THE ‘Bring Me Sunshine flag may have looked radiant in the away end – but the on-pitch warmth came from those in red.
The song synonymous with Luton Town’s most famous supporter of yore – the late, great Eric Morecambe – held particular resonance for Barnsley on an enthralling afternoon when the home audience were provided with some choice entertainment that left them captivated on occasions.
A wonderfully-instinctive 80th-minute strike from substitute Mamadou Thiam took the breath away, while Barnsley’s beautifully-manufactured second from Cameron McGeehan was a classy team goal.
For the neutral, the fact that Luton fought back twice added to the entertainment value and contributed to a fine spectacle, yet there was no doubting that the right outcome arrived by the end – as Hatters chief Nathan Jones had the good grace to admit.
His side may have been unfortunate to see a first-half goal at a key juncture from James Collins ruled out for offside, but Jones viewed the bigger picture on a day which belonged to Barnsley.
For his counterpart Daniel Stendel, there was a sense of professional satisfaction. A day which had all the portents to be a disruptive one ended up being one of gravitas as his side sent out a warning to their rivals.
Without some core leaders in captain Adam Davies, top-scorer Kieffer Moore and key midfielder Kenny Dougall – Barnsley had six players missing in total – a character examination awaited a home side whose recent Oakwell form has not been without its travails.
The wind nuisance value, allied to the arrival of a Luton side unbeaten in six matches crystallised that viewpoint. It was a day when most Reds fans would have gladly accepted winning ugly at the outset. But what they received instead was a win of substance and polish.
A fluid display, which saw Barnsley move through the gears in eye-catching fashion, more especially in the first-half, bore testament to the training-ground work of Stendel and his staff.
That Barnsley did not overly miss Dougall or Moore was all power to their German head coach. His squad strength is good, but more importantly, he is blessed with players who are listening.
I will not say that without one player, we cannot win. I think this is the quality in the squad and we need all the players.Daniel Stendel
A Plan B of sorts saw McGeehan given responsibility as a deep-lying midfielder and Jacob Brown man the load up front.
Support was given by George Moncur, Mike Bahre, Alex Mowatt and Brad Potts, whose tactical discipline was excellent and it was small wonder Stendel bore a contented look after the game.
He concluded his press duties with the words ‘good weekend’ with his emotions contrasting markedly with his anger after his side’s last home game with Plymouth.
On this evidence, it looked like his players have taken the hint. Stendel said: “It was a good answer from the squad. We have a lot of players who are very important.
“Kieffer Moore cannot play and Cauley Woodrow is injured. You think: ‘What can we do’, but Saturday showed that we can play with other players and also win.
“I will not say that without one player, we cannot win. I think this is the quality in the squad and we need all the players.”
On the impact of McGeehan, who netted his first Reds goal in almost exactly a year, he added: “It was his old club and he was very motivated and played very well. I am happy for him, he has not played often in the recent games, but in training, he has had good performances and motivation. This was a success for his hard work over the past weeks.”
It was Brad Potts’s third goal in seven days which got the ball rolling for Barnsley and there was more high-class accomplishment to come in a first-half feast.
The ball broke for Potts, who needed no second invitation to drive forward and fire in a crisp low strike and Dimitri Cavare almost added a second in an on-message opening Reds spell. Luton rallied with a linesman’s flag ruling out a legitimate Collins strike after Jack Walton spilled a shot from Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, with the Reds soon compounding their pains.
A cute flick from Bahre and adeptness and composure from the impressive Moncur set up McGeehan, whose low finish was cool and unerring.
The Hatters, who went close through Sonny Bradley’s header and Jorge Grant’s free-kick, struck back in first-half stoppage-time when Ben Williams, who had a tough first half, tripped Harry Cornick in the box and Collins blasted in the penalty.
Many may have expected it to be the prelude to a testing second half, but the Reds held their nerve and kept their composure.
McGeehan’s far-post header, which clipped the bar, went close to providing a two-goal cushion, which arrived in spectacular fashion late on, thanks to Thiam’s blistering and unstoppable drive.
Collins hooked home a rebound after Kazenga LuaLua’s cross hit the woodwork, but those in red were not to be denied.
In the process, it extended the club’s unbeaten home record at to ten games, with the Reds enjoying their best league start to a season since Allan Clarke’s class of 1978-79.
Expect more fun to be had.