The last time Barnsley were relegated under Danny Wilson it was a downfall laced with heroism. When the team bus returned to Oakwell after a 1-0 defeat at Leicester in May 1998, it was to a throng of supporters who wanted to thank the players for a remarkable season in the Premier League.
Yesterday evening, after a feeble surrender to Leeds, Wilson thought he would have to win his final three games to survive. Barnsley’s relegation could all but be confirmed should they lose at Derby County, tomorrow. This time the reception will be rather more muted.
It is not exactly a surprise that Barnsley are heading down. In recent seasons the club have not so much flirted with relegation as been photographed in bed with it. The emotion as their supporters drifted away would have been the aching regret that they were going down so meekly.
This time last season, their then manager, David Flitcroft, had organised a ferocious rearguard action that culminated in an emphatic 2-0 victory over Hull. This was another Yorkshire derby but it felt very different. In his programme notes, Wilson, buoyed by a fine 2-1 win at Charlton on Tuesday night, had written of: “blood and thunder”. In fact, the only crackle of lightning came with the balletic turn that saw Ross McCormack lose his marker and shoot into the corner of Luke Steele’s net. It was McCormack’s 29th goal of the season and, given how much of this season has seen Leeds drifting without aim or direction, it is an astonishing achievement.
“He gets goals that win you matches 1-0 or 2-1,” said his manager, Brian McDermott, who remarked that McCormack was as good a goalscorer as he had ever worked with. If he notches one more, he will become the first Leeds player since John Giles to score 30 times in a season. It was also the one moment real quality in the afternoon.
When the referee, David Webb, threw Barnsley a thin, final lifeline by finding five minutes of stoppage time from somewhere, they responded by playing even worse against a team who had won once at Oakwell since 1986.
When the Leeds fans who jammed one end greeted each error with a chant of “That’s why you’re going down” it would have appeared hurtfully true to supporters who have now not seen Barnsley score at home in five successive matches. Those from Leeds chanted long and loud, celebrating the fact they would be staying in the Championship, which is a feeble achievement given the resources and expectations at Elland Road.
But they had secured their immediate future with a win over Blackpool and, now the club has been taken over by Massimo Cellino, they could revel in the discomfort of others. When Leeds were last involved in a Yorkshire derby, a 2-1 defeat by Doncaster at the end of March, matters appeared much bleaker. McDermott’s players had not been paid and Cellino’s takeover had been blocked for the very understandable reason that the Italian had been convicted of fraud.
Cellino, having been approved as a ‘fit and proper person’ by the Football League, chose to return home to Miami rather than travel to Barnsley. The players have been paid and so has the rent on Elland Road and the Thorp Arch training complex.
McDermott, who Cellino had tried to sack in January, prowled the touchline in a tracksuit rather than a suit after his daughter told him she did not want him “looking like a politician”. Lately, the Leeds manager had looked like a cabinet minister under cross examination from Jeremy Paxman.
More relaxed now, he remarked that the football correspondent of the Yorkshire Evening Post had rung him in the week because “for the first time in forever there were no stories coming out of Elland Road. We have won two games and that might not be a coincidence.”
Barnsley (4-4-2): Steele, Etuhu (McCourt ,65), M’voto, Cranie, Kennedy; McLaughlin, Lawrence, Dawson (Proschwitz, 76), Jennings; Cywka, O’Grady.
Leeds United (3-5-2): Butland; Lees, Zaliukas (Hunt, 60), Pearce; Wooton, Tonge, Brown, Murphy, Warnock; McCormack, Smith (White, 82).
Referee: David Webb