount of space for himself and curled a superb effort past Collins in an instant.
5 minutes after doubling their lead, Town should have put the game to bed. It inevitably involved another O’Brien surge, who was put through by the ever impressive Brown, but Kachunga lacked the necessary composure and fired over with an unassailable lead beckoning.
The miss put a spring in the step of Barnsley and all the momentum built by the hosts began to fade.
First, a cheap free kick given away by Bacuna at the edge of the box – he was replaced by Chalobah immediately and before the kick was taken – was well struck by Dougall but flew over the bar.
Defending a 2 goal lead is notoriously precarious, as Barnsley had found at The Hawthorns just days previously, and the growing tension increased alarmingly when Town’s weak defending at a corner which, regrettably, largely featured the man who had spurned the opportunity to finish off the opposition, threw the visitors a lifeline.
Kachunga’s headed clearance of a poor corner at the near post was weak, but not half as weak as his attempt to close down Brown who skipped past both the Congolese and his name sake in Town’s defence before firing home.
Having to see out a game which had already been won for the final 10 minutes was far from ideal for a side with embedded fragility, and while Barnsley’s threat was somewhat superficial, the tension was palpable and not helped by the game being extended by 6 minutes.
Lead by the excellent Schindler, back to his elegant best, the defence held firm and injury time was actually more comfortable than could be expected; a far from flawless performance had garnered 3 more points and an extension of an unbeaten run which seemed unimaginable only a month ago.
As precarious as the run has been, bar the excellent second half against Hull, the instilling of basic standards which occasionally drop but largely persist have made the team competitive again and provides a solid foundation for a future which looks a little brighter.
The return to form of Schindler and now Hogg, coupled with the defensive discipline immeasurably improved by Simpson’s experience and know how on the right and Brown’s youthful calm and adventure on the left is hugely encouraging.
Despite his part in Barnsley’s potential escape from defeat, both up front and at the back, Kachunga’s support of his full back is currently more important than his lack of pace or threat going forward but you suspect that his presence will be threatened once the Cowleys get around to tackling the continuing balance problem in the middle of the park with neither Bacuna, despite his positive attributes, nor Chalobah convincing.
Nevertheless, and not since Peter Jackson’s great escape season have we seen such a turnaround in fortunes. The next two games present the next level of challenge but a successful negotiation of the past 6 games against weaker opposition provides an excellent platform for continued revival.