IT WOULD take more than Oakwell cult hero turned investigative detective Arjan De Zeeuw to solve the mystery of Barnsley’s fortunes so far in 2014-15.
The Dutch centre-half returned last week for a special An Evening With... event in the town where he is adored, but unfortunately his forensic skills don’t extend to unravelling footballing puzzles.
In a season which has proved at times maddeningly inconsistent for the Reds faithful, serious momentum has hitherto proved elusive.
But maybe, just maybe, Barnsley are showing signs of making a positive breakthrough at a timely juncture, with last night’s win their fourth on the spin at home in League One.
It was also the first time they have secured back-to-back league victories since mid-November in a curate’s egg of a campaign.
Last night’s Roses success certainly would not have won many awards for artistic merit, but needs must, especially when the Reds entered their crucial home double-header with Port Vale and Oldham with genuine relegation worries.
Just ask a mindful Danny Wilson, who tacitly alluded to his side, as it stood, being in a relegation scrap late last week with the Reds in 19th spot.
The table certainly looks healthier this morning, with Wilson – after asking his side to ‘man up’ – having been answered in the affirmative.
The wafer-thin margins between most teams in the Championship may have preceded it in recent campaigns, but League One isn’t too far behind.
Barnsley’s seasonal experiences represent a perfect case study of a transitional and at times difficult season, but today they find themselves only four points off the play-offs in 13th place – courtesy of Kane Hemmings’s well-taken 12th-minute strike.
The summer recruit from Cowdenbeath has struggled to make an impact in his time at Oakwell, with this strike just his fourth goal of the campaign.
His modest return has attracted interest from back in Scotland, but Wilson’s faith in persisting with him was rewarded last night. Despite sixth place being on a vista not too far ahead, you sense that realistic Reds fans would simply settle for some consistency in the coming weeks first before seriously entertaining that prospect.
It was an evening for determination, discipline and doggedness, personified in a man-of-the-match display on his full debut by terrier-like midfielder Josh Scowen, who provided the main individual highlight alongside Hemmings’s goal.
A mention in dispatches also to Barnsley’s gnarled defensive quartet of Martin Cranie, Jean-Yves M’Voto, Peter Ramage and Lewin Nyatanga, who worked overtime in a sound showing.
On a raw night, Barnsley provided the early steel with Scowen endearing himself to the Oakwell audience from the off with a couple of hard but fair challenges.
But it was Oldham, fielding a pacy twin-pronged attack in ex-Sheffield United man Jonathan Forte and former Leeds forward Dominic Poleon in a clear bid to expose an experienced Reds rearguard, who had the game’s first opportunity.
Fourteen-goal Forte dispossessed ex-Latics defender M’Voto, but his lob flew over before Michael Jones saw a long-range shot flash wide.
Soon after, from their first attack, a clinical moment of indecision saw the Reds go in front, with Milan Lalkovic’s right-wing cross dispatched emphatically on the volley at the near post by Hemmings.
Buoyed by his strike, Hemmings soon latched onto Ross Turnbull’s punt, dragging an effort wide before Oldham regathered their composure.
A swinging corner from Jones almost caught out Turnbull and another quality set-piece from the winger saw the ball diverted just over his own bar by Cranie.
Oldham bossed the territory for much of the remainder of the half, but the Reds diligently protected their lead well enough, with moments of alarm being spasmodic.
The pattern of most of the first period continued, Forte soon showing his acceleration before volleying off target, but despite pressure, Oldham couldn’t overly penetrate with a rare sniff at the other end seeing Scowen shoot wide.
Ex-Red Jacob Mellis was greeted by a cascade of boos when he made his Oakwell return on 53 minutes and two more changes arrived by the hour mark with Conor Wilkinson and Joseph Mills entering the fray.
You would have been forgiven for thinking the Reds were the away side, although controversy did briefly reign midway through the half when Lalkovic went down in the box under pressure from Mills, but Steve Martin was unmoved.
Carl Winchester then saw his low shot gathered by Turnbull before George Elokobi hooked over, with the impression generating that Oldham, for all their territorial damage, lacked a clinical edge and couldn’t truly click.
As the game wore on, Barnsley, entitled to be encouraged given Oldham’s failure to turn their pressure into bonafide chances and test Turnbull, crept back into proceedings.
Not that it was particularly pretty, but it is not really the time of year for that, with Barnsley – for whom Conor Hourihane struck a late effort wide – toughing it out and getting the job done.
Barnsley: Turnbull, Cranie, M’Voto, Ramage, Nyatanga; Lalkovic (Jennings 90), Pearson, Scowen, Hourihane; Hemmings (Winnall 70), Waring (Lita 90). Unused substitutes: Davies, Rigby, Smith, Kiwomya.
Oldham Athletic: Kean, B Wilson, J Wilson, Elokobi, Brown (Mills 60); Winchester, Kelly, Philliskirk (Mellis 53), Jones; Poleon (Wilkinson 60), Forte. Unused substitutes: Coleman, Dieng, Lockwood, Kusunga.
Referee: S Martin (Staffordshire).