CUSHTY. In the shadow of a block of flats that once doubled as Nelson Mandela House in the hit TV show Only Fools and Horses, Barnsley produced what Del Boy would, no doubt, declare to be “a 42-carat performance”.
The Reds, taking on runaway League One leaders Bristol City, came oh so close to claiming a pukka victory.
Ahead through goals either side of half-time from Jabo Ibehre and Josh Scowen, Lee Johnson’s side were only denied by an equaliser six minutes from time
However, far from feeling like plonkers come the final whistle for letting two points slip so late on, Barnsley’s stellar performance must have left the 500 travelling supporters dreaming, ‘This time next year, we’ll be in the Championship’.
Certainly, this is a side that bears no relation to the one that just five weeks ago seemed to possess all the thrust and power of the Trotters’ famous three-wheel van.
Since then, Barnsley have embarked on a nine-game unbeaten run that has seen a relegation fight morph into a play-off race that is likely to go the distance and all the way to May 3.
“This was a good marker,” said Tykes manager Johnson, who spent six years playing for the Robins.
“It showed people exactly what you have to do to be successful. Bristol City have threats all over the pitch and yet we brought our A game.
“From earlier in the season to now, there is a big, big difference. How disappointed we were afterwards shows that. And if we can use that disappointment going forward then we can move mountains.”
Ashton Gate backs on to an estate that includes Whitehead House, the real-life block of flats that the producers of Only Fools and Horses adopted as the Trotters’ home after growing tired of David Jason, Nicholas Lyndhurst and the rest of the cast being mobbed when filming in London.
After the clinical manner in which Steve Cotterill’s Robins had claimed a piece of silverware that Trotters Independent Traders could only dream of getting their mitts on by beating Walsall in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final six days earlier, the fear was that Barnsley’s backline could be left similarly besieged.
For a time, that seemed likely as Luke Freeman dictated the early stages of play.
A rash challenge by Jean-Yves M’Voto on 11 minutes then gifted City the lead, referee Mark Brown being left with no alternative but to point to the spot as Kieran Agard was sent sprawling.
Marlon Pack did the rest from 12 yards and Barnsley, forced into a host of changes by a combination of injury, international calls and John O’Sullivan’s loan abruptly ending, looked to be in for a long afternoon.
The opposite, however, transpired as, after taking their time to get into proceedings, the Reds suddenly stepped up a gear.
Ibehre, after having a couple of efforts that had gone close, cancelled out Pack’s penalty on the stroke of half-time with a quite wonderful individual effort.
Collecting the ball with two defenders breathing down his neck and his back to goal, he displayed strength and poise to create space to unleash a thunderbolt shot that Luke Ayling was unable to keep out despite getting a touch.
Barnsley started the second half in fine style. Four corners were forced inside a couple of minutes, two of which required Frank Fielding to claw the ball to safety as Ben Pearson’s curled delivery arched towards the net.
The let-offs proved to be only temporary, just eight minutes of the second half having elapsed when the visitors went ahead.
Again, Ibehre was crucial as, after controlling a long punt by M’Voto, the striker took inspiration from Gazza in Euro 96 by lifting the ball over Aden Flint and racing forward.
Then, just at the right moment, he slipped a delightful pass through for Scowen, who, after skipping round Fielding, fired high into the roof of the net.
City were stunned and Scowen volleyed over from 10 yards and Cameron Stewart just failed to add a finish to match his sublime one-two just outside the area.
Ultimately, this inability to capitalise when on top allowed the Robins to rescue a point.
A fine double save from Joe Wildsmith, making his Football League debut after joining on loan from Sheffield Wednesday, saw both Joe Bryan and Aaron Wilbraham denied.
But Wildsmith, brought in to cover for the injured Adam Davies and Christian Dibble being on international duty, was then unable to prevent Bryan’s shot squirming under his body.
The result ensured a modicum of revenge for Johnson, whose Oldham side had seen their 13-game unbeaten run perish at Ashton Gate in November. Lovely jubbly.
Bristol City: Fielding; Little (Emmanuel-Thomas 58), Ayling, Flint, Williams; Bryan, K.Smith, Pack, Freeman; Agard (Elliott 76), Wilbraham. Unused substitutes: Wagstaff, Saville, Cunningham, Tavernier, Richards.
Barnsley: Wildsmith; Cranie, M’Voto, Nyatanga, Smith; Stewart (Bailey 89), Pearson, Hourihane, Scowen, Winnall (Waring 90); Ibehre. Unused substitutes: Walton, Berry, Hemmings, Jennings, Williams.
Referee: M Brown (East Yorks).