His well-being first became an issue 20 minutes into the second half. Chris Morgan appeared to clip Michael Owen with an elbow as the Liverpool striker raced up the left flank. The red card prompted one restless native to invade the pitch and head for Mr Willard. He was wrestled to the ground in uncompromising fashion by Jan-Aage Fjortoft. The referee withdrew to the sanctuary of the stand, accompanied by his two linesmen. The trio returned four minutes later, but the restoration of order proved merely temporary.
Mr Willard had already sent off Darren Barnard, the left wing-back having clearly denied Owen a scoring chance in the 52nd minute, and he reduced the home ranks to eight men in what should have been the final minute. Darren Sheridan, booked in the 31st minute for a crude challenge on Paul Ince, was dismissed for dissent after tangling again with the Liverpool captain. Ince had to use his powers of restraint when another protestor invaded the arena.
Amid the mayhem there was a football match too. And not a bad one. Barnsley lost it in the nominal final minute when Steve McManaman skipped through the thinned-down home guard and clipped a scoring shot over David Watson. There was, however, only one talking point as the drama subsided. Not that Mr Willard was prepared to join the debate. Danny Wilson was reluctant too, though his feelings were clear. "The referee lost the plot towards the end," the Barnsley manager said. "But I don't want to give him the satisfaction of getting myself into trouble. I'm sure you know what I think but I can't say it."
It was Wilson's side who had the first say on the pitch, Neil Redfearn swivelling on the edge of the Liverpool area and beating Brad Friedel with a curling shot after 37 minutes. It was against the run of play, but a minute before the break Liverpool finally applied a cutting edge to their possession game. Oyvind Leonhardsen stole into the left of the home box and, though his shot was smothered, Karlheinz Riedle was on hand to sidefoot the equaliser.
When the German unleashed an unstoppable shot, just before the hour, Barnsley, by then a man short, looked beaten. To their credit, though, the Tykes refused to give up the cause. It seemed they had gained their reward in the 85th minute, when Phil Babb baulked Georgi Hristov and Redfearn swept in the penalty. But then McManaman struck and Barnsley were pointless. After three winning games, their Premiership preservation cause had suffered a serious setback. Trips to Blackburn and Leeds are next on the agenda, as well as suspension. "We simply can't afford to be losing these players at this stage," Wilson lamented.
It has not quite reached the stage at which Barnsley and their manager need Steve McQueen's bike and bomber jacket. But there was only one Great Escape at Oakwell last night. Gary Willard had to wait two hours to make it.Reuse content