Barnsley FC 2 Middlesbrough 0: Reds move closer to play-offs

IN THIS week of all weeks, it had to be about him.

Daryl Dike scores Barnsley's second goal versus Middlesbrough. PICTURE: BRUCE ROLLINSON.
Daryl Dike scores Barnsley's second goal versus Middlesbrough. PICTURE: BRUCE ROLLINSON.

Barnsley’s own version of ‘Captain Fantastic’ in Alex Mowatt - fresh from being named as the Championship’s player of the month for March - took centre stage, not for the first time. And certainly not the last..

In the previous home game at a similar juncture, the Reds talisman held his nerve to slot home a leveller from the spot; just about.

Here, his whipped-in corner on the right on 61 minutes deceived Boro keeper Marcus Bettinelli and left him with a considerable amount of egg on his face.

It was a vital breakthrough on a day when the action clearly pointed to the fact that there was a very good chance that one goal would do it on an occasion which was never going to be one for the purists.

Like Reading, Sheffield Wednesday and Derby before them, Boro were disciplined and not overly troubled by the hosts at Oakwell.

But Bettinelli - who was poor in the fixture between these sides in the EFL Cup at the start of this season - blotted his copybook again and the narrative of the game changed.

Barnsley;s other golden boy in Daryl Dike soon came to the party as Neil Warnock feared he might do after labelling him as the best striker in the division ahead of the game.

Again, Mowatt had a bit to do with the action.

His downward volley found its way to Carlton Morris, with his header blocked by Bettinelli as Boro waited for an offside flag which never came - with the ball quickly recycled by Callum Brittain for Dike to make the game safe with his eighth goal of a remarkable loan spell at Oakwell.

It broke Boro, who were never the same after Bettinelli’s gaffe as they tumbled to a fourth straight home loss, while Barnsley secured their first home win in four games to breach the 70-point mark and move ever closer to the play-offs..

From his pre-match musings, you suspected that Warnock felt he would find a bit more out about his players in terms of their hunger and attitude after admitting that his side’s prospects of gatecrashing the top-six were pretty much over after a one-point Easter.

To be fair, Boro’s competitiveness was in evidence in a first half which was devoid of quality, but high on perspiration, with a fair bit of head tennis and jousting for second balls taking place.

It was Boro who were afforded the best chance by a distance, although in truth, it was fashioned out by a Barnsley error.

Valerien Ismael has spoken consistently of late about controlling the ‘details’ and he will not have liked what he saw on nine minutes.

Toby Sibbick’s attempted header back to Brad Collins was woefully short, but fortunately for the Reds, George Saville - presented with a great chance to nod the ball over the stranded keeper - failed to get enough power on his attempt which sailed harmlessly into Collins’s arms.

In a game of few chances, it was a big moment.

Some quality set-piece deliveries from Paddy McNair hinted at danger, while at the back, he and Grant Hall did a solid enough job against Barnsley’s front three.

Dike and Cauley Woodrow fired half-chances over, while the sting was taken out of a well-struck shot from Michal Helik, while Barnsley’s best opportunity came when Marcus Bettinelli unconvincingly flapped at Mowatt’s inswinging corner, but no-one was there to follow up.

The Boro keeper was not so lucky in the second period.

Ismael was in conversation with Morris ahead of the break, suggesting that he would be entering the fray on the resumption to give Boro’s rearguard a bit more to think about.

He duly did just that with the first chance of the second half falling to Barnsley, but Woodrow’s free-kick was tame from a good position and blocked by Boro’s wall.

The Teessiders then threatened when Watmore cut inside with his cross-shot flashing across goal, before Brttain cleared the danger with no Boro gambling at the far post.

The game then changed through Bettinelli’s faux pas and Barnsley took control and soon doubled their money.

Dike went close to a third with a low shot flashing inches wide.

Barnsley: Collins; Sibbick, Helik, Andersen; Brittain, Mowatt, Palmer (Halme 57), Styles; Frieser (Morris 45), Woodrow (Chaplin 57), Dike. Substitutes unused: Walton, J Williams, Oduor, Sollbauer, Adeboyejo, Moon.

Middlesbrough: Bettinelli; Fisher, Hall, McNair, Bola (Johnson 80); Howson, Saville; Spence (Coulson 80), Watmore (Assombalonga 70), Kebano (Bolaise 70); Akpom (Fletcher 70). Substitutes unused: Archer.