A GOAL four minutes from time from John Hendrie determined that it would be Barnsley and not Sheffield United who went to the top of the First Division.
Just as a game of frustrating half-chances was resolving itself into a goalless draw, the compact striker took Nicky Eaden's through ball with his back to goal, spun away from Paul Parker and scored with a low shot that slid past Alan Kelly. It was reward for a side which seemed to have lost its way in the first half but which had regrouped impressively enough to deserve the spoils.
A South Yorkshire dispute that was always destined to send one of the sides to the top of the Nationwide League opened with Barnsley looking marginally sharper. The first genuine chance of the game fell to them, with their captain, Neil Redfearn, flashing a sidefooted volley just wide after Hendrie had put in a cross. Within a minute of that, however, David Watson in the Barnsley goal had to leap to deflect a dipping long-range effort from Mark Patterson.
Hendrie's old Middlesbrough partner Paul Wilkinson also went close for the visitors, but their effort stuttered when they lost Redfearn to injury. United nearly capitalised on Barnsley's ensuing uncertainty, Don Hutchison's well-weighted pass sending away Mark Beard, whose cross was headed straight at the goalkeeper by the Russian Petr Kachuro. Andy Walker then almost got a touch to the ball fired across the area by Patterson, but United, for all their domination, could not turn the screw.
Barnsley began the second half with further evidence of their readjustment to life without their leader, Wilkinson dispossessing Patterson and putting a low shot just past the post. A deft touch - by no means his first - from their Trinidadian Clint Marcelle released Hendrie, whose tumble in the area brought appeals for a penalty.
There was a much more precarious escape for United when Beard headed the ball off his line after Steve Davis had nodded it towards the target after the rest of the United defence had stopped to wait for a whistle that never came. Kachuro then went 50 yards down the left to produce United's first threat of the half, a shot from a narrowing angle that was palmed away by Watson. Both sides went close before Hendrie's winner, Kelly tipping over Jovo Bosancic's speculative effort and Hutchison's corner skidding through to hit Watson, who knew little about it.
Barnsley and their supporters knew all about the significance of their victory when the final whistle went, however, with their players running to the away team end to celebrate as though they had won a Cup final, which, in a sense, they had.