THE delicious strains of opera classic Nessun Dorma from soprano Laurie Ashworth greeted supporters ahead of kick-off last night, but once the game kicked off it was only hosts Wigan who hit the right notes.
In keeping with the music theme in a town famous for its melodies, a rendition of Barnsley’s survival anthem of last season’s great escape, Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, was also aired just before the second half got underway – but, unfortunately, it could not inspire the Reds to a much-needed triumph.
Nostalgic Barnsley fans may have defiantly sang along and suggested that they are not worried about a thing, in the words of the song, despite their precarious plight again at the foot of the Championship table.
But in reality, it was gallows humour at work, with their side already 2-0 down and contemplating their 20th defeat of a fraught season, with a re-run of what happened in the first half of 2013 looking a serious long shot if things do not improve soon.
Exactly 12 months ago today, Barnsley beat Wolves at Oakwell to record their sixth consecutive victory in all competitions and eighth in nine games.
A remarkable escape act was gathering pace but, a year on, and the Reds look worryingly shackled to the wrong end of the table, with time running out.
The pre-match incentive of recording a first victory against the Latics and securing three points in the hometown of Reds’ manager Danny Wilson was small beer compared to the primary motive – namely moving within two points of Millwall, the side who currently sit one place above the drop zone ahead of their visit to Oakwell on Saturday.
Unfortunately, a maiden away success under the reign of Wilson, and just the second of the Championship campaign for the Reds, was never really on from the moment Nicky Maynard broke their resistance on 35 minutes, with Martyn Waghorn adding a second before the break.
The first half saw home supporters treated to the good and the not-so-good, with the incident that they will not care to dwell on arriving in the 15th minute.
That involved their FA Cup-winning hero of last season Ben Watson being stretchered off with what looked like a serious leg injury. He received lengthy attention following a terrible collision with Martin Woods.
Watson left the field holding an oxygen mask to his face and was afforded a standing ovation by the Latics’ faithful, who at least had something far more uplifting to hail 10 minutes before the break.
An opener that had always looked like coming eventually arrived following an attack down the Barnsley right, where the Reds had toiled and Wigan had excelled throughout the first half.
Jean Beausejour shrugged off Woods before evading Jim O’Brien and his low cross from the byline was tucked away neatly from close range by the impressive Maynard.
Another raid down that troublesome right-hand defensive channel for the Reds saw a second arrive on 44 minutes with the assist this time coming from McClean.
The Irish left-winger, who gave the fit-again Ryan McLaughlin plenty of problems during the first period, saw his inviting cross emphatically headed home by Waghorn.
It left the Reds with a mountain to climb, their best moment arriving early in the piece when a slick move ended in on-loan striker Nick Proschwitz seeing his powerful header fly over after a good cross by the overlapping Tom Kennedy.
Other than that, the threats came from the efficient hosts and while Wigan boss Uwe Rosler had his head in his hands after a poor miss from Chris McCann just before the half-hour mark, a two goal-blast inside nine minutes ahead of the interval dispelled any sense of discomfort.
When you are about to embark on your 43rd game of the campaign, with plenty more to come, a bit of rotation does not go amiss, and Wigan changed their entire front three from the weekend.
It did not come at the expense of fluidity, with Rosler’s side cementing their play-off credentials and, blessed with options, the FA Cup holders look a good bet for the top six, with all the serious questions belonging to Wilson.
The Reds’ chief threw on Brek Shea and Lewin Nyatanga at the interval, with the travelling supporters then getting their wish in the 65th minute when fans’ favourite Paddy McCourt entered the fray in a rare outing under Wilson.
To their credit, the Reds showed spirit in the second period, but lacked sufficient quality, with a rare moment of genuine threat seeing Emmanuel Frimpong’s free-kick deflected just over mid-way through the half.
Half-chances were spurned by Shea, Jennings and Proschwitz, but possession could not yield attacking punch, with the Reds remaining five points adrift of safety.
Wigan Athletic: Al Habsi; Perch, Boyce, Barnett, Beausejour; McArthur, Watson (McEachran 20 (Espinoza 75) ), McCann; Waghorn, Maynard (Fortune 75), McClean. Unused substitutes: Nicholls, Crainey, Gomez, Kiernan.
Barnsley: Steele; McLaughlin (Nyatanga 46), Ramage, Cranie, Kennedy; O’Brien, Frimpong, Woods (McCourt 64); O’Grady (Shea 46), Proschwitz, Jennings. Unused substitutes: Turner, Cywka, Lawrence, Dawson.
Referee: N Miller (Co.Durham).