Bournemouth moved to the top of the Championship with an emphatic win away at Barnsley.
Phil Billing opened the scoring with an exceptional early strike and Dominic Solanke doubled the lead with the final action of the first half.
The visitors’ advantage was pressed home after the break, with Diego Rico scoring his first goal for the club with a free kick before Sam Surridge finished off the rout.
Story of the match
Bournemouth set out their intentions early with a fast start on a wet, chilly evening at Oakwell, looking to avenge just a second defeat of the season three days earlier to Preston North End.
Barnsley goalkeeper Jack Walton almost gifted them the lead within two minutes after calling for a ball that he didn’t reach, with Surridge beating him to it on his return to the starting line-up but failing to squeeze it into the open goal.
The hosts were looking shaky at the back as Billing, another returnee, played Solanke through too easily, and they were indebted to a brilliant covering block by Michael Sollbauer. The striker quickly had another chance as Surridge lifted the ball to the back post, but he headed wide.
Eventually Jason Tindall’s side made the breakthrough. Adam Smith played a one-two with David Brooks and passed inside to Billing, who set himself well to pull a crisp shot into the bottom corner.
Barnsley were given the chance to battle their way into the contest, and for a good period of the first half they were on top, just lacking the final ball or touch. No better was that exemplified than when Conor Chaplin’s exceptional ball across the area was missed by all of the attackers, with Michal Helik prodding it back at the far post only for Mads Andersen to fail in twisting it in.
Having failed to make the most of that bright spell, they were punished cruelly in the final action of the half. Lewis Cook’s pressure on Cauley Woodrow saw a loose ball run which Helik was beaten to by Solanke, who produced a clinical finish at Walton's near post.
The timing of that goal looked decisive for the course of the match, and if there was any doubt about the result it was made certain seven minutes into the second half. Rico hadn’t scored in 59 appearances for Bournemouth having joined in 2018, and he finally got off the mark in style with a great free kick. From such a wide position on the right that everyone was expecting a cross, Rico stepped up and caught out Walton at his front post with a great strike.
With only pride to play for, Valerien Ismael’s outfit made some positive strides with Woodrow forcing a first real save from Asmir Begovic and Luke Thomas unlucky to curl an effort wide, but it was not to be their day and the final goal would be another picked out of the home net.
It came from a Herbie Kane error, misplacing a pass straight into the path of Surridge. The striker aimed his shot close to Walton and it should have been kept out, but it slipped through his hands and trickled painfully behind the line.
Cherries clever and clinical
Bournemouth gave further indications of their serious promotion credentials with this win, which highlighted not only the depth of their attacking quality but the smarts of their rookie manager.
Tindall responded to what he knew, as Watford and others had already discovered, is a difficult challenge against Ismael’s Barnsley with a change of formation, returning to a back three to mirror the structure of their hosts.
They showed a far superior attacking threat from the start, catching Barnsley out with early balls in behind their wing-backs while they were still pushed up. With their own wing-backs combining with the midfielder and forward in those spaces, they exposed the Reds time and again and an opening goal became inevitable.
Bournemouth couldn’t be so dangerous for 90 minutes but they could be very clinical, as Solanke was in taking his chance after good pressure forced the second goal, while strike partner Surridge gratefully received his early Christmas gifts for the final one.
Now joint-highest scorers in the Championship alongside Blackburn Rovers, they have netted two or more goals in each of their past seven games. With the attacking talent in their ranks – they’re still missing Arnaut Danjuma and Josh King too – there is no reason why they can’t maintain their frightening form in front of goal.
Barnsley off pace
Such a scoreline always leaves a nasty taste in the mouth, and Barnsley will know that this one was in many ways their own undoing.
This is a good team under their new coach Ismael, no doubt. But they were just a fraction off their thrillingly high-tempo best here, and that’s enough to be badly exposed against a team of Bournemouth’s quality.
Without the luxury of being able to make a fistful of changes between matches, physical and mental fatigue undoubtedly played a role in being off the pace having navigated three matches in the space of six days with only one change made to the starting line-up across the whole trilogy.
The hard-worked forwards lacked the sharpness to get on the end of some very promising deliveries, while at the back they gifted two of their goals through sloppy play, first from Woodrow carrying the ball out in dangerous territory and being dispossessed, and then Kane misplacing his pass. It also wasn’t a good night for goalkeeper Walton, who didn’t cover himself in glory for either of those.
The upside of the Friday scheduling is that Barnsley have the rare luxury of a five-day gap between fixtures, with a key game to come on Wednesday when Wycombe Wanderers visit Oakwell. That will begin another hectic period of matches, and they will need to be much fresher for it.
Man of the match: Dominic Solanke (Bournemouth)
The former Chelsea and Liverpool forward has been slowly growing into this make-or-break season and he delivered a decisive performance here, making the most of almost every ball he got to create scoring opportunities and scoring an important one right on half-time.