Port Vale 0 Barnsley 1: Reds keep it clean once again to maintain their play-off bid

BARNSLEY will head to Wembley this weekend safe in the knowledge that their play-off push is in rude health.

Barnsley's Conor Hourihane.

Yesterday’s hard-fought victory at Port Vale means the Reds have taken 23 points from 11 league outings during the eight or so weeks since booking that Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final date with Oxford United.

Such an impressive haul might not be enough to leave Paul Heckingbottom’s men occupying a place in the top six right now thanks, in the main, to Bradford City’s own 1-0 triumph at Crewe Alexandra.

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But there can be no denying their promotion pedigree, especially after the manner in which they ground out the three points at the home of a major play-off rival when far from at their best.

Conor Hourihane may have netted the game’s only goal on nine minutes but the lion’s share of the chances fell to the home side.

Despite that, the Reds were able to claim a 10th clean sheet of 2016 and maintain the pressure on their rivals.

No wonder ‘que sera sera’ and ‘going to Wembley twice’ could be heard being belted out by the 854 Reds fans at the final whistle as they eye a return for the play-off final on May 29 to go with Sunday’s final against Oxford.

Heckingbottom said: “It was a great result and great to get four points from two games over Easter. But we know we can play a lot better than that.

“We are trying to claw back those teams ahead of us. We are not just chasing sixth. So, it was a big result and now the focus can change (to the JPT).”

The ‘Wembley of the North’ was the rather grandiose title bestowed on Vale Park by those behind its construction in the late 1940s.

Those boasts didn’t last too long thanks to those original plans of an 80,000 capacity stadium having to be scaled back considerably.

Nevertheless, perhaps it was fitting that Barnsley’s final warm-up for Sunday’s visit to the real thing should come at a previous pretender to the mantle of national stadium.

The Reds taking just nine minutes to go ahead suggested Burslem was, indeed, to their liking. Hourihane was the man who did the honours, his curled free-kick from wide on the right flank evading a scrum of players plus Vale goalkeeper Jak Alnwick to find the corner of the net.

That, though, was not the main talking point for the 4,839 crowd. Instead, the couple of minutes in between the free-kick that Hourihane expertly capitalised upon being awarded and the goal going in had seen the locals grow gradually more irate.

First, Richard Duffy hit the floor with several of his team-mates forcibly suggestíng Ivan Toney had been responsible. The Barnsley loanee, for his part, was limping heavily and pointing to the back of his leg, intimating that he was the wronged party in whatever had gone on.

Referee Scott Duncan consulted with his linesman but neither had clearly seen anything remiss, much to the fury of both the home players and supporters.

Those feelings merely grew further when Hourihane’s quick free-kick to Toney was pulled back by Duncan just as Vale had reclaimed possession, the official indicating he had not yet blown for the kick to be taken.

Vale left-back Carl Dickinson took this particularly badly and was booked for his troubles after aiming a tirade at the referee.

The final insult for the hosts then came once Duncan had indicated he was ready for the free-kick to be taken as Hourihane deceived everyone.

Adam Hammill followed this with a rasping drive that flew straight into the hands of Alnwick but, in truth, it was the hosts who had the best of the other chances in the first half.

Adam Davies had to get down smartly to keep out Ajay Leitch-Smith following neat approach play before a quite sublime lofted pass from Anthony Grant opened up the Reds defence.

It left Leitch-Smith with a clear run on goal but, with just Davies to beat, he scuffed his shot straight into the hands of the relieved goalkeeper.

The second half saw Barnsley go close through Hammill with a trademark cut inside from the left and shot that flew just inches wide of the post.

But, in truth, the second 45 minutes saw the Reds, by sitting too deep, come under big pressure from a Vale side that knew only victory would realistically be enough to maintain their own hopes of a play-off push.

Louis Dodds squandered an excellent opportunity when well placed before Sam Foley made a hash of converting a Ben Purkiss cross. Dodds then had another late shooting chance but was again crowded out before Duffy fired wide from three yards out when picked out by Foley.

Theo Robinson had a late chance but his shot was deflected behind for a corner to earn Barnsley a precious victory.

Port Vale: Alnwick; Purkiss, Inniss (Kelly 75), Duffy, Dickinson, Dodds; O’Connor (Brown 58), Grant, Foley, Hooper (Robinson 58), Leith-Smith. Unused substitutes: Boot,. McGivern, Kennedy, Moore.

Barnsley: Davies; Williams, Roberts, Mawson, White; Scowen, Brownhill, Hourihane, Hammill; Fletcher, Toney (Tuton 62). Unused substitutes: Bree, Townsend, Khan, Nyatanga, McCourt, Chapman.

Referee: S Duncan (Northumberland).