FOR TEAMS who are fighting for their lives at the bottom end of the table, football at this time of year can sometimes be cruel.
A heartening performance, brimful of soul and desire and light years away from some of their meek offerings this season, saw Barnsley perched tantalisingly on the cusp of avoiding entering the club record books for recording a 12th successive home league game without a victory.
More importantly, a first win in six matches and maiden success at Oakwell under head coach Jose Morais beckoned as the beleaguered Portuguese, towards the end of a tough week, spied a cherished survival lifeline in the Reds’ grim battle against the drop.
Morais spoke of “believing in miracles” ahead of the game and professed faith in the Reds’ achieving their safety quest. But Good Friday events were unkind as ex-Reds loanee Josh Brownhill earned play-off chasing Bristol City a scarcely deserved point.
Much earlier the maxim that luck tends not to favour sides in trouble arrived in the sight of Robins’ captain Bailey Wright being fortunate to escape with just an early caution after catching Moore with a crude challenge as he bore down on goal.
This was compounded by the late twist, with the emotions of several of Barnsley’s shattered players summed up at the final whistle when they left the pitch with their heads in their hands.
The genuinely warm applause from home supporters said everything about a performance that saw those in red leave nothing in the tank, but how they would have prefered an ovation heralding a relieving victory.
Ahead of the game it was hard to know what quite to expect in a week that had seen reports emerge of players meeting to discuss dissatisfaction with the tactics employed by Morais.
Social media rumours prior to yesterday’s match were also awash with rumours that goalkeeper Nick Townsend had been involved in an altercation with a team-mate in training, with Morais confirming that the Reds player had missed yesterday’s game with a finger injury.
It made the build-up far from ideal with the Reds’ feeble display in their previous home match against Millwall further indicating the hosts would face a serious test of their character.
That Barnsley delivered a display of togetherness and passion was a significant step in the right way, although the sight of old habits dying hard in the hosts failing to see out the game and conceding a poor equaliser when Brownhill’s looping header beat Adam Davies was rather more unwelcome.
Spurning chances to provide themselves with a comfortable buffer on an afternoon when the visitors were ultimately far more clinical also told a bit of a story.
The hope was at least provided by several in red jerseys, ably led from the front by Moore who emerged from McBurnie’s shadow, scoring one goal and setting up another on an afternoon when he worked himself to a standstill.
He left the field with cramp at the end although on another day he could have easily departed the ground with the matchball.
Several others were not too far behind, which made the result even more gut-wrenching as this Oakwell fixture ended with a side scoring a stoppage-time goal in a 2-2 draw for the second successive season.
A pulsating afternoon began when Barnsley provided themselves a cherished breakthrough through Moore, who headed home George Moncur’s eighth-minute corner shortly after Wright escaped a red card.
Sent clear by McBurnie, Moore soon passed up a chance for a second when he fired straight at Fielding as the hosts caught the eye.
A wholly committed first-half display shy in neither belief or hunger provided solace, even if Barnsley’s inability to conjure a second goal struck again with a moment of quality just after the half-hour mark from Famara Diedhiou ensured the half ended level.
The £5.3m striker, who scored in the reverse fixture at Ashton Gate, produced a stunning strike on 31 minutes, cutting inside down the left channel following Marlon Pack’s pass before unleashing an unstoppable rising angled drive, which flew past Davies.
The Reds regrouped and, just before the break, McBurnie headed straight at Fielding before Potts spurned a golden chance early in the second half having been picked out by a radar-like cross from the impressive Moncur, who justified his recall.
A quick break upfield then saw Moncur pick out Moore, who was thwarted by Fielding, who then grasped a header from the resulting corner from the striker.
Barnsley refused to lose heart and got their reward when substitute Joe Williams supplied Moore, whose clever pull-back found the lurking Brad Potts. He picked an opportune moment to confidently fire in his first goal at Oakwell 12 minutes from time.
It looked like yielding a win only for Brownhill, thwarted by a fine Adam Jackson tackle in the first half, to break home hearts by heading in Joe Bryan’s centre in stoppage-time.
Barnsley: Davies; Yiadom, Jackson, Lindsay, Fryers; Potts, Gardner, Moncur (Williams 60); Isgrove (Hammill 60), Moore, (McCarthy 88) McBurnie. Unused substitutes: Walton, Bradshaw, Pinnock, Mahoney.
Bristol City: Fielding; Pisano, Wright, Baker; Bryan, Brownhill, Pack (Djuric 76), Smith, Paterson (Kent 64); Diédhiou, Reid. Unused substitutes: Steele, Hegeler, Kelly, Walsh, Diony.
Referee: D Webb (Co.Durham).