Barnsley lacking the killer instinct

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Barnsley 1 Wolverhampton Wanderers 3

From the main stand at Oakwell you can just make out a black metallic tower that used to dot the landscape of Yorkshire. "It's not a real mine," a local said, "just a working model."

It is a relic of an industrial past just as Barnsley's attempt to join the top division harks back to an earlier age. Towns are scarce in the Premiership; you do not get the likes of Preston and Blackpool among the elite any more. Instead it is populated by city slickers awash with money, chasing ever more expensive players.

This match was a microcosm of the widening gap. Barnsley, a tribute to the good husbandry of manager Danny Wilson, have threatened to get promoted from the First Division all season but somehow they have "play-offs" written all over them. Getting beaten by their richer and closest rivals made the letters stand out all the more.

Two seasons ago Barnsley were all worked up at the prospect of beating Aston Villa in the FA Cup only to find their passing patterns trampled over by the stronger and fitter Premiership team. It was the same on Saturday. The home side produced the pretty football, Wolves muscled in and took the points.

"We didn't function properly as a team," Wilson lamented afterwards, and the breakdown was apparent from the second minute. Neil Emblen hit the ball forward, Iwan Roberts headed on and Steve Bull crashed a volley of venomous power past David Watson. You sometimes wonder if Bull would have been a different player had he been called Trick or Swift, but the last person to live up to his name so comfortably was George Best.

As, indeed, did Wolves. You could make a case for saying they created only three proper chances all match but they scavenged ruthlessly, scoring from all three. Barnsley, meanwhile, had enough possession to win three matches and barely managed a solid opportunity. Even their goal should not have stood.

Roberts had put Wolves further ahead, heading in at the far post with the emphatic down force of an auctioneer's hammer, and Barnsley were going at them with all the cutting edge of blancmange when Mike Stowell made a good save to his left to deny Neil Redfearn.

Had the Wolves goalkeeper held the ball the referee would have have blown for a foul when Paul Wilkinson bundled into him, so why this late challenge went unpunished because he had tipped the header away is beyond comprehension. The result was Darren Sheridan shooting past Stowell, who was injured and making no attempt to save.

"He was clattered, there was no doubt about it," Mark McGhee, the Wolves manager, said, "but the referee paid no attention to the fact he was lying on the ground. Fortunately it didn't have a bearing on the result." Rough justice arrived six minutes later when Redfearn headed into his own net.

"We're not getting carried away," McGhee added. "Barnsley are still in the driving seat and if they win every game they will go up. We still have a lot of work to do before we can put daylight between ourselves and them."

The suspicion is that Barnsley are at the wheel of a perfectly respectable family car while the likes of Wolves, Sheffield United and Crystal Palace have a sports model waiting in the garage. The home team cost barely pounds 1m while the visitors included five players who have cost seven figures.

It would be nice if money mumbled rather than screamed in football, but today economics are more important than ever before. Dormant coal mines are testimony to that.

Goals: Bull (1) 0-1; Roberts (23) 0-2; Sheridan (52) 1-2; Redfearn (og, 58) 1-3.

Barnsley (3-5-2): Watson; Moses, Shirtliff, De Zeeuw; Eaden (Liddell, 82), Bosancic (Marcelle, 64), Sheridan, Redfearn, Jones (Bullock, h-t); Hendrie, Wilkinson.

Wolverhampton Wanderers (3-5-2): Stowell; Venus, Atkins, Curle; Smith, Emblen (Thomas, 81), Osborn, Corica (Thompson, 67), Froggatt; Bull, Roberts (Goodman, 86).

Bookings: Barnsley Bosancic, Moses, Jones. Wolves Curle.

Referee: W Burns (Scarborough).

Man of the match: Atkins.

Attendance: 18,024.