Barnsley 1 Sheffield United 1: Relief for Reds as Blades are denied by Hourihane

A “roller-coaster ride” was how Conor Hourihane described his day as the Barnsley midfielder went from zero to hero by firing in a dramatic last-gasp equaliser.

Sheffield United's Chris Basham is challenged by barnsley's Conor Hourihane. Basham put Blades ahead but Hourihane scored a late equaliser (Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage).

It seemed as good a description as any of not only the Irishman’s fortunes on a bitterly cold Oakwell afternoon but also those of the Reds and Sheffield United.

Certainly, there were ups and downs aplenty for the two South Yorkshire rivals along with sufficient thrills and spills to keep the 13,571 crowd captivated throughout a hard-fought encounter.

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And, thanks to Barnsley’s equaliser coming with just two of six scheduled stoppage-time minutes remaining, the moods in the respective camps at the final whistle came from either end of the emotional scale as Blades defender John Brayford admitted the draw felt like a defeat and Hourihane spoke of his own huge sense of relief.

Both sentiments were understandable, United having missed several gilt-edged opportunities after going ahead courtesy of Chris Basham and the Reds missing a penalty through Hourihane and striking the woodwork twice before rescuing a point in the most dramatic of circumstances.

“It was, to say the least, an emotional day,” said the 24-year-old after netting his third goal in as many games.

“A real roller-coaster ride with me missing the penalty but then getting the equaliser. For me, it was relief more than anything. Pure relief.

“You try to put missing a penalty to the back of your mind as much as you can but it is hard to do that. It still plays on your mind.

“Missing a penalty in a big game like this and losing 1-0 would have been tough.

“So, when the ball fell nicely for me, it was my one chance to redeem myself. The gods were looking down on me and I was delighted to see it go in.

“An up-and-down day but a good point against a very good team. This football club shouldn’t be where it is but the reality is that we are. So, we have to fight together and push on. Maybe this can be the turning point.”

Hourihane’s strike from 25 yards was worthy of winning any game but, on the balance of play and chances created, a point apiece was a fair reward for two sides who made a mockery of their recent struggles.

United had gone into the derby without a win in five and humbled so horribly on their previous outing at home to Shrewsbury that the players and staff had held an impromptu meeting to thrash out what was going wrong.

Barnsley were in even direr straits, having lost nine of their previous 10 league games to tumble into the relegation zone.

Considering this wretched recent form, those heading to Oakwell on Saturday lunchtime could have been forgiven for believing a nervy, error-ridden 90 minutes lay in store. Such fears proved wide of the mark.

George Long made the derby’s first save of note when keeping out a scuffed effort from Marley Watkins but, in truth, the Blades were full value for a half-time lead provided by Basham’s header.

The midfielder met Bob Harris’s corner sweetly in the 16th minute and came close to repeating the trick shortly before the interval when again picked out by a set-piece that caused panic in the home six-yard area.

Basham should then have doubled United’s advantage soon after the restart but side-footed wide before Barnsley were presented with a wonderful opportunity to level on the hour by a rash sliding challenge from Neill Collins that sent Adam Hammill sprawling.

Hourihane, who had scored from the spot in midweek at Peterborough, duly took the penalty but Long proved equal with a fine one-handed save low to his right.

“Me and the ’keeper were playing a bit of cat and mouse,” said the Barnsley midfielder. “I do go to the other side a lot but, after Tuesday night, I decided to go to the other.

“He had done his homework. Our ’keeper coach said that when we got the penalty their ’keeper was getting out the tactics (sheet) on where I would go. I thought he might just go to the normal way I usually go. But he ‘did’ me.”

As if sparked into life by the let-off, United immediately piled on the pressure and Davies had to react quickly to keep out Billy Sharp and then Matty Done after the Reds had been carved open.

At the other end, Ben Pearson headed against a post and Lewin Nyatanga the crossbar before Hourihane struck in spectacular fashion to ensure the derby finished with honours even.

Brayford, making his first appearance for the Blades this season due to injury, said: “It feels like a loss, the deflation in the dressing room afterwards was unbelievable. Even though we got the same result as Barnsley, they definitely went home a lot happier than us.

“If we could have just held on for another two minutes then our fans would have been buzzing and booming. They didn’t deserve that after what happened the other night (v Shrewsbury).

“A few words were exchanged with each other after the last match because we know it wasn’t good enough if we want to compete at the right end of the table.

“You can’t let people get away with things because, if you do, then you have got a sloppy attitude.

“We just wanted to put a bit of pride back out there. These fans pay a lot of money to come and watch us and they travel all over the country to do that.

“We know what happened against Shrewsbury wasn’t good enough. Against Barnsley, it was an old-school performance – we headed it, kicked it but played some good stuff, too.”