EIGHT successive League One defeats have left Barnsley entrenched in the relegation zone and head coach Lee Johnson under further pressure despite a stirring performance from his side.
Striker Ajay Leitch-Smith headed home late in the first half and Sam Foley struck in the 47th to deal the Reds another cruel blow despite a 77th-minute riposte from substitute striker Sakm Winnall.
Conor Hourihane was also denied a late penalty shout after appearing to be shoved to the ground and he then saw a long-range drive narrowly deflected wide.
After an alarming slump of seven successive League One defeats, head coach Lee Johnson made two changes from the side which had been encouraged by the defeat of York City 2-1 in the JP Trophy in midweek.
James Bree came in for suspended right-back Reece Wabara and striker Marley Watkins returned from a ban to replace Simeon Jackson.
Midweek match-winner Adam Hammill made his return league bow for the club he played for from 2009-11 after signing a two-month loan deal and 19-year-old Newcastle United prospect Ivan Toney, at Oakwell for 28 days, led the attack for a second successive match.
Having been drawn at Wigan in the JP Trophy Northern Area semi-final, Barnsley made a bright start and Hammill let fly from 25 yards, forcing a diving save from Jak Alnwick.
Adam Yates then cleared off the line from Alfie Mawson's downward header from the corner.
Barnsley continued to create a series of half chances in the incessant rain but Vale struck in the 40th minute. Michael O'Connor's corner was cleared from a throw and he received the ball back from Byron Moore to cross for Leitch-Smith to send a looping header into the far corner of the net.
Watkins failed to react to a downward header in stoppage time and the opportunity was lost to leave the Reds trailing at the break.
Things soon got worse as Sam Foley fired home from the edge of the area after Moore intercepted Ben Pearson's square ball following a Barnsley corner, raced down to the right and transferred the ball square for the waiting midfield man to pounce.
Hourihane had a great chance to make it 2-1 but slashed his shot wide after Alnwick had flapped at a cross and Alfie Mawson headed narrowly wide from Hammill's cross.
Substitute striker Michael Smith had one header off target and another saved before fellow replacement Winnall made it 2-1 in the 77th minute when a clearance from a cross struck a Vale defender and the ball rebounded into his path for an easy tap-in.
Barnsley piled forward and Hourihane suffered double misfortune but the Reds could not equalise despite six minutes of stoppage time.
Johnson said: “There are signs of encouragement. Even the fans will understand the players gave their all. We’ve dominated, the players and I feel hard done by.
“We’ve won everything except the most important stat, we didn’t deserve to lose that game and their keepers had a ‘worldie’. We’ve got to keep going, a lot of our play was good today.”
The loss against The Vale made it eight games in League One without a win, and Johnson gave his thoughts about that.
“I’m disappointed we’ve had this run.” Said Johnson. “We can pull ourselves out of it, we just need that bit of quality and luck. We need to stick to our values and principles then we’ll go on a winning run. We didn’t deserve that result today and we can only turn it round together.
“Teams have a certain way of playing against us and sometimes we’ve struggled to deal with that. We should have been three-nip up by the time we conceded the first goal.
“We had enough domination and opportunities at goal not to require some decisions from the referee, but they should have been given.
“Consistently today we were the better side and this has happened to us too much. I know we’ve got that performance in us, which gives me that hope and strength.”
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