Barnsley finally ended their Sheffield Wednesday hoodoo as they defeated their South Yorkshire rivals for the first time in 13 attempts.
Their last victory in this fixture came back in 2009, and despite being the form team coming into the fixture, the curse looked like striking again when Josh Windass put the home side ahead after only four minutes.
But Barnsley battled back, with Cauley Woodrow and Dominik Frieser turning the match around to lead at the break.
Wednesday flexed their attacking muscles after the break and a Joey Pelupessy strike was denied by both the crossbar and the post, but they couldn’t find the leveller as Tony Pulis’ winless start as manager stretched to seven matches.
Story of the match
Wednesday were given a significant boost by the appearance of Chey Dunkley, making his long-awaited debut for the club. The defender had been sidelined since February with a double leg break suffered while at previous club Wigan Athletic.
Things were even rosier within four minutes of the kick-off, with only the fourth goal of the Pulis era. Barry Bannan’s lofted pass over the defence invited Jack Walton to attempt a clearance just outside his area, but he missed the kick and Windass gratefully tapped in.
The lead would last only 10 minutes though, as another goalkeeping error brought Barnsley level. Joe Wildsmith got a very weak glove on a Matty James corner to his near post, allowing Woodrow to nod in the simplest of his eight goals so far of the season.
The match was an end-to-end affair with both teams looking to move the ball forward quickly, but neither were too productive in terms of creating goalscoring chances. Barnsley were doing the best in that endeavour, though Mads Andersen couldn’t head an Alex Mowatt free kick towards goal.
When their passing finally joined up successfully, it resulted in a delightful goal. Callum Brittain found Conor Chaplin and he produced an outstanding pass to play in Frieser who, on his return to the starting line-up, produced a very composed finish past Wildsmith.
Pulis had seen enough and changed approach at the break, switching from the usual conservative 4-5-1 to a 3-5-2, and it made an immediate impact on the game with Kadeem Harris a livewire up front, leading a pressing charge that unsettled their opponents and put themselves on the front foot.
Walton made two good saves to deny drives from Harris and re-enthused striker Windass, while skipper Bannan blasted over from the edge of the box.
Now it was Barnsley whose attacks were only fleeting, with Chaplin denied a goal by the offside flag and Woodrow’s shot in anger beaten away by Wildsmith. They did fashion one big chance, mind, when Callum Styles combined with Luke Thomas to end up in a brilliant position only to blaze over the bar.
That was the best chance of the half for either side up to then, but Wednesday would soon outdo them by going about as close to scoring as is physically possible without actually doing so. Pelupessy launched a strike from 25 yards which cannoned off the bar, down onto the back of Walton, onto the post, and somehow not into the net.
Perhaps at that point, Barnsley could finally believe there was no such curse. Despite heavy pressure and a Jordan Rhodes penalty appeal, they held on for a seventh win in 11 matches under Valerien Ismael, and surely the sweetest yet.
Dunkley will now be huge
Dunkley’s surprise inclusion on the teamsheet was hugely significant, marking a first appearance in an Owls shirt at long last following his horror injury
After full-time, the centre-back’s long-awaited debut looked even more important, after the huge blow suffered to fellow defender Dominic Iorfa.
Iorfa had to be withdrawn in the second half and Pulis revealed afterwards that he had suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon, which is likely to keep him out for at least six months.
Having struggled with injuries throughout these early stages of the season, it is desperately unfortunate for the team and particularly the player.
Thankfully for Pulis, he can at least call now on Dunkley, who provided a calm presence at the heart of the backline and will be one of their most crucial players for the rest of the campaign, no matter who else may sign in January.
Is anything possible?
Barnsley have waited almost 12 years to get one over on their local rivals, and it is just a shame that their loyal fans couldn’t be there to drink it all in.
But having banished this particular hoodoo at long last, Reds fans can be forgiven for thinking that anything is now possible for their club under Ismael.
Outside the top half of the Championship table only on goal difference, they are twice as close to the play-offs as they are the relegation zone – six points adrift of the former, compared to 12 clear of the latter.
They can rightfully begin to look up rather than down after another performance which, while not spectacular, showed their ability to grind and simply find a way to win.
Like against Wycombe Wanderers in midweek, they came up against a cautious style and a team which would be difficult to break down, and both times they came away with two goals and three points. With Ismael at the wheel, they can go far.
Man of the match: Mads Andersen (Barnsley)
On an afternoon when the visiting defence had to manage an aerial onslaught, Andersen in particular put in a huge shift and a very mature performance.