Big-match verdict: '˜Rimmo' would have been proud of resilient display from Barnsley

SOMEWHERE up in the celestial heavens, a sage man from Staincross would have nodded his head in approval.

Marc Roberts was sent off as Barnsley drew 2-2 with Birmingham ( Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe).

On a day when Barnsley remembered their very finest – at the end of a vintage life in a vintage year – it was somewhat fitting that ‘Rimmo’s Reds’ passed muster and displayed their redoubtable credentials amid adversity in exemplary fashion.

Norman Rimmington, who died last week, would have enjoyed that.

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Having seen a two-goal lead slip, with the added blow of also seeing a pit prop of a centre-half dismissed early in the second half, Barnsley were firmly up against it and faced with an exhaustive shift at the Championship coalface.

Marc Roberts was sent off as Barnsley drew 2-2 with Birmingham ( Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe).

But given the riveting events of 2016 and their seemingly endless capacity to enthral, only a fool would have written them off.

The Reds let down no one and the only thing missing on the day was a famous winner. Although it was not for the want of trying on a day when Oakwell celebrated the life of ‘Rimmo’ – a life less ordinary.

Young defender James Bree said: “We all worked hard and didn’t leave anything on the field and that was always something he wanted us to do – work our socks off, and we did that for him.

“Norman was a quality guy and used to say, ‘well done, you have played well’. But he always told you the truth on how you played, didn’t he? We will all miss him.

Marc Roberts was sent off as Barnsley drew 2-2 with Birmingham ( Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe).

“A few of the lads were quite close to him and spent quite a bit of time with him. He was always sat in the kit room and told a few stories to the lads.

“Sam (Winnall) was one who spoke to him quite a lot and we will all remember him.”

The club anthem of opponents Birmingham may have be Keep Right On To The End Of The Road, but on the day, that song title was more appropriate to Barnsley, who dug deep to chisel out a richly-deserved point to extend their solid sequence – they have been beaten just twice in their past 10 outings.

No victory, but still an apt way to finish a magical 12 months. 2016 for Barnsley Football Club, to quote Frank Sinatra, was a very good year.

Half-an-hour in and it had all the makings of a straightforward and comfortable afternoon and another noteworthy chapter in the Reds’ stirring journey.

Quickfire goals from Tom Bradshaw and Winnall looked like piling on more woe for Blues boss Gianfranco Zola – with a brief chorus of ‘There’s only one Gary Rowett’ emanating from the visitors’ end hinting at a sense of disquiet.

But Jacques Maghoma’s 33rd-minute strike gave the visitors hope before Marc Roberts’s dismissal in the 51st minute for bringing down Che Adams as he bore down on goal preceded an emphatic penalty from interval substitute Lukas Jutkiewicz to firmly change the complexion of the game.

Much of the earlier first-half evidence showcased two well-matched sides where it was easy to see why they resided next to each other in the Championship table.

But the opening gambit came from Barnsley, with a surging run from Marley Watkins – one of the quiet stars of the club’s accomplished first half of the season – ending in him picking out Bradshaw, who coolly fired low past Tomasz Kuszczak on 24 minutes for an excellent opener.

Blues blinked again just before the half-hour, in a moment which offered a rewind to Barnsley’s recent away success at St Andrews.

Atrocious defending afforded Winnall a free header from Conor Hourihane’s inswinging corner, with the Reds’ top-scorer not about to pass up a free gift, heading home clinically to follow up his two goals from set-pieces in the 3-0 victory in Birmingham exactly four weeks earlier. It was his fourth goal in three matches and sixth in December.

But Maghoma’s low strike soon after, following Adams’s assist, made it a contest once more and Jutkiewicz’s arrival early in the second period, allied to Roberts’s red card, seemingly pointed to only one thing – a fourth successive Blues’ victory at Oakwell.

In the event, it was 10-man Barnsley who went closest to a winner.

Winnall saw a header spectacularly tipped over by Kuszczak and then planted another wide following Josh Scowen’s fine centre – on an afternoon when the Midlander could easily have taken home the match-ball.

Blues had their moments, too, with Jonathan Spector spurning a presentable chance before substitute David Cotterill saw his well-flighted free-kick drift inches wide.

A couple of scares were also afforded Paul Heckingbottom’s side deep into the second half.

But the Reds held firm. No 29th win of 2016, but another performance of character and substance.

‘Rimmo’ would have been proud.