Barnsley began 2021 with a 1-0 loss at Championship leaders Norwich City on Saturday.

The Reds missed a fine early chance in an even first half but the Canaries were on top after the break and took the lead just after the hour-mark.

Barnsley are now ninth in the table, three points off the play-off places and 15 clear of the bottom three.

Their tally of 34 points at the halfway stage of a Championship season is the joint best since the 1999/2000 campaign.

Valerien Ismael made two changes from the side that beat Rotherham United on Tuesday. Captain Alex Mowatt dropped out of the team due to his positive Covid-19 test, with Herbie Kane replacing him in central midfield while Luke Thomas came in for Victor Adeboyejo.

Along with Mowatt, regular starter Conor Chaplin and usual substitutes Brad Collins and George Miller also missed the game through Covid issues. It was the first Barnsley match Mowatt missed since Wigan Athletic away in August 2019, ending a run of 67 games.

The Reds selected just seven substitutes of a possible nine while the oldest player on the bench was Isaac Christie-Davies, aged 23, who has never played a senior league match.

The match was a battle of the two form teams in the Championship as only Norwich had collected more points than Barnsley’s 30 in 15 games since Ismael had been appointed.

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Thomas missed the first real chance of the game in the 11th minute when he was put clean through on goal after Cauley Woodrow's shot was deflected into his path but he smashed an effort off the crossbar eight yards out. It was a huge opportunity for the winger to end a 55-match wait for a league goal.

Callum Brittain also came close twice, unable to control a low Thomas cross early when deep in the home area then he brought down an excellent ball by Kane on the right of the six-yard box but his pass to Woodrow was cut out by Great Hanley.

Brittain then saved his side with a brilliant clearance off the line in the 25th minute from Teemu Pukki who had been put clean through by Mario Vrancic and shot past goalkeeper Jack Walton.

Walton easily held a long-range shot by Vrancic and Callum Styles sent a tame effort at the home goalkeeper Tim Krul with his right foot from 20 yards after a good run in from the left. Woodrow also dragged a shot wide of the bottom right corner from outside the box.

Hanley headed a right-wing corner well wide in the 40th minute before Todd Cantwell went clean through on goal but, under pressure from Kane, was eventually dispossessed.

Norwich had shaded the first half overall but the Reds had held their own against the table-toppers. City were definitely the better side after the interval.

The hosts should have taken the lead two minutes into the second half when, not for the first time, Barnsley's high line and lack of pace in the back three was exposed. On the counter-attack, Cantwell powered into the Reds half and squared for Pukki who was one-on-one with Walton but the goalkeeper made an excellent one-on-one save.

Walton made another fine stop in the 57th minute, denying Jacob Sorensen from a tight angle on the left of the six-yard box after a low cross from Pukki.

The hosts eventually took the lead in the 63rd minute when a fine goal as Kenny McLean's excellent pass over the top of the Barnsley defence was volleyed in by Emi Buendia.

Ismael responded instantly by bringing on Victor Adeboyejo and Romal Palmer for Dominik Frieser and Matty James then Patrick Schmidt replaced Thomas for his first appearance in 13 games.

Another ball over the top opened the Reds up and Pukki squared to Cantwell but he could not control the ball in a great position in the penalty area. A Buendia corner from the left almost went all the way in but it was scrambled away at his near post by Walton.

Adeboyejo shot straight at Krul from the left corner of the box in the 81st minute following a one-two with Woodrow. At the other end, Pukki played Cantwell in on the right of the box but his shot was well-saved by Walton who got down to his right.

Michal Helik missed a huge chance in the 94th minute when he slid in to meet a low cross-come-shot from Callum Styles but did not get enough on the ball just five yards out.

Norwich (4-2-3-1): Krul; Aarons, Hanley, Gibson, Sorensen; Skipp, McLean; Buendia (Tettey 87mins), Vrancic (Dowell 77), Cantwell (Placheta 90+2); Pukki (Hugill 90+2). Unused: Barden, Zimmermann, Quintilla, Martin, Omotoye. Goals: Buendia 63.

Barnsley (3-4-3): Walton; Sollbauer, Helik, Andersen; Brittain, James (Palmer 63mins), Kane, Styles; Frieser (Adeboyejo 63), Woodrow, Thomas (Schmidt 75). Unused: Kendrick, Moon, Oduor, Christie-Davies. Yellow card: James.