Dawson stays in focus as Barnsley battle on

Stephen Ward clears from Ryan McLaughlin (Picture: Bruce Rollinson).
Stephen Ward clears from Ryan McLaughlin (Picture: Bruce Rollinson).
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Danny Wilson was full of praise for Stephen Dawson after the Barnsley captain put his off-field troubles to one side to deliver a man-of-the-match display at Oakwell.

Dawson was one of seven footballers arrested last week in connection with a national spot-fixing probe.

But the 28-year-old Irishman was selected by Wilson for Saturday’s crunch game with play-off hopefuls Brighton and put in a grafting performance.

After back-to-back wins at Reading and Yeovil Town, it is now seven points from nine as Barnsley look set to launch another escape bid.

“I thought he (Dawson) was outstanding on Saturday, like he has been for the last six weeks,” said Wilson.

“He has been leading from the front, by example, which is absolutely fantastic and long may that continue.

“We are well aware of Stephen’s situation, and have been for a couple of days now,” said Wilson.

“But there’s nothing really to add.”

Where Wilson was more forthcoming was on the 76th-minute dismissal of right-back Kelvin Etuhu, who was shown two yellow cards in as many minutes.

Both came in clashes with Brighton substitute Kazenga Lualua and left the Reds having to settle for a point which hardly helped their relegation issues.

Wilson was furious with referee Tony Harrington over the sending-off, believing Etuhu was harshly shown his first booking after a collision with the striker.

The second caution was fully deserved, Etuhu clipping Lualua as he used his pace to get goal-side of the defender.

“In the circumstances, I think it was a good point, having to play the last 15 minutes with 10 men,” said Wilson.

“As the game went on, I fancied us to go and win it. With 11 men on the pitch, I thought we were causing them problems.

“But in the last 15 minutes they had the advantage with the extra man. The decision was absolutely abysmal.

“The first booking was shocking, the second booking I accept.

“The first one, there was nothing wrong with it. It was a shoulder charge, he comes away with the ball and he is too strong for the boy. He just eases him out of the way, it’s not even a foul, let alone a booking.

“Throughout the game there were lots of questionable decisions, everyone was confused, not just our bench.”

A clean sheet is like gold dust at Oakwell; Saturday was just the sixth time this season in the Championship where they have kept out the opposition.

The South Yorkshire strugglers have conceded 65 goals in the league this season – only Millwall have a worse defensive record – and it is the main reason the Reds sit in the relegation places this morning.

Chances were at a premium in the opening 45 minutes. Dale Jennings went close and Chris O’Grady nearly caught out visiting goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak when he flicked on Jennings’s cross.

Brighton striker Leonardo Ulloa was lucky to stay on the pitch, picking up a booking after letting his frustrations boil over as he was marked out of the game by the Reds’ impressive back four.

Lewin Nyatanga and Jean-Yves M’voto have been thrown together in a makeshift defence by Wilson – after a spate of injuries – and along with full-backs Tom Kennedy and Etuhu they looked anything but relegation strugglers.

With the industry of Dawson in front of them, allied to the hard work of O’Grady and the spark of Liam Lawrence, Brighton’s play-off credentials were severely tested.

In the second half, Barnsley were kicking towards the Kop where earlier fans had done a rendition of the conga, buoyant after back-to-back away wins.

They went so close to taking the lead as play switched from one end to the other. First, Tykes’ goalkeeper Luke Steele snapped up Solly March’s testing low cross then play swiftly switched to the other end of the field and Kennedy’s back-post cross saw Ryan McLaughlin’s header crash against the crossbar.

Jesse Lingard – the Manchester United striker who banged four goals past Sheffield Wednesday while at Birmingham City on loan this season – blazed a long-range effort into the empty seating behind the goal as the visitors’ frustrations continued to seep into their play.

Steele had to be alert to rush out and save at the feet of Lingard, after a run from deep managed to squeeze open the Reds’ rearguard.

Wilson threw on an extra striker in on-loan Nick Proschwitz, for McLaughlin, as he looked to take all three points.

The gamble looked to have paid off when M’voto rose powerfully at the far post to meet another sweet cross from Kennedy.

But with a goal looking a certainty, the defender’s fierce free header flew the wrong side of the goalkeeper’s right-hand post.

The Reds were reduced to 10 men and second-half substitute Lualua nearly made Barnsley pay, but his 25-yard free-kick fizzed wide of Steele’s left-hand post.

Wilson was forced to sacrifice Tomasz Cywka, sending on Jack Hunt at right-back, but the Reds were on the back foot and Lualua against tried his luck from long distance, forcing Steele to palm away his shot.

M’voto nearly snatched a late winner with a header and O’Grady popped up in his own area to block a dangerous cross.

Wilson added: “I thought the performance was very good, against a top team in Brighton, who have some terrific players.”