Barnsley at the forefront

Barnsley 4 Marcelle 32, Thompson 36, 81 Hendrie 86 Charlton Athle tic 0 Attendance: 11,701
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Barnsley are on course for top-division football for the first time in their history after two goals from their full-back Neil Thompson helped them to their best win of the season and tightened their grip on the second automatic promotion place.

Impatience and frustration were the potential enemies at Oakwell yesterday after last week's home defeat by Birmingham had sewn the seeds of doubt about Barnsley's ability to make the giant leap into the unknown.

Straight from the whistle, they played the constructive, enterprising football that has been their hallmark under Danny Wilson, but when their supporters sang their theme song "It's just like watching Brazil" in the first half-hour it was with a distinctly nervous lilt.

It was a mistake by their former player Brendan O'Connell that was indirectly responsible for lifting the tension. His under-hit back-pass let in John Hendrie with the Charlton goalkeeper, Andy Petterson, doing well to block both his efforts and the follow up from Darren Sheridan. From Neil Redfearn's corner, however, the ball bobbled to the feet of the Trinidadian Clint Marcelle, and this time Petterson could do nothing to keep the ball out.

Within three minutes, Barnsley had doubled their lead, Hendrie's cross finding the head of Paul Wilkinson and Thompson, a shrewd Wilson signing from Ipswich, ghosting in to volley home.

Charlton did not fold at that stage and they would have narrowed the lead but for a fine save by David Watson from Mark Bright immediately after the experienced striker had come on as a substitute.

"For 30 minutes in the second half we looked as though we might get back into it," said Alan Curbishley, the Charlton manager. "If we had got a goal back it might have been a different story."

Instead, Charlton fell apart in the last 10 minutes, with the Barnsley substitute, Martin Bullock, acting as the catalyst for his side's second burst of scoring.

Bullock played the ball through for Thompson to drive in his second with a sweetly struck left-footer, and then it was his pass that enabled Hendrie to fire an even more emphatic shot into the roof of the net.

As Charlton's resistance disintegrated both Hendrie and Redfearn had shots tipped on to the bar. Throw Reading's late winner against Wolves into the equation and the afternoon was turning out better than even Barnsley's most devoted followers could have imagined.

Wilson, whose own tension showed through in his leaping up and down from his touchline seat, was more relaxed after he had a little time to absorb his side's four-point lead over Wolves with a game in hand.

"It was a fantastic win for us," he said. "The confidence of the boys from this performance can carry us through the rest of the games."