Football: Time for Barnsley to really enjoy it

Barnsley 2 Sheffield Wednesday 1
Click to follow
DANNY WILSON'S smile has been a constant this season. Come thrashing, come crisis, the Barnsley manager has beamed through it all. The man could probably find a plus in Doncaster's Rovers' bank account.

On Saturday, though, he did not have to search too far to light up his features, as just the thought of playing Newcastle today had him doing his Mr Happy. "It'll be far more nervy from their point of view than ours," he said. Then he slapped his thighs at the deliciousness of it all, pausing only to wonder how the press would interpret the gesture. "You can't quote that can you?"

We did not have to. The slaps might as well have been in the face of Newcastle's manager, Kenny Dalglish, because that is where Barnsley are going to be at St James' Park today. A win and they will be above the big money boys from the Tyne, even a draw will leave the Toon Army wretched with anxiety in the run-in.

"It's nice to still be in with a chance with five games to go," Wilson said, a mischievious glint in his eye. "A lot of people wrote us off many months ago and all of a sudden, if we win on Monday, we'll go above Newcastle. The pressure's all on them, as simple as that. We go in with nothing to lose, we can relax and try to play our football. They have to beat us.

"We've been wanting to put other teams in this position for a long, long time. We've dragged a few towards us again."

They have, Sheffield Wednesday among them, and for one reason. Barnsley possibly should be in the bottom three in terms of natural ability but they labour like slaves to make the most of what they have. Just once, against Leeds last week, they appeared to have lost faith, but it was back burning brightly on Saturday. Wednesday had the class, Barnsley the desire, and not for the first time this season graft overwhelmed craft.

The flow of the match was embodied in two strikers. Paolo Di Canio, skill oozing from every temperamental pore, began sublimely, hitting the bar after seven minutes, but finished a frustrated and frustrating force, getting booked for diving. Ashley Ward, clumsy in comparison to his Italian counterpart, scored and drove the Wednesday defence to distraction. The ugly duckling easily eclipsed the swan.

Ward is an interesting and underrated player. At Barnsley he has become the attacking focal point, possibly because he has finally found a home where he is fully appreciated.

"Ashley has been a brick for us, fantastic," Wilson said. "He's led the line very well and he's created chances for whoever's played with him. His work-rate is fantastic and he's got a goal in him as well. He's one of the best signings I've ever made and possibly ever will make."

His goal, scored after 65 minutes when Barnsley's brio was beginning to look wasted, was typical. There seemed little danger when Ales Krizan aimed a throw-in at him, but Ward used his physique to brush an insubstantial challenge aside and then scooped the ball past Kevin Pressman.

Another opportunist goal from Jan-Aage Fjortoft and Wednesday's attempt to match their opponents energy came too late, Dejan Stefanovic's goal merely putting a better slant on a limp performance.

Ron Atkinson probably thought so too, but his opinions were kept to himself, a message coming that he had gone straight to the team coach. It takes a lot for Big Ron to be left speechless and a ghost of the past is probably what did it on Saturday.

Eight years ago Wednesday also had 40 points with five matches to go and gained only three more, going down on the final day of the season. The manager on that occasion was Atkinson.

Funnily enough, he was not smiling on Saturday night.

Goals: Ward (65) 1-0; Fjortoft (72) 2-0; Stefanovic (86) 2-1.

Barnsley (3-5-2): Watson; Moses, De Zeeuw, Jones; Eaden, Redfearn, Bullock, Bosancic, Krizan; Ward, Hendrie (Fjortoft, 53). Substitutes (not used): Appleby, Marcelle, Hristov, Leese (gk).

Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Pressman, Barrett, Sedloski (Hyde, h-t), Walker, Hinchcliffe; Whittingham, Thome, Stefanovic, Pembridge (Carbone, 66); Booth, Di Canio. Substitutes not used: Oakes, Magilton, Clarke (gk),

Bookings: Barnsley: Krizan, Ward; Sheffield Wednesday: Di Canio, Stefanovic, Barrett, Carbone.

Referee: P Alcock (Redhill).

Man of the match: Ward.

Attendance: 18,692.