A CLINICAL second-half double from Sam Baldock proved the difference as Barnsley failed to make further inroads on the Championship top six in a 2-0 home reverse to Brighton.
Baldock struck twice in the space of fifteen minutes as Albion clinically took their chances when they came along to return to top spot - and seal a seasonal double over the Reds.
Barnsley produced a vibrant performance for much of the first period, but were second best in the second half and couldn’t get going at full pelt, with a couple of moments of class from Albion managing to unhinge them.
First, Anthony Knockaert found Baldock in the 53th minute and with the Reds’ back four momentarily stretched, the striker fielded a dipping shot over Adam Davies for a well-taken opener from just inside the box.
Baldock, booked for diving early on, sealed it on 68 minutes after Knockaert benefitted after substitute Adam Hammill lost the ball, with the Frenchman bamboozling the Reds defence down the right before cutting the ball back to Baldock, who made no mistake from close in.
The main talking point of the first half arrived on 11 minutes when Albion was somewhat fortunate not to concede a penalty, when defender Lewis Dunk, under pressure from Tom Bradshaw, appeared to handle in the box.
But despite howls for a spot-kick from the Pontefract Road end, referee David Coote was unmoved.
Barnsley were on top in a strong opening half-hour, winning their individual battles across the pitch and putting Albion on the back foot.
Their best moment arrived when they went close to a 20th-minute opener when Marley Watkins’ stinging drive brought a fine one-handed save from David Stockdale.
Brighton had their best spell just the half-hour mark with Baldock firing wide and Glenn Murray’s deflected header tipped away in the nick of time by Adam Davies.
Earlier, the impressive Andy Yiadom made an outstanding block to deny dangerman Knockaert, while Marc Roberts headed Ryan Kent’s corner wide at the other end.
Just before the break, Sebastian Pocognoli’s angled volley flashed just off target.
On the restart, Brighton showed more urgency, with Jamie Murphy toe-poking wide before Bradshaw shot into the side-netting at the other end.
Baldock soon fired a sweet opener at the other end, with Hammill thrown into the fray just after the hour-mark to pep up the Reds.
Hammill almost made a dramatic impact in front of goal, but wastefully fired over a gilt-edged opportunity, before having a more fateful contribution when he was dispossessed with Knockaert teeing up Baldock.
Knockaert, in dazzling form on the restart, almost added a third before the Reds went close, with Stockdale saving Watkins’ shot before a fine covering tackle from Bruno blocked Yiadom’s rebound.
Hammill fired over late on, but in the main, Brighton saw out the game in relative comfort.
Paul Heckingbottom praised Brighton’s performance, but thinks Barnsley need to be more productive with the ball.
He said: “I thought it was an even game throughout but they were clinical at one end and gave us nothing at the other end.
“First half we did great, but didn’t score when we were on top. As well as we may have been playing, they still limited us to very few chances. They’re comfortable without the ball as well as with it.
“It was similar in the second half and the goal was a great finish from Sam but we were three yards out of position and they were never three yards out of position all game, that’s the difference. We were wasteful in what we had, they weren’t.
“I think Brighton are one of the best at playing when they’ve gone in front. Just how organised, how disciplined they are and then the players they’ve got to hit you on the counter with, we knew it was going to be tough.”
Barnsley: Davies; Jones, Roberts, MacDonald, Yiadom; Watkins, James, Moncur (Mowatt 80), Kent (Williams 80); Bradshaw (Hammill 63), Armstrong. Substitutes unused: Townsend, Elder, Jackson, Lee.
Brighton: Stockdale; Bruno, Duffy, Dunk, Pocognoli; Knockaert (Tomori 90), Stephens, Sidwell, Murphy; Baldock, Murray (Akpom 88). Substitutes unused: Walton, March, Hemed, Kayal, Hunemeier.
Referee: D Coote (West Yorkshire).
Attendance: 12,745 (1,396 Brighton supporters).