Barnsley moved to within a point of the Championship play-off places as Callum Styles and Daryl Dike goals secured a home victory over Stoke City.
A poor game looked like being settled as early as the ninth minute, when highly-rated wing-back Styles launched a spectacular strike from distance which flew into the bottom corner, but Dike added gloss with his first goal for Barnsley in the last minute.
That secured a fourth consecutive victory for Valerien Ismael’s side, who moved up to eighth place in the table, while Stoke threatened very little and slipped down to 10th as a result.
Story of the match
Both sides came into the match on winning streaks but it was Barnsley who translated their form into a fast start thanks to the brilliance of Styles. A corner was cleared to the 20-year-old, who took one touch to move 25 yards out before unleashing a delicious strike into the far corner of Angus Gunn’s goal.
An early goal can often bring a game to life but not so here, with the rest of the first half playing out in more modest fashion. Stoke only offered brief glimpses of their attacking threat, the centre-backs having their best opportunities at goal with Danny Batth heading over a Tommy Smith cross and defensive partner Harry Souttar slicing wide at the back post following a corner.
Chances were at a premium at the other end as well though, Gunn fielding Romal Palmer and Alex Mowatt shots on goal before seeing Dominik Frieser’s lob over him ruled out for offside as Barnsley maintained a narrow advantage at the interval.
The respective managers failed to breathe any more life into their charges in the dressing rooms as the second half started in similarly agricultural fashion, with quality on the ball hard to come by as the well-drilled defences proved almost impossible to overcome.
Even a raft of substitutions did very little to change the pattern of the game, and it was Barnsley that were looking more likely to score a second goal if it did come with two of their fresh faces, Dike and Victor Adeboyejo, coming close to turning in a deflected Styles cross only for defenders to recover.
Finally the issue was settled in the 90th minute, Barnsley making absolutely certain of the three points as fellow sub Conor Chaplin slipped in United States international striker Dike to finish low and get off the mark in England.
Reds in play-off hunt
Head coach Ismael may still not want to talk about anything other than survival until his side reach 50 points, but there can now be absolutely no denying that Barnsley are in contention for a play-off place.
They are only two points from that initial target and it will surely only be a matter of time before their ambitions are reset, not least with more brutally efficient and effective performances like this one.
They were not at their best in attack but displayed a clinical edge that was lacking a few months ago, as well as the new-found depth that saw their substitutions make a strong impact on proceedings yet again, not least Dike who will now expect to kick on and score more in his stay at Oakwell.
However, it was the defensive aspects of the game that stood out once more for Barnsley, who have conceded just one goal in their past five league matches – not bad, considering they failed to keep a clean sheet in any of the prior 14. They are doing everything right, and there is no reason why they cannot aim for the top six now.
Potters fail to fight
Michael O’Neill did not pull too many punches after the match, saying his side “did not play with enough common sense” and “find these types of games difficult” in reference to Barnsley’s intense and uncompromising approach.
Stoke have rediscovered their defensive solidity of late and, despite conceding twice, generally had few worries at the back with Batth leading a defence which kept on hanging on, but the intensity needed to go properly toe-to-toe with their opponents was lacking.
In the middle, Jordan Thompson was second-best too often while John Obi Mikel was brought into the side alongside him but couldn’t turn the tide either. Joe Allen’s introduction was not what the game required and he made very little impact as a result.
There were enough longer balls for the forwards to try to do something with but the trio of Jacob Brown, Nick Powell and Josh Tymon barely held possession all night, while Steven Fletcher tried to make use some of it before coming off with a groin injury at the beginning of the second half. After that they never looked like threatening, yet alone scoring, and finished with only one effort on target all match.
Man of the match: Callum Styles (Barnsley)
A night wholly devoid of quality was lit up by Styles, whose reputation continues to be enhanced by the week. Only Cauley Woodrow has scored more than his five goals this season for the Oakwell side.