When it comes to football, there have been no laughs for Barnsley’s followers in 2021-22 either – a joyless season which most want to be annulled.
A year of two halves ended in sullen fashion from a Reds side without an away win since April against the league’s form side who also boasted the best home statistics in the division.
Barnsley have taken 14 points in a miserable campaign which is only heading one way at the minute. Compare and contrast to last term. In the second half of February, they pocketed 15 points amid their joyride to the play-offs.
Something special transpired to enable the Reds to finish in the top six in 20-21. It will take something just as memorable to retain their Championship status.
More especially with January now in full view and the smart money being on some key departures. One potential one in Michal Helik went off with injury in the second period. Another in Cauley Woodrow is also currently on the sidelines.
The closeness of this scoreline may have suggested a contest. Do not be fooled.
Rovers won it thanks to a clinical 20th goal of the season from Ben Brereton-Diaz – after Carlton Morris had threatened to spoil the party with a leveller moments before the break.
Brereton-Diaz’s goal tally is four more than Barnsley have collectively managed in the league this term.
Yet the Reds’ issues are not exclusively in the goalscoring department. They are most manifest in a midfield which is simply not strong and experienced enough to compete and survive at this level. It always had the makings of a long night, with a breakaway ‘goal’ inside the first minute from Reda Khadra – ruled out for an early infringement – reinforcing that very fact.
Barnsley did, briefly, settle and a polished move which ended with Callum Styles testing the reactions of Thomas Kaminski with a well-placed curler even hinted at an opener.
Unfortunately, some sloppiness in midfield soon revived Rovers and an inevitable opener arrived as a pumped-up home contingent sensed blood.
The chasm in form and confidence between sides at opposite ends of the table was discernible for the rest of the half, but with a shock twist which few saw coming when Morris struck a leveller in front of the stunned and disbelieving Blackburn End.
The striker’s low drive took a deflection off Ryan Nyambe and hit the inside of the far post before creeping over the line.
In the second half of the opening 45 minutes, Rovers had cut through the visitors midfield too easily, encouraged by the Reds coughing up possession and looking vulnerable to the press.
Joe Rothwell and John Buckley, quality operators abundant with clever close control and instinctive in their movement, enjoyed a feast with a warning from the former, who struck the post following a silky move on the left, not heeded.
Buckley seized upon loose play from Aaron Leya Iseka and Josh Benson, only to fire wide. But he soon redeemed himself when he set up Rothwell for an opener after a faux pas from Romal Palmer.
A second should have arrived for Brereton-Diaz, denied a tap-in by a brilliant piece of backtracking defending by Styles before Brad Collins then thwarted the Rovers’ goal machine as the onslaught continued. Then came the sting from Morris but good sides don’t panic and Rovers didn’t.
They continued to create major disorder on the counter. A last-ditch block from Helik got in the way of Brereton-Diaz’s drive.
The Chilean international, as many suspected, had his moment effectively. Soon after Helik had exited, he got clear down the right and his deadly low finish restored Rovers’ lead.
Collins thwarted Sam Gallagher at the death and Brereton-Diaz missed a sitter as Rovers fans sung about returning to the Premier League.
Sadly, their Reds counterparts are starting to envisage a return to familiar ground themselves in League One, sadly.
Blackburn Rovers: Kaminski; Lenihan, Van Hecke, Wharton; Nyambe, Travis, Rothwell (Dolan 85), Pickering; Buckley (Edun 85); Khadra (Gallagher 64), Brereton-Diaz. Unused substitutes: Pears, Johnson, Ayala, Clarkson.
Barnsley: Collins; Brittain, Helik (Moon 62), Andersen; Kitching; Palmer, Benson, Oduor (Adeboyejo 71), Styles, Morris; Iseka (Cole 71). Unused substitutes: Walton, J Williams, Gomes, Vita.
Referee: D Whitestone (Northants).