AHEAD of Huddersfield Town’s first visit to Barnsley in more than half-a-dozen years, Simon Grayson could have been forgiven for waking up in a cold sweat during the night.
Not only did the 42-year-old suffer heavy beatings on each of his last two trips to Oakwell but the second of those – a dreadful 4-1 loss on New Year’s Eve – came very, very close to costing him the Leeds United job.
As it was, Grayson’s tenure at Elland Road limped on for another month before the axe finally fell at the start of February.
Within three weeks, he was back in work at Huddersfield Town and this weekend a first-half strike from Jermaine Beckford meant a long-overdue change of luck in Barnsley as his side returned to the Championship play-off places.
“It is nice to do a press conference at Barnsley and be talking about the right result,” admitted Grayson, whose Leeds side were also thrashed 5-2 at Oakwell in September, 2010.
“I didn’t enjoy the one on New Year’s Eve, that’s for sure. Oakwell is a real tough place to come because the home supporters get right behind their team.
“So, I feel we have to be happy with the result. And our league position. We have no targets in terms of where we can finish, apart from making sure we are still in the Championship come May.
“Anything beyond that will be fantastic. We won’t be getting carried away, though it is nice to get a win at Barnsley.
“I thought we deserved the three points, too. Jermaine will get the plaudits for the goal but I thought Adam Clayton and Keith Southern were outstanding in the middle.
“Danny Ward was the same when he came on, as was Paul Dixon. The entire team put in a good performance and I thought the goal showed what we are about.”
Huddersfield’s 36th-minute goal was, indeed, a thing of beauty and worthy of winning any game. Sean Scannell started a move that was done at such a pace that Barnsley had no answer with a strong run into the home side’s half of the field.
A perfectly weighted pass for Simon Church to chase down the left flank then opened up the Reds defence and the new loan arrival from Reading did the rest with a wonderfully flighted cross that was just begging to be headed in by Beckford.
The former Leeds striker, who was substituted in the second half with a tight hamstring as a precaution, did just that by getting across his marker and powering a header beyond Luke Steele.
A stunning goal by any standards and one made all the more impressive by much of the play that had preceded it being ordinary at best.
Of the few goalscoring opportunities created before Beckford broke the deadlock, most had fallen to Barnsley.
Without Craig Davies, however, the hosts rarely looked like making any of them count with their efforts in front of goal perhaps being best summed up when Jacob Mellis looked capable of meeting Tomasz Cywka’s cross only to be clattered to the ground by one of his own team-mates.
Otherwise, the closest the Reds came before Beckford’s opener was when Marlon Harewood headed wide from a corner and Kelvin Etuhu shot straight at Alex Smithies.
Barnsley also threatened from time to time once behind with an unmarked Jim O’Brien wasting a glorious opportunity on 71 minutes when he could only chest the ball to Smithies.
But the lion’s share of chances fell to Huddersfield, who were unfortunate to come up against Steele as the Reds goalkeeper brilliantly denied Lee Novak at full stretch after the striker had latched onto a mistake by Stephen Dawson.
Paul Dixon also tested Steele, and Danny Ward’s drilled cross seemed certain to be converted by Novak only for the Town striker to somehow fail to convert a simple tap-in.
The fear for Town as these chances went begging was that Barnsley could hit them on the break but, in truth, the home side’s lack of a cutting edge meant this was as comfortable a one-goal victory as could be imagined to ensure not only Grayson but also the 3,967 away fans returned home to West Yorkshire in buoyant mood.
In contrast, Reds manager Keith Hill admitted his side needed to improve after a fourth straight loss.
He said: “The performance was lacking penetration and I think it is obvious to anyone why. The loss is disappointing. The players are suffering from a lack of confidence but we have to pick them up and they have to pick themselves up.
“We need to get the energy back that we had at Charlton (Barnsley’s last win on October 20). It is a results-driven business and we have to be able to express ourselves and show no fear.
“When we got into the game after the first 10 minutes, I thought we looked more than comfortable. But, again, you look at the quality of the opposition and the goal they scored.”
Asked if he felt it was a case of ‘so near, yet so far’ in terms of Barnsley getting it right this season, the Reds chief replied: “We are a million miles away but we could also be talking about inches. We shouldn’t play with any fear because there is nothing to be fearful about. If you are fearful, you end up losing anyway. So we may as well give everything we have got in trying to achieve a win.”