RESPITE, of sorts, for Lee Johnson.
After the sort of catastrophic losing run that can cost a manager his job, the Barnsley chief was last night able to celebrate a safe passage to the regional semi-finals of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
Adam Hammill, scorer of so many wonderful goals during his first spell at Oakwell, was the man who brought a long overdue smile to Johnson’s face with the winner six minutes from time.
It was a strike worthy of winning any game, the former Huddersfield Town wideman cutting in from the left flank before unleashing an unstoppable shot beyond Scott Flinders.
For Johnson, it could prove to be the turning point after a quite horrendous run of seven straight defeats in League One and last weekend’s FA Cup humbling by non-League Altrincham.
Not that the Reds did it the easy way against a side that sits third bottom of League Two, falling behind in the first half to another sublime strike from Michael Coulson.
It was the ninth time in the last 10 games that the South Yorkshire club had conceded the first goal.
Crucially, though, Johnson’s men displayed the character and resilience that will be needed in the days and weeks to come if Barnsley’s season is to be turned round.
York, meanwhile, showed enough to suggest that they, too, can plot a way out of trouble near the foot of League Two under new manager Jackie McNamara.
Against a side who before the recent collapse in form were within touching distance of the play-offs, City contributed fully to a decent tie and deserved their warm ovation at the end from the 509 travelling fans in a crowd of 3,360.
Goalscorer Coulson again caught the eye, as did George Swan in the Minstermen defence on his debut in senior football.
Ultimately, however, it was the hosts who went through to keep alive their hopes of a possible Wembley trip in the New Year.
The night’s opening goal had come five minutes before the interval courtesy of a free-kick awarded for a crude foul on Coulson 30 yards from the home goal.
Coulson, after dusting himself down, then curled a quite exquisite effort beyond goalkeeper Adam Davies and into the top corner of the net.
On the balance of chances created, going behind was harsh on Barnsley. Up until Coulson’s opener, the Reds had looked enlivened by the arrival of Hammill and Ivan Toney the previous day.
The hosts’ first chance fell to Newcastle United loanee Toney on eight minutes, Scott Flinders getting down well to save.
Toney’s next involvement was to create an opening for Lloyd Isgrove with a purposeful run that left Femi Ilesanmi horribly wrong-footed.
Isgrove was unable to capitalise, however, as his first time shot grazed the top of the crossbar. A determined York weathered the early storm of pressure before gradually growing into the game.
Coulson was the first to test Davies with a stinging drive with a free-kick that the Reds goalkeeper tipped over at full stretch before York’s talismanic captain netted his fifth goal in all competitions with a truly wonderful free-kick.
Barnsley fans, to their credit, did not turn on either Johnson or his players despite going in at the interval behind.
This support clearly boosted the hosts, who started the second half in the ascendancy.
First, Flinders had to race smartly from his line to beat Toney to the ball after a long ball forward had caught Ilesanmi unawares.
Then, after York had conceded a needless free-kick just inside their half, Alfie Mawson rose highest in the six-yard box to meet Conor Hourihane’s centre with a header that Flinders did well to bundle around the post.
As City switched to 4-5-1 following an injury suffered by Ben Godfrey, the hosts and debutant Swan, son of former Hull and Leeds utility man Peter, had to react smartly to cut out a Simeon Jackson cross as the pressure continued to mount.
Coulson had to then throw himself in front of a Hourihane shot before the equaliser that the Reds had been threatening since the break finally arrived midway through the second half.
Hammill created the opening with a fantastic delivery from the left flank that Ben Pearson chested into the net at the back post.
York had a gilt-edged opportunity to regain the lead on 73 minutes when Vadaine Oliver, after cleverly spinning his marker in the area, shot straight at Davies when he had almost the entire goal to aim at.
Isgrove then proved equally wasteful at the other end as he fired wide from six yards before Hammill conjured up the winner with a quite stunning strike.
It left Johnson jumping for joy on the touchline and Barnsley dreaming of a possible Wembley trip in the spring.
Barnsley: Davies; Wabara, Smith, Mawson, Nyatanga; Pearson, Hourihane, Isgrove, Hammill; Jackson (Winnall 67), Toney (White 83). Unused substitutes: Townsend, Bree, Roberts.
York City: Flinders; McCoy, Swan, Ilesanmi, Nolan; Berrett, Collins, Godfrey (Tutonda 50); Sinclair (Straker 65), Oliver (Hyde 74), Coulson. Unused substitutes: Ingham, Winfield.
Referee: D Webb (Lancashire).