Barnsley continued their push for the Championship play-off places with a fifth consecutive victory, edging a physical contest with Millwall at Oakwell.
The issue was suitably settled by a defender, Michal Helik, slamming home a brilliant strike just before the hour mark to keep Valerien Ismael’s side just a point shy of the top six.
Mason Bennett, who cancelled out Cauley Woodrow’s opener with a fine finish in an action-packed start, failed to take two big second-half chances as Millwall’s nine-match unbeaten league run came to an end.
While Gary Rowett’s side lost ground on the play-offs, Barnsley can now entertain genuine promotion ambitions after surpassing the 50-point mark Ismael said must be reached before he would consider the possibility.
Story of the match
With two of the division's most attritional sides going head-to-head a tight physical battle was anticipated, but what was likely not expected was two goals in the opening six minutes of the match.
Barnsley started things off with a goal inside two minutes, Woodrow making it double figures for the season in the Championship from close range after a nick had seen captain Alex Mowatt’s floated free-kick from deep slip beyond the visiting defence.
But Millwall soon hit back, catching their opponents out on the break. The backline was out of shape as Jed Wallace found the recalled Bennett, who drove forward with the ball before aiming a perfect low strike beyond Brad Collins and into the corner.
After all that, the match soon reverted to type, with a series of long balls and battles in the air and on the ground as play swung relentlessly from end to end. Millwall’s attack continued to show some good touches but it didn’t translate into any more chances, while Barnsley found the going tough until the closing stages of the half.
Carlton Morris came agonisingly close to turning in a Mowatt corner, and also saw an effort blocked well by Shaun Hutchinson onto the roof of the net before the break.
Things sparked up again after the restart in terms of goalmouth action, albeit without the goals that opened the first half. Bennett could have doubled his goal tally for the season from Shaun Williams’ cross but he flicked his header straight into the arms of Collins, while Bartosz Bialkowski was then sharp at the other end to tip over a dangerous Mowatt free-kick.
The Pole was stretched again to beat away a Woodrow snapshot, but moments later he had no hope at all of keeping out compatriot Helik. A cleared corner was returned to the box with interest and Mads Andersen nodded on for his fellow defender, who matched fine technique with pure aggression to hammer it into the top corner.
Millwall made limited ground in their push for an equaliser, their best chance in the final half hour again coming the way of Bennett. He did well to get the better of Helik and turn on goal, but his lob went over the crossbar as well as the goalkeeper.
The best late chance instead went to Barnsley, with Bialkowski making another good save to claw Morris’ header out of the bottom corner, but they had already done enough for a victory which took them beyond last season’s points tally with 14 matches to spare.
Man of the match: Michal Helik (Barnsley)
A match for the defences was also won by one, with Helik capping a powerful display with a brutal finish in the other box.