Barnsley 0 Sheff Utd 2: Kennedy back to his roots in triumph as Reds put in their place by Blades

Steve Davies nets the opening goal in Sheffield United's win over Barnsley (Picture: Martyn Harrison).
Steve Davies nets the opening goal in Sheffield United's win over Barnsley (Picture: Martyn Harrison).
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Terry Kennedy was seven when he first went for a trial at his home-town club.

But Barnsley did not see enough in the raw talent to offer him a place in their junior set up.

So he tried his luck across South Yorkshire at Sheffield United, who saw something extra in an eager young boy and give him a chance.

Fourteen years later, Kennedy returned home a man, and proved what Barnsley had missed out on with a strong performance at the heart of a resilient defence that kept in check a team which had been playing with abandon and racking up the goals.

It was a bittersweet moment for Kennedy, whose father was watching from the stands, hoping for a good game from his son, but not good enough to stop his beloved Barnsley making it 10 games unbeaten.

Kennedy was one part of a very professional performance from the Blades, who looked determined to show Barnsley that while they might be the upstart story of the League One play-off chase, United’s top-six credentials had long since been validated.

How Kennedy revelled in it.

“I best hide for a few days,” was his smirking response.

“I’m from Barnsley and had a lot of friends and family coming (on Saturday), friends I went to school with.

“They’ve been giving me a bit of stick this week so it was particularly sweet to get a win and a clean sheet.

“My dad’s a big Barnsley fan and he was here – I probably won’t be welcome round for dinner on Sunday.

“I even had some friends ringing me the morning of the game to give me stick and trying to wind me up. I’ll be happy to call them back.”

Kennedy even managed his recuperation from a recent injury to ensure he was fully fit for a return to partner £1m man John Brayford at centre-back.

“There was no way I was missing this game. I was definitely available for this one,” said Kennedy, who had made a couple of 45-minute cameos for the Under-21s before taking his place back in the team.

“It was a great buzz to come here to my home town and get the win.

“I had to keep a cool head, though.

“I thought I started sluggishly in the first 15, 20 minutes, but I didn’t want it to get the better of me or for me to let myself down in front of all my family and friends.

“The longer the game went on the more I settled.”

Kennedy’s own performance mirrored that of the Blades.

Barnsley came out energetically, understandable given an unbeaten nine-match run that had seen them turn a survival fight into a promotion challenge.

But once the spring in their step subsided, United took control, predominantly through the diagonal balls forward from left-back Bob Harris. Three times in the run-up to the opening goal that supply line caused consternation in the home defence.

First, Steve Davies peeled off his marker and clipped the top of the bar with a header from one such delivery from Harris.

Then all-action midfielder Chris Basham collected one and saw his shot blocked by Martin Cranie.

On a third occasion, Davies read a ball from Harris better than the Barnsley defence, got to the byline and cut it back, only for Ryan Flynn’s shot to be diverted wide.

Ironically, it was a raking ball from the right that finally unlocked the Reds’ rearguard, Kieron Freeman’s free-kick from just inside the Barnsley half headed home superbly by Davies for his first goal for the club.

Barnsley, for whom Conor Hourihane, Ben Pearson and Josh Scowen impressed only fittingly, flickered briefly before the break with Mason Holgate heading wide.

But after the interval they were unable to carve out any clear-cut chances as United shut them down before Jason Holt crashed home the second goal with a smartly-taken volley following Barnsley’s inability to deal with Harris’s throw into the area.

“We knew they’d come out fast and try and catch us off guard so it was about not conceding early on, and the more the game wore on the more we grew into it,” said Kennedy.

“We were very organised, we kept our shape and it was a very professional performance.

“We had a blip against Crewe, and that came as much of a surprise to the players as it did the fans and everyone else at the club.

“It was important that we bounced back.

“It’s our first clean sheet away since Doncaster and, hopefully, we can take it on to Tuesday against Doncaster.”

Ominously for those clubs below fifth-place United still thinking the Blades are catchable, this was the first time all season manager Nigel Clough had a fully-fit squad to choose from.

“We only realised that on Friday when we had 24 players in training,” said Clough’s first-team coach Andy Garner.

“We learned a massive lesson after the Crewe game when we stuck with the team that had won twice. We should have freshened it up.

“We’ve taken that on board and learned from that.”