Barnsley supporters were given a glimpse of the future under Lee Johnson at Oakwell on Saturday.
With the Reds’ play-off aspirations over, head coach Johnson made five changes from the side which drew at Notts County for the visit of Peterborough.
Out went all of the club’s loan players, including Ben Pearson, Jabo Ibehre and Peter Ramage.
In came centre-half Jack Cowgill – alongside fellow 18-year-olds Mason Holgate and George Smith, who started in Barnsley’s back four – and midfield rookies Paul Digby and Luke Berry.
It was Johnson’s attempt to evaluate the club’s potential ahead of what is expected to be a major squad overhaul in the summer.
Cowgill – whose only previous appearance in a Tykes shirt was as a substitute at Walsall in December – was culpable for Posh’s opening goal, Conor Washington pouncing to tuck the ball away.
But the blond-haired defender recovered his composure well and was given warm applause when he departed on 65 minutes – to be replaced by 17-year-old John Bree.
While Johnson admitted his side lacked “quality” in attack, Barnsley did enough to warrant something for their efforts.
That came deep into stoppage time when former Cambridge United midfielder Berry headed home from Conor Hourihane’s corner to restore parity.
“I was pleased for the players,” said Johnson. “The team we are going to put out next season is going to be different, of course it is, but we needed to see whether those guys can sink or swim.
“I thought they did all right as a group, which is fantastic for the club, to have five or six Academy graduates involved in the squad.
“I thought our fans were very good, showed their maturity, and were educated enough to realise that for the greater good of the club people needed encouragement, even when they didn’t have a good mini spell.
“They didn’t get on their back, which they could have done, and when they did something well gave them an extra clap.”
Cowgill definitely benefited from the crowd’s forgiving nature, and with Holgate also looking assured – both at full-back and later in the centre of defence – the Reds have some good defensive prospects for next season.
Johnson added: “I was pleased with him (Cowgill). He had his five minutes where he was all over the shop, and then after that he recovered really well mentally.
“I think that was a really good sign. It’s his first game, he’s had an injury a couple of weeks and just come back, and has been doing very well in the youth set-up.
“You have got to see them, we have to have a look.
“Certain parts of his game were good, certain parts which we need to improve. We need to quicken his feet up a little bit, which was evident by the goal, but we will do that. He’s a young player and we will spend a lot of time working with him.
“The other lads looked after him, they said ‘don’t worry about it, we will get a goal back for you’, which is nice to see.
“Did we have the quality in the final third? Probably not, I think that’s fair to say.
“But that was a good game for us, for our younger players, especially when they went down to 10 men and I am trying to educate them tactically of what’s required on the day.
“Mason could be a top player, he really could, he has got loads of maturation left in his body.
“He’s a really exciting prospect for the future, because he is so calm on the ball.
“At times, his body language is not the best, but we will improve that.”
Cowgill made an impressive start. He was inches away from getting on the end of Hourihane’s free-kick at one end before popping up in his more accustomed role in defence to hammer away Harry Anderson’s cross.
The first touch of Milan Lalkovic let the midfielder down after good work from Josh Scowen on the right flank.
After Posh took the lead via Washington, the impressive Anderson should have doubled their advantage only for goalkeeper Adam Davies to block him from close-range.
Berry dragged a shot wide before an amazing miss from Hourihane. Posh goalkeeper Ben Alnwick – a former Reds player – rushed out of goal, was deceived by the bounce, and with the goal gaping, Hourihane rushed his chance and fired wide.
Lalkovic was close with a long-range effort before Hourihane came close to creating an equaliser.
His free-kick evaded everyone and forced Alnwick to tip over, before Sam Winnall headed into the side-netting after a diagonal cross was missed by the goalkeeper.
The visitors were reduced to 10 men when Kgosi Ntlhe was sent off for two yellow cards, and Declan John – the 19-year-old a second-half substitute – came close to an equaliser when his surging run ended with the full-back dragging his shot wide.
But Barnsley were not to be denied as Berry headed home in stoppage time for a deserved point.
Johnson has already started planning for next term, starting to inform out-of-contract players if they will be offered new deals.
While he refuses to identify individuals, Johnson is hoping his early groundwork will pay dividends come August.
“Over the next week we will be telling players whether I intend to retain their services,” said Johnson.
“Some have been told already, but I won’t expose or release at the moment because everybody is digesting that – contract offers and ones we are looking to retain.
“It’s very difficult for me to go into that now, because the initial phases of that are quite personal to the individuals, and myself. It’s not easy when you are having to release players and move them on.
“Sometimes it’s through no fault of their own. There’s many different reasons; finances, been here too long, not been here long enough, other clubs interested.
“There’s so many dynamics to the end of the season and the retained list.”