FORGET Black Friday, all Middlesbrough and Barnsley were interested in was avoiding their own version of Black Wednesday.
Ensuring against a further devaluation of their diminished Championship credit rating, as opposed to a financial crisis of that very name in 1992, was the overriding concern of both ahead of a fixture of immense importance – one which will have been circled in red ink and marked urgent for several weeks.
It was a game when only the result truly mattered, with Jonathan Woodgate not shying away from the fact after simply labelling it as ‘must win’.
The Boro chief may have praised supporters for their ‘super-patience’ ahead of the game, but he will have known that patience may have just snapped if bottom-placed Barnsley had taken home three points. On a night when the rain lashed down for long spells, unsurprisingly it was a mistake that settled it and it will sadly not constitute a further shock that it arrived from the Barnsley backline with a penchant for bearing gifts.
After the morale-boost of a first-half clean sheet, the visitors – and more especially Dimitri Cavare – erred in allowing Marcus Tavernier to get away down the right and his centre was converted by Ashley Fletcher.
Fondly remembered for his part in the Wembley double season in 2015-16, ex-Oakwell loanee Fletcher had the good grace not to celebrate his strike, out of respect for his former club after netting for the second time in successive home matches. But there was no underlining its value on a tense occasion as Boro ended a debilitating ten-match winless sequence to move out of the drop zone and intensify the pain for Barnsley, now 17 matches without a league success.
Pockets of surface water made the pitch a treacherous one to negotiate, with both sets of players having trouble keeping their feet.Leon Wobschall
It was far from convincing from the hosts, but it had one redeeming feature on a night when both sides showed why they are slugging it out at the wrong end of the table. Somewhat fittingly in the circumstances, it was atrocious weather which greeted the two sides currently in possession of the roughest form in the Championship.
Pockets of surface water made the pitch a treacherous one to negotiate, with both sets of players having trouble keeping their feet, with the incessant rain, which worsened on the stroke of half-time, offering no respite.
It made intricate football difficult, but most of the adeptness on show came from the visitors in the first period, with some good situations carved out down both flanks.
A couple of alarms at the other end aside, there was not too many issues for Barnsley’s under-fire backline either, although they did require one outstanding goalline block from Ben Williams to prevent Britt Assombalonga’s early shot from going in.
Another hairy moment saw Cavare’s flicked header flash just wide of his own net ahead of the break following an inswinging corner, but by and large, the defensive application was an upgrade on recent times.
Going forward, Gerhard Struber’s decision to go for a 4-2-3-1, with Cauley Woodrow through the middle, with the recalled Luke Thomas just behind and Conor Chaplin and Jacob Brown operating on the flanks was vindicated.
Boro, by contrast, struggled for fluency and failed to hit anywhere near the heights of their fine first-half display against Hull, despite an eventful opening.
Jonathan Howson got in the way of a goalbound strike from Brown before a fine double block from Lewis Wing and Howson thwarted Thomas and Chaplin respectively after consternation reigned with Aynsley Pears – in for the injured Darren Randolph – spilled a low cross from Cavare.
Assombalonga was then left to curse Williams’ intervention in an open first 15 minutes before Mike Bahre shot straight at Pears when well placed – while soon after, Boro were indebted to a solid block by Daniel Ayala to deny Thomas.
It was Barnsley’s half and they went desperately close to taking the lead when Brown’s long-ranger clipped the crossbar – and unfortunately they were soon left to rue developments.
Tavernier cashed in on hesitancy from Cavare and his low centre found Fletcher in front of goal and he just about kept his feet to round Radlinger and Andersen, who both seemed to slip, before slotting into the empty net. It represented another lamentable moment in a litany of poor concessions from Barnsley so far this term.
A chance to seal it then eluded Boro when a rebound went begging after Radlinger blocked Assombalonga’s effort and they were almost punished when a cross-shot from Alex Mowatt almost crept in.
From the corner, Barnsley were caught upfield with Radlinger getting an important saving touch to an effort from Hayden Coulson, who had sprinted clear before showing his mettle in quick succession to frustrate Assombalonga and Tavernier.
Middlesbrough: Pears; Dijksteel (Bola 22), Howson, Ayala, Fry, Coulson; Wing; McNair (Clayton 78), Tavernier, Fletcher, Assombalonga. Unused substitutes: Mejias, Wood, O’Neill, Liddle, Hackney.
Barnsley: Radlinger, Cavare, Andersen, Diaby, B Williams; Bahre (McGeehan 69), Mowatt; Brown, Woodrow, Thomas (Schmidt 73); Chaplin. Unused substitutes: J Williams, Dougall, Sibbick, Oduor, Collins.
Referee: O Langford (West Midlands).