Verdict: Stunning strike from Barnsley's McBurnie quickly quells Sheffield Wednesday's hopes
Given that Barnsley went into Saturday’s derby with a threadbare return of one victory in 16 matches in all competitions and Sheffield Wednesday had triumphed just once in their last 14 league games, a draw between two fragile-looking sides forced to contend with some severe disruption along the way was not the biggest surprise in the world.
Perhaps, the one surprise – and a pleasant one at that – was that Saturday’s contest was highly watchable for an hour or so before both sides, perhaps unnerved by the fact that one mistake might decide the outcome and add to their pains, were pragmatic in the final quarter and settled for a point.
Given their scarcely believable injury travails, Wednesday – who fielded a central midfielder in David Jones in the middle of a back three – had cause to be more satisfied at the outcome, even if Jos Luhukay is still waiting for his first league win after five Championship matches in charge.
But for Barnsley, there was perhaps a touch more hope down the line.
It arrived chiefly through the effervescent display of full debutant Oli McBurnie.
His fine equaliser to cancel out Atdhe Nuhiu’s controversial 17th-minute penalty will live long in the memory, with his unquenchable spirit, adept movement and link-up play also proving compelling.
Mention of Leeds in the week that saw Paul Heckingbottom head to Elland Road may have drawn a few dark looks from the Reds faithful.
But McBurnie, a Loiner by birth, could come to represent the club’s best hope of survival following an afternoon when they dropped into the bottom three.
With his crew cut and his socks rolled down, loanee McBurnie has the look of a rebel. A rebel with a cause, namely saving Barnsley from the drop after red tape infamously scuppered his hopes of signing at the end of the summer transfer deadline.
On his home bow, McBurnie said: “It has been a long time coming. It was nice to finally get out there at Oakwell and get the goal. It was a good performance by the boys; we were a little bit unlucky not to get the three points.
“After the goal, I lost my head a little bit with the celebration into the fans and I had to control myself a bit.”
On making up for lost time at Barnsley, he added: “It was a bit disappointing at the time.
“But I have played a few games and made my full debut in the Premier League (for Swansea), so I would not have done it otherwise. It has probably benefitted me.
“I am a cup is half-full kind of guy and hopefully it will do me well in the long term and I can get a real run going this season now.”
McBurnie’s slalom run that ended with a classy low finish helped steal the thunder of Wednesdayites still basking in the glow of seeing their side score on the road in the league for the first time since Boxing Day.
It came after Lucas Joao gave Andy Yiadom the slip following a superb probing pass from Ross Wallace and, after the Owls striker went down following slight contact, Lee Probert pointed to the spot before being surrounded by incandescent home players.
Nuhiu did not pass up the gift and fired home his fourth goal of 2018 ahead of an exuberant celebration with the away gathering, but it was soon McBurnie celebrating with an adoring audience after a magical leveller.
Barnsley had the better of the opening hour, but they found ex-loanee Joe Wildsmith in impressive form, with his standout save arriving when he showed tremendous agility to tip over Tom Bradshaw’s instinctive 33th-minute volley.
Wednesday had one or two fleeting moments, especially well into the second half, but were fortunate to escape when Probert ignored strident penalty appeals after Adam Hammill tumbled under pressure from David Jones.
The post-match view of caretaker head coach Paul Harsley was a valid one in that he felt if the incident with Joao constituted a penalty, surely the one with Hammill did too.
Offering an Owls take, Nuhiu, one of the few senior men in a line-up devoid of nearly all of last season’s big-hitters, said: “Overall it was a fair point for both sides.
“Sometimes when you are in these kind of situations, not everything goes your way. The important thing is that we stay all together and I am sure we will be moving forward soon.
“In this game I did not see one player who was hiding or scared. I am proud of everyone and the fans are behind us because they can see we were trying.
“The last two seasons everything has been brilliant, but now this season, it has not gone our way.
“Football is not easy. Hull City and Sunderland came from the Premier League and are in the bottom three or next to it.”