LATE DRAMA is pretty much guaranteed where Aston Villa are concerned and thankfully for Barnsley’s sake, they were at their benevolent best last night.
It may not have yielded a first-ever Oakwell victory over their Midlands opponents for the Reds, but it did provide a landmark moment – for a Black Countryman in Sam Winnall.
The striker came on from the bench to rescue a point for the Reds with a dramatic 90th-minute header – and was afforded the honour of scoring the Oakwell club’s 4,000th league goal.
It was a night when Barnsley had to dig deep against a dominant Villa outfit in the second half and do things the hard way after trailing to Jordan Ayew’s 61st-minute opener.
Despite not being at their fluid best, the Reds showed persistence and tenacity right to the end, in marked contrast to their passive weekend efforts at Brighton, and their reward belatedly came.
Winnall reacted quickest to seize onto Cole Kpekawa’s header following Adam Hammill’s corner, with his header going in off the underside of the bar.
It culminated in Villa’s fifth successive draw and seventh in eight Championship matches this term, with their wait for an away victory having extended to a mammoth 416 days – almost 14 grim months.
The final whistle ensured the longest of walks back to the visiting dressing room past a number of jeering Villa fans for under-pressure Roberto di Matteo, reportedly told by club owner Tony Xia that he needed to win one of the club’s next two games to be spared from the sack.
Heckingbottom was entitled to be rather more chipper, with Barnsley exposing Villa’s inability to see out games – they have now let slip nine points late on in Championship matches so far this term.
Heckingbottom’s starting line-up was certainly an eye-catching one with Winnall, Hammill and Adam Armstrong all demoted to the bench.
But his side’s brisk and lively first-half efforts vindicated his bold decision.
Barnsley, poor at the weekend, were much more like their old selves and harangued Villa and put them on the back foot for fair periods of the first half in a typically high-energy shift.
The only thing missing was a goal, with an unmarked Marc Roberts somewhat wasteful when he was off target with an early header.
Tom Bradshaw, operating on his own up front with support from Marley Watkins and Ryan Kent, also should have done better when his swerving shot flew wide when well placed.
The Reds’ best moment arrived, unsurprisingly, at the feet of Conor Hourihane, with the midfielder – rumoured to be on Villa’s radar – seeing his low free-kick almost deceive Pierlugi Gollini, who made a scrambling save.
Villa, who restored Jack Grealish to their side following his recent indiscretions, possessed sporadic threats on the break and the closest they came to a goal arrived just after the half-hour when Ayew dispossessed Kent and saw his fierce drive away by Adam Davies at his near post.
After not bringing too much to the table in the first half, Villa upped the ante impressively and an early warning saw Kodija just failing to convert an Aly Cissokho’s excellent low cross, with the Reds stretched.
The hosts were soon afforded a major let-off when Grealish failed to control Albert Adomah’s pull-back with the goal at his mercy following an initial error from Angus MacDonald.
Aaron Tshibola then fired wide with Barnsley forced to man the barricades with Villa feeding off the support of their raucous 3,737 away contingent.
The breakthrough that had been coming duly arrived just after the hour mark.
Ayew buried a low shot at the near post, moments after Davies expertly turned away a rocket shot from Kodija.
In a bid to wrestle back the initiative, Heckingbottom introduced Winnall and Armstrong into the fray and then Hammill.
Kodija soon spurned a chance to seal victory when he headed straight at Davies before a fateful development at the death.
Villa wilted with Winnall heading home, the cue to some unsavoury scenes in the away end, with several altercations occurring with stewards before order was restored.
Barnsley: Davies; Yiadom, Roberts, MacDonald, Kpekawa; Hourihane, Morsy (Armstrong 67), Scowen; Watkins (Hammill 72), Bradshaw (Winnall 67), Kent. Unused substitutes: Townsend, Jackson, Bree, Lee.
Aston Villa: Gollini; Bacuna, Chester, Elphick, Cissokho; Jedinak; Tshibola (Westwood 75); Adomah (Gestede 86), Grealish, Ayew; Kodija. Unused substitutes: Bunn, Baker, Hutton, Amavi, McCormack.
Referee: J Adcock (Notts).