Barnsley moved a step closer to sealing their place in the Championship play-offs as Daryl Dike’s overhead kick secured a deserved victory at neighbours Huddersfield Town.
Valerien Ismael’s side returned to winning ways with a dominant display in this Yorkshire derby, though it was settled only by a stunning ninth goal of the season by their on-loan American international striker Dike.
The victory, coupled with Reading’s stalemate at Luton Town, means Barnsley have a six-point cushion in sixth with just three matches left to play, while a dire Huddersfield are not safe from relegation yet.
Story of the match
Barnsley made a determined start, with a strong penalty shout against Rarmani Edmonds-Green within 60 seconds when Dominik Frieser nodded the ball onto his hand, but some of the usual intensity was lacking in the early stages, following their defeat at Coventry City three days earlier.
That presented Huddersfield with their best chance to press ahead, but they simply could not creates. Yaya Sanogo failed to head a Lewis O’Brien cross on target and, with their best opening of the half, the returning Josh Koroma lacked the pace to make the most of being played in behind as Michael Sollbauer made it back to challenge.
Cauley Woodrow had earlier come a whisker away but only towards the end of the first half did the play-off chasing side really begin to show their threat, with Frieser stabbing straight at Ryan Schofield after good work by Woodrow, who also failed to stretch the goalkeeper with another half-chance.
Alex Mowatt only found the side netting with a free-kick, but would be guilty of a much bigger miss in added time. Carlton Morris squared towards the Barnsley skipper in a fantastic position in the box, but the subsequent shot sailed high into the stand as the interval arrived without a goal.
Having finished the first half much the stronger, Barnsley pressed home their grip on the game when they returned. Woodrow had an effort blocked by Sarr and Morris’ flick of a Callum Styles was fumbled behind by Schofield, who was more sure in claiming a deflected Mowatt strike.
But the pressure was becoming more relentless and Barnsley finally found the breakthrough in the 66th minute. Morris drove to the byline and a slight deflection on his cross sent it directly to the unmarked Dike, on as a sub for the injured Frieser at the end of the first half, who produced an impressive athletic effort to break the deadlock.
Even with the lead, the chances kept coming to the visitors. Naby Sarr cleared off the line from Morris after Schofield had failed to deal with a ball, and when Sollbauer returned it straight back into the danger zone, defensive partner Michal Helik smashed the woodwork.
Only with 10 minutes to go did Huddersfield finally register a shot on target, O’Brien aiming straight at goalkeeper Brad Collins from a deflected Sorba Thomas cross, but they were still clinging on at the other end. Styles flashed just wide and Carel Eiting turned a Sollbauer attempt round the post, but a single goal would be enough for Barnsley.
Dike and Reds right wrongs
Sunday’s defeat at struggling Coventry fell far short of the standards that have been set by Ismael’s Barnsley since the Frenchman took charge, with the lack of intensity a particular concern as they failed to bring their now well-known style of carnage.
The opening quarter here threatened to potentially be more of the same, but instead they managed, once again, to find an extra level as the match went on and grow stronger and stronger, resulting in a dominant victory to dispel any concerns of a drop in form at this crucial time.
There is usually extra reserve to be found in attack thanks to the January additions of Morris and Dike, and both were key players here, Morris from the start and Dike – following an uncharacteristically poor performance, like the rest of the team, three days earlier – coming off the bench.
The American has proven more than a handful for many Championship defences since his loan move at the end of the January transfer window – one of the best pieces of business in the division all season. His overhead kick showed the athletic ability that goes alongside his obvious power, and Dike is an effective all-round striker that will need special attention if Barnsley’s unlikely promotion charge is to be halted.
Terriers not up for fight
Facing Barnsley this season has become the ultimate test of a Championship’s side mettle and fight, and on that charge this Huddersfield side failed, with their inability to gain any sort of the foothold in the match a result of their reluctance to battle for every ball and run themselves into the ground as their opponents do.
The opportunity seemed to be there for them in the opening stages of the match when the visitors weren’t quite at their best and they were able to enjoy some good possession, but even then there was no creativity at all from a side which seemed totally devoid of ideas.
Full-backs Harry Toffolo and Pipa have been key this season but both missed out through injury, only the second time in the league this season that neither has been in the squad (the other occasion being a 7-0 defeat at Norwich City). With Aaron Rowe stymied by his withdrawal to a wing-back role and Duane Holmes equally quiet, they lacked any attacking impetus.
But even with it, they would have struggled to claim anything without some of the simple characteristics required in abundance in these sorts of battles. The lack of strength and intensity left Huddersfield second-best.
Man of the match - Michael Sollbauer (Barnsley)
The experienced defender proved a calm and composed presence on his return to the team and kept Huddersfield utterly silent throughout.