Barnsley 2 Sheffield United 3: Blades bruise Tykes as pressure ramps up on Markus Schopp
But once a period it was hard to get your head around was over, you realised nothing had actually changed.
The Reds once more exposed the fragility undermining the Blades’ promotion hopes but without properly punishing it.
Chief executive Khaled-el-Ahmad had made clear in the build-up coach Markus Schopp’s position was being reviewed by a game-by-game basis and this game, like the previous five, had been lost.
The striker who did most to push Schopp further towards the sack was not Lys Mousset, who scored twice against the hosts, but Devante Cole, one of two Barnsley forwards brought off the bench to score his first goal since joining (or in Cole’s case, re-joining) in the summer.
Cole was happy to reveal the turnaround from 3-0 down to 3-2 was inspired by a team-talk. A team-talk Schopp was not part of.
“After the third goal we all got together and said, ‘Come on boys, no more’ but I think that’s just come from the group on the pitch,” he stressed. “I think you saw the boys rallying together.”
It was every bit as cutting as the 78th-minute volley which threw the game into a state no one saw coming.
As soon as Lys Mousset opened the scoring after 52 minutes, the Barnsley fans accepted defeated.
“You’re getting sacked in the morning!” they chanted at Schopp as soon as the ball hit the net, not needing the confirmation of his second a couple of minutes later.
From there it was full-on gallows humour from the Pontefract Road End.
Cole’s introduction for Victor Adeboyejo, who looked if not Barnsley’s most likely player then certain their least unlikey at that stage, was greeted with boos.
“You couldn’t score in a brothel,” the fans informed Cole as he produced a shocking miss sliding onto a cross, even bearing in mind the pressure from Enda Stevens.
Even had co-chairman Paul Conway, sitting behind the home dugout in the West Stand around 1,000 fans have been turfed out of for safety reasons, wanted to shut his eyes and pretend it was not happening, there was no escape.
“We’ve got the ball!” they sang sarcastically, normally having to quickly change to “We’ve lost the ball!”
Everything was great for Sheffield United, who dominated possession in the first half, yet only looked like scoring on two of the odd occasions they were able to release Mousset without a defensive chaperone, usually the impressive Liam Kitching, closely shadowing him.
Slavisa Jokanovic preaches patience, though, and as soon as Mousset ran down the left channel, turned inside Michaal Helik and curled into the corner, an away win was on the cards.
Two minutes later he slid onto a Ben Osborn cross, and the midfielder was able to take his time, control a pull-back and fire the third John Fleck might have scored had Brad Collins not smothered his effort.
Jasper Moon, picked in midfield with Romal Palmer and Jordan Williams injured, had hit the post at 2-0, but at that stage it was no more than an aberration.
Then, from nowhere, everything changed.
Callum Styles crossed from the left, Cauley Woodrow flicked it on, Cole controlled on his thigh and volleyed in. Five minutes later Aaron Leya Iseka wriggled into space and blasted a second. Even the cold weather brightened up.
Sarcasm turned suddenly to hope as Jokanovic seethed on the touchline.
Kicking teams like Barnsley when they are down will not make or break his side but the defensive charity they showed might. Chris Basham was introduced as a third centre-back and six added minutes it signified only brought more home hope. In hindsight, it was cruel, really.
The point, never mind win, Schopp so badly needed after five straight defeats did not come, and the chants for his head just picked up again when the full-time whistle blew.
You could take Barnsley’s fight as a sign Schopp has the dressing room’s support had Cole not made it clear the coach lacks friends there too, at least in his seat.
“In the little time I got to play I wanted to show what I can do so I can get more,” he said. “All I’ve got to do is work hard every day in training like everyone sees me do and just see what happens.”
Asked if Schopp had explained why, with Iseka and Obbi Oulare struggling for fitness, he had made just one start, Cole replied: “Nah. I’ve not really heard.”
He ended his press conference by saying: “That was for ourselves and our team-mates.”
It did not take a genius to read between the lines. Barring something miraculous, Schopp’s story looks written; Jokanovic has work on his hands to create a happier ending to his narrative.