Verdict (highlights) – Leeds United 2 Barnsley 1: Tom Pearce lights up Elland Road derby

Get in: Tom Pearce is congratulatedc after scoring.Picture: Simon Hulme
Get in: Tom Pearce is congratulatedc after scoring.Picture: Simon Hulme
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THOUGHTS OF this fixture must have stalked Paul Heckingbottom for a good while, so he will be grateful for a sense of closure that the result will have provided.

Late thunderstorms were forecast on Saturday and the atmosphere was torrid among a Barnsley contingent unlikely to forgive or forget. Hell hath no fury like a set of supporters scorned.

The mood music would have been febrile among home fans, too, should Leeds United have dished up another serving of gruel. This, by no means, was an offering full of sustenance, but the value of a win in strained times cannot be overestimated.

Sometimes, you must take what you can get. After all, in the phrase popularised by Mark Twain, there are lies, damned lies and statistics.

When a side that has won twice in 20 competitive fixtures face an opponent who has triumphed twice in the last 17, conviction and assuredness are seen as prized commodities and quality is likely to be at a premium.

So it proved on a late-season afternoon that showcased the failings as opposed to the virtues of both these troubled line-ups towards the tailend of a campaign that has been burdensome in the extreme.

Something, in the end, did give on an occasion that will not live long in the memory, safe for some venomous missives fired from the away contingent in the direction of Heckingbottom – 75 days after he swapped Oakwell for Elland Road – and a wholesome moment to savour for a young man starting out on his professional footballing adventure.

Tom Pearce will forever recall Barnsley with a sense of fondness. On just his third Whites appearance, the left-back, who turned 20 earlier this month, was handed a belated gift.

After seizing upon a loose crossfield pass from Brad Potts, Pearce’s aplomb on 17 minutes on a barren afternoon was striking. After buccaneering forward the defender showed no lack of confidence with his crisp, pinpoint low shot flying between the legs of Matt Mills and past the outstretched arms of Adam Davies.

A forward roll and a beaming smile followed and love was briefly all around most of LS11.

It feels unbelievable to score my first goal for Leeds. Playing for Leeds United is one thing, but to score, I cannot describe it.

Tom Pearce

Relief was the emotion at the final whistle as Leeds – thanks to Gianni Alioski’s strike early in the second half – chiselled out just their third win in 14 matches under Heckingbottom, with most of the dissatisfaction belonging to those in red, yet not exclusively.

On his special moment, Pearce, who has found a home in Leeds after being rejected by Everton at 16, said: “It feels unbelievable to score my first goal for Leeds.

“Playing for Leeds United is one thing, but to score, I cannot describe it. There was space to drive into and you see people shoot from this type of range all the time, so I thought I may as well have a go and luckily it went in.

“The gaffer has given me a lot of confidence. I am made up for him. He has worked so hard on the training pitch, as we all do, and it was a good result.”

Less so for Barnsley on an afternoon that represented an opportunity lost, more especially after ending the first half strongly, and deservedly on level terms.

The equaliser owed much to more fitful Leeds defending with Paudie O’Connor diverting Zeki Fryers’s cross into his own net, with his team-mates not covering themselves in glory in the build-up.

But Barnsley’s drive could not be mistaken and only a wonderful reflex save from Bailey Peacock-Farrell denied Connor Mahoney just before the break after the dancing feet of the winger – who justified his promotion – bewildered the home defence.

Yet, unfortunately for the visitors, old habits die hard.

Five minutes into the second half a rough day for the recalled Mills got a whole lot worse when Kemar Roofe gave him the slip down the left before crossing for Alioski to score from close in.

It made amends for a meek first-half miss with the goal at his mercy. But in keeping with recent character, too, the goal was not the precursor to a composed final 40 minutes for the hosts, who hobbled over the finish line.

Barnsley huffed and puffed. Oli McBurnie’s strike was ruled out for offside, but the offerings were sparse before their one big moment arrived when substitute Kieffer Moore somehow diverted the loose ball wide when it looked easier to score after Adam Hammill’s cross-shot was parried.

The hosts also survived a penalty appeal after Hammill tumbled under pressure from Matthew Pennington, but the visitors’ forays lacked class and authority as an opportunity was passed up.

All roads now lead to the City Ground for the Reds in a must-win fixture tomorrow.

Captain Andy Yiadom observed: “We had a few chances and did not put them away and they had one and put it away and that is it. It is now onto Tuesday and we must get a result.

“We picked up a bit of momentum in the first half, but there is no excuse really.

“We have got to win our games and cannot keep looking at other teams. Every game is now a must-win at this time of the season.”