Football: Barnsley pile on the excitment while pulling in the points

Barnsley 4 Southampton 3
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The Independent Online
By Guy Hodgson

Barnsley 4 Southampton 3

ONE OF the more curious calls to a radio station last week came from an Aston Villa supporter whose argument was that Barnsley were just a team of runners and tacklers. As for football, forget it.

That, surprisingly enough, amused the Barnsley manager, Danny Wilson. "Loved it," he said with a chuckle and with good reason. Play football? Oakwell is currently the most exciting place to see the Premiership.

It takes a lot to knock a press box off its natural cynical perch but a cameo on Saturday showed how Barnsley have, one Villa fan apart, won popular fancy. Southampton's goalkeeper Paul Jones was stranded upfield at a corner and the ball fell to Gerogi Hristov wide on the half-way line. "Shoot, shoot," voices cried, and it was not the home supporters shouting, but journalists.

This is not an isolated case because Oakwell is becoming a magnet for goodwill. The post box is bulging each week with messages from all over the country. Undoubtedly, part of the attraction is the transformation from hopeless to hopeful in a few months. When Barnsley were being knocked for six and seven they earned the underdog's sympathy that has turned to admiration as relegation no longer appears to be their only destiny.

This result, their third successive League success, left them in the bottom three that has been their home since September, but suddenly bigger clubs are within reach.

Perversely, this win was built without the virtues that have brought about the change. The defence succumbed to the naivety of the season's salad days, while Ashley Ward - "without him we'd be down by now," manager Danny Wilson said - had to come off after 37 minutes with a hamstring strain.

The first goal illustrated Ward's worth and a growing confidence since his pounds 1.5m move from Derby in September. There appeared to be scant chance of scoring when he received the ball with Claus Lundekvam in close attendance but he turned and tucked the ball into the corner.

With that the match exploded into incident. Egil Ostenstad and Matt Le Tissier scored for Southampton, Scott Jones and Jan Aage Fjortoft just kept Barnsley's noses in front, while Andy Liddell might have made the scoreline 5-2 before the decisive moment arrived.

Fjortoft and Lundekvam had been jousting like stags all afternoon and a 57th-minute challenge looked no different to any number of others except to referee Gerald Ashby. "Claus merely stood his ground," Dave Jones, the Southampton manager, said. "It wasn't a foul. The referee told me this was his last match before he retired and maybe he wanted to go out with a bang. I just wish he'd retired before today."

Neil Redfearn, a colossus in midfield, scored the penalty and although Le Tissier gave the Saints a glimpse of salvation with a lovely free-kick, Barnsley, flinging bodies at flying boots, survived.

Can they stay up? The home match against Tottenham on 18 April will almost certainly have a massive bearing on the answer.

Goals: Ward (17) 1-0; Ostenstad (24) 1-1; Jones (31) 2-1; Le Tissier (40) 2-2; Fjortoft (42) 3-2; Redfearn, pen (57) 4-2; Le Tissier (70) 4- 3.

Barnsley (3-5-2): Watson; Morgan, Moses, Jones (Tinkler 82); Eaden, Bullock, Redfearn, Sheridan, Barnard; Ward (Liddell, 37; Hristov, 64), Fjortoft. Substitutes not used: Marcelle, Leese (gk).

Southampton (4-3-1-2): Jones; Dodd, Monkou, Lundekvam, Benali; Oakley, Richardson (Williams, 57), Beresford; Le Tissier; Hirst, Ostenstad. Substitutes not used: Slater, Dryden, Johansen, Moss (gk).

Booked: Southampton: Lundekvam.

Referee: G Ashby (Worcester).

Man of the match: Redfearn.

Attendance: 18,368.