HEAD coach Jose Morais heaped praise on Oli McBurnie after the forward kept Barnsley’s Championship destiny in their own hands with a ‘93rd’ minute equaliser in a thrilling draw with relegation rivals Bolton Wanderers.
Swansea City loanee McBurnie wreaked havoc in the first half of Saturday’s basement battle at Oakwell with the 21-year-old’s efforts leading to the first goal for equally impressive team-mate Gary Gardner.
Barnsley then appeared to be staring at a potentially relegation-damning defeat after Adam Le Fondre’s penalty and Craig Noone’s strike put Bolton 2-1 up with five minutes to go.
Defeat would have left the third-bottom Tykes five points behind fourth-bottom Bolton and facing a return to League One.
But after a much more subdued performance in the second half, McBurnie popped up to head home Kieffer Moore’s corner in the third minute of stoppage-time meaning Barnsley can still decide their own fate with four games remaining.
The Tykes remain in the Championship’s relegation zone, but the Reds are just two points behind Bolton, who have only three games remaining.
Morais was understandably unhappy that referee Michael Jones failed to award his side a penalty in the second half after Moore was hauled to the ground by defender Mark Beevers.
Bolton, on the other hand, were awarded a spot-kick in the 82nd minute after George Moncur had tangled with Will Buckley and Le Fondre stepped up to level.
Matters went from bad to worse for the Reds when Noone’s clinical finish sent the travelling Trotters contingent into raptures.
But McBurnie’s late intervention gave the Tykes a deserved draw and the post-match analysis from Morais was shared between critcism of the display of the match officials and praise for his 21-year-old loanee.
The quality that he has is unbelievable; human qualities and his skills are shining on the pitch also. I love the playerJose Morais on Barnsley’s Oli McBurnie
The Leeds-born forward has been linked with moves to various clubs over the summer, including Leeds United, whose head coach and former Tykes manager Paul Heckingbottom was present at Oakwell ahead of next Saturday’s game between Barnsley and Leeds at Elland Road.
Morais said of McBurnie: “In one way I am happy for him, but in another I am very sad for myself because he is one player that is so valuable and I don’t see any coach with a player of this quality being happy to lose someone like this.
“But I am happy for the coach that will have him as a player because he is not only the player, he is also ‘the man’, ‘the person’ because he is really an extraordinary person and a good team-mate.
“The quality that he has is unbelievable; human qualities and his skills are shining on the pitch also.
“I love the player and I think everybody that knows him loves him also.”
Reflecting on the four-goal thriller and the fact that his side were not awarded a penalty, Morais reasoned: “I have very mixed feelings. We could have won and for some reason we didn’t.
“We can find some reasons and we can blame someone. The referee saw a penalty that was a key moment in terms of the season. In English football so many times we see situations like this when it is not a penalty.”
McBurnie saw two efforts cleared off the line before the ball found its way to Gardner, who hammered home a high shot into the top corner to give the Tykes a 22nd-minute lead.
The visitors pushed hard for an equaliser after the break, but Tykes defender Andy Yiadom cleared off the line from David Wheater and both sides were denied what appeared strong claims for penalties.
But referee Jones pointed to the spot in the 79th minute after George Moncur had tangled with Will Buckley and Le Fondre stepped up to hammer home his spot-kick.
Things went from bad to worse for Barnsley when a quick counter led to the ball being squared for Noone, who lashed home his shot.
But the Tykes would not be denied and McBurnie bagged the leveller by rising to head home Moore’s corner.
Bolton manager Phil Parkinson said: “I’m delighted with the way we responded after going a goal down in a high-pressure game. The response was magnificent in the second half, but we’re very disappointed to concede late in the game.
“What pleased me is the courage we showed when the pressure was on. The bravery to play when the pressure is on is important.
“We put some fresh legs in there second half and I thought they responded well.
“We got a penalty in the end. We got the second goal and we had other chances. All in all we’ve got to make sure this was an important point in our quest for survival. It’s all to play for and it’s difficult to tell what we’ll need. We’ve some massive games left.
“We haven’t spent one single penny and it’s tough. We’ve got real resilience in this group and we’ll keep fighting to the end.”