BLOODIED but unbowed and back in the top two – that is Barnsley and head coach Daniel Stendel.
However, a dramatic day in the League One promotion race was overshadowed by events in the tunnel at Oakwell.
Reds chief Stendel was left with blood pouring from his face after an alleged assault by Fleetwood manager Joey Barton.
The one-cap former England international was prevented by police from being driven away from the scene and could also be in trouble with the football authorities if he is found guilty of the alleged attack.
Both clubs initially attempted a media blackout after the 4-2 win for the Reds but Barnsley duo Cauley Woodrow and Dimitri Cavare (in French) commented on the incident before their tweets were taken down.
Barnsley did later confirm an incident had taken place – “the club is assisting the police with its enquiries and, as a result, we are not in a position to make any further comment at this time” – while the visitors finally made a statement yesterday saying: “Fleetwood Town have been made aware of an alleged incident following Saturday’s game against Barnsley. We are currently establishing the facts and will not make any further comment at this time.”
English Football League chief executive Shaun Harvey, however, yesterday vowed they will help to investigate the matter.
Harvey said: “As an off-the-field matter, the tunnel is still in the domain of the referee but we will work closely with everybody to ensure it’s not a case of who deals with the matter but actually the matter is dealt with properly.
“I was told of the incident which has generally been described by others but ultimately there’s no doubt, while everything is alleged, a very unseemly incident would appear to have taken place and it needs to be dealt with swiftly and properly.
“The police investigation is ongoing so we need to leave the details for them to deal with.”
On Saturday, press were ushered away from behind the North stand as they waited for Fleetwood players and officials to board their coach but, by then, police had spoken to Barton, who was allowed to leave with Fleetwood chief executive Steve Curwood.
South Yorkshire Police said in a statement: “We are aware of something that has taken place in the tunnel after the game and we are investigating.”
It is understood they will speak to Barton again this week as part of a voluntary interview.
Fleetwood staff had been unhappy with Barnsley’s media department videoing the after-match scenes in front of the dugout – something they generally do – but the alleged attack which left Stendel requiring medical attention happened up the tunnel on the way back to the dressing rooms.
The Barnsley chief had recovered sufficiently to respond to messages from fans regarding his health by tweeting: “Thank you for your incredible support, we won this together. Four big games to go.”
Rather than his own injury, Stendel will probably be more concerned about a knee problem suffered in training which left him without key defender Liam Lindsay.
With no after-match interviews allowed – against EFL regulations – it is difficult to assess how long Lindsay will be out of action but the signs are not good ahead of the crucial run-in.
However, the Reds still had enough in them to return to the second automatic promotion spot, five points behind leaders Luton.
Victory left the Reds two points clear of third-placed Sunderland, who suffered a dramatic 5-4 home defeat to Coventry City.
Sunderland are tied on 80 points by their EFL Trophy final conquerors Portsmouth and both clubs have a game in hand on Barnsley, who stretched their unbeaten home league run to 25 matches.
Adam Jackson stepped into the Barnsley breach alongside Ethan Pinnock and was at his best as the visitors threw men into the penalty area in a bid to overcome the straight red card for centre-back Harry Souttar, who caught Cameron McGeehan in the face as he led with his arm in an aerial challenge in the 65th minute.
McGeehan took swift revenge in a commanding 50th appearance for the Reds, nodding home to make it 3-1 from Mamdou Thiam’s chipped return pass five minutes later and though Wes Burns headed home to make it 3-2, Jacob Brown’s instep volleyed goal from Alex Mowatt’s delightfull angled cross made the points safe.
Recalled Mike Bahre had knocked in the opener from Brown’s driven cross midway through the first half and Woodrow had fired home the second and his 17th in 32 matches before the break after McGeehan’s shot had looped off a defender into his path.
Sheffield United loanee and Fleetwood captain Ched Evans converted from Souttar’s head down from a corner but, a minute later, the defender’s rash challenge left Fleetwood with too much to do, though it took two great saves from Barnsley captain Adam Davies to keep them at bay.
Barnsley: Davies, J Williams, Jackson, Pinnock, Pinillos; Brown (Green 86), McGeehan, Mowatt; Bahre (Styles 72), Woodrow, Thiam (Hedges 83). Unused substitutes: Walton, Fryers, Cavare, Adeboyejo.
Fleetwood Town: Cairns, Eastham, Souttar, Husband; Burns, Wallace (Madden 60), Sheron, Coyle, Hunter (Biggins 72); Evans, Nadesan (Baggley 89). Unused substitutes: Jones, Southam-Hales, Rydel, Smith.
Referee: S Stocksbridge (Tyne & Wear).