Where Barnsley had too often displayed their soft underbelly in the Premiership, the sturdy backbone was saved for this big battle. Ashley Ward, a surprising starter after suffering meningitis, typified the newfound Yorkshire grit and was rewarded with the winner.
That single goal should not have been sufficient for the three points but Barnsley found Liverpool on one of their more frustratingly wasteful days. The second half was one-way traffic against a visiting defence showing a resolute red light, goalkeeper Lars Leese and Swedish debutant Peter Markstedt the twin towers of strength.
"We led a bit of a charmed life in the second half and we had a bit of the rub of the green which we haven't had a lot this season," Danny Wilson, the Barnsley manager, said. "The defence was excellent and didn't get pulled about and I thought we read their runs very well. We have to realise we have to put that type of commitment into every game," he added.
Having conceded 24 goals in their last five away fixtures, Wilson could have been forgiven for blindly throwing men behind the ball. Instead, using Adrian Moses to part Steve McManaman from the sea of red attacking midfielders, Barnsley retained faith in their 4-4-2 formation.
With Markstedt, an imposing but composed signing from Vasteras, marshalling a well-drilled offside trap, strong officiating from the linesmen also attracted praise from Wilson, though not from the home support. Liverpool, however, were not short of ideas or attempts and there was always a threat that one goal might open the floodgates.
Michael Owen, McManaman and Karlheinz Riedle all went close before Barnsley took the lead. Andy Liddell, a sprightly complement for Ward, ran on to a through-ball to push the ball past the charging David James. Ignoring the chance to appeal for a penalty, Liddell turned the ball back into the area. Patrik Berger's attempts to contrive a clearance only succeeded in finding Ward, who poked home through a crowd of defenders on the line.
Riedle was again off-target in the second half after Oyvind Leonhardsen, switched to the right, had forced a close-range save from Leese. Danny Murphy's introduction sparked an infusion of imagination and Leese was once more called on for heroics after the substitute's through-ball found Riedle in the clear. The Liverpool manager Roy Evans was forced to endure boos from the fans at half- and full-time. "If you get beat at Anfield the crowd will boo and I can understand their frustration," he said. "We let them frustrate us. Without us ever playing well we created enough chances to win the game.
"We started to run with it rather than pass it and closed our own space. You are always quick to get back on the back of defenders who lose goals, but you also have to get on the back of forwards. You couldn't find a more honest guy than Karlheinz Riedle and he said he could have scored two or three," Evans added.
Liverpool, without the suspended Paul Ince and Robbie Fowler, lacked their respective qualities in key areas. And while the Barnsley fans may still be some way off the mark with their belief that watching their team is "just like watching Brazil", they can at least revel in their progress away from the bottom of the table.Reuse content