Barnsley 3 Watford 2: Barnsley ride luck to slow runaway leaders

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The Independent Football

When Simon Davey assumed control at Barnsley a year ago last Thursday, the Oakwell club were in grave trouble at the foot of the Championship.

Twelve months on, Davey, having avoided relegation, has remarkably steered his team to the brink of the play-off positions. They stand proudly as Yorkshire's top team, with both Sheffield clubs below them and Leeds down in League One.

Suddenly, a return to the Premier League, where Barnsley spent an unlikely season in the late 1990s, is a possibility.

Impressive form at Oakwell has been key to their success and on Saturday the runaway leaders Watford became the latest team to leave South Yorkshire empty-handed. On a wet, windy, desolate November afternoon, this old ground, perched high above the mining town, offered no easy pickings.

Watford, though, had only themselves to blame. Barnsley were rarely out of their own half during the opening period yet found themselves two goals to the good thanks to some inadequate defending.

The first came from a free-kick near the halfway line and resulted in Brian Howard, Barnsley's captain, top scorer and general totem, sweeping home his eighth of the season. Then Martin Devaney dispatched a sweet right-foot volley.

When Dan Shittu, the giant defender, converted two back-post headers to bring Watford level before half-time, it seemed that justice would be done.

Barnsley, though, had other ideas. Richard Lee could only help Howard's free-kick into his own net under pressure from Lewin Nyatanga and they had a decisive, if controversial, fifth goal.

Watford should also have had a penalty late on, but the referee Keith Pike again ruled against them – the Watford manager, Aidy Boothroyd, made his feelings clear during a post-match conversation with the official – and so Barnsley prevailed.

"There were two clear penalties and it was a foul for their third goal," Boothroyd said. "Some of the decisions were mind-boggling. But credit to Barnsley. Simon Davey has done a fantastic job. They are a very good side."

Next up for Barnsley is a juicy derby tomorrow evening at Hillsborough.

"This was a big three points to us against a very good Watford team," Devaney said. "Now we can look forward to the [Sheffield] Wednesday game. We had a bit of luck and they should've had a penalty, but we're delighted."

Goals: Howard (31) 1-0; Devaney (34) 2-0; Shittu (36) 2-1; Shittu (45) 2-2; Lee og (66) 3-2.

Barnsley (4-4-2): Muller; Foster, Nyatanga, Souza, Werling; Campbell-Ryce (McCann, 80), Anderson, Howard, Devaney; Ferenczi, Macken. Substitutes not used: Reid, Togwell, Odejayi, Christensen.

Watford (4-4-2): Lee; Doyley, Mariappa (Ainsworth, 80), Shittu, Stewart; Smith, Williamson, Mahon (Francis, 71), Kabba; King, Henderson. Substitutes not used: Jackson, Priskin, Ellington.

Booked: Barnsley Howard, Campbell-Ryce. Watford Henderson, King.

Referee: K Pike (Cumbria).

Man of the match: Howard.

Attendance: 10,117.