Doug O'Kane looks at the Reds' 1-0 victory over the Blues - a seventh straight win which took them into the play-off places.
DYNAMITE DIKE ADDS EXTRA DIMENSION
After Barnsley lost the 2000 Division One play-off final, the man who would next put them in the top six of the second tier at the business end of the season would be born the following week in Oklahoma.
In the next 21 years, in which the Reds went from regular top flight hopefuls to yo-yo club from League One via near financial extinction, they have not finished a Championship matchday in the top six other than at the very start of seasons.
During that time, Daryl Dike was growing up in a soccer-loving household in the US before a breakthrough season in the MLS and the deadline day loan move to Oakwell.
Early in the second half on Saturday against Birmingham, the 20-year-old produced a astonishingly powerful strike that was good enough to grace any level in any country as he found the top corner from 15 yards out on the right.
This game marked a year since the last time fans attended Oakwell and, although more than 90 minutes of it were rather dull, that was one moment of pure brilliance to settle it. It is the only thing anyone will really remember about the game.
Head coach Valerien Ismael said he had never seen a goal like it in a 29-year career at very high levels.
Not only did Dike score the tremendous winner - which seemed to stun Birmingham who had shaded the game until that point but could not react until injury-time - but he produced an all-round excellent performance. He won ten aerial duels against a tall defence or when defending his own area and played three ‘key passes’ to set up chances.
Ismael spoke afterwards of knowing Barnsley lacked a physical presence up front from his first away game at Cardiff in November and praised the board and chief executive Dane Murphy for the January signings of Dike and Carlton Morris. Those two, who combined for the winner, add a different dimension to the attack and have been key factors in the rise into the top six.
REDS ON SECOND BEST WINNING RUN EVER
This was a seventh successive victory - Barnsley’s joint second best such run in their history and their best ever at second tier level.
Those are astonishing statistics as is the fact that, since a 1-0 loss in this fixture in February last season which left them nine points from safety, they have collected 81 points from 48 matches.
The Reds can now tighten their grip on a play-off place with their game in hand at home to Derby County on Wednesday and Saturday’s trip to Bournemouth who they have now overtaken. Victories in those games would take them close to the club record of ten straight wins in the 1954/55 Division One North season.
This is already the second longest run, joint with the seven straight wins in the 2015/16 League One promotion season in which Marc Roberts played for Barnsley. The Penistone man and former Reds captain Roberts also played in this game for Birmingham.
When he left Barnsley for the Blues in 2017, he probably didn’t think he would be enviously looking 15 places up the Championship table at them four years later.
REDS IMPROVE THROUGHOUT DOUR GAME
The last game with fans was a 2-0 loss to Cardiff City when the Reds admitted they were bullied by a physical side. They are far more tough, canny and streetwise now and showed it in this match, although against a poor team who are battling relegation.
Midfielders in this game spent most of their time watching the ball fly over their heads and could only really make an impact when delivering some of the many set pieces. Ismael said the Blues came with a plan to ‘take out footballers out of the game’.
Brad Collins, the goalkeeper, made the most touches with 54 and most passes with 39, 37 of which were long balls.
City’s Yan Valery’s post-match comments that Barnsley ‘did not play football’ were bizarre considering his side’s direct approach as well as the fact that the hosts had 12 of the 15 shots while scoring a magnificent goal.
Birmingham’s style worked in the first half as they threatened through set pieces and turned the match into a real scrap.
Birmingham captain Harlee Dean had the best chances of the first half, with former Barnsley loanee Gary Gardner – the best player on the pitch before the break – providing both from a free-kick then a corner.
Dean completed a poor game as he helped Barnsley score when he blasted the ball into team-mate Valery near halfway, with the ball running to Morris who set up Dike.
That goal seemed to stun Birmingham who barely had an attack until a couple of chances in injury-time, while the Reds saw the game out well.
ISMAEL CHANGES AGAIN INSPIRED
Ismael’s half-time substitutions proved to be inspired.
Morris held the ball up and added more of a threat than Dominik Frieser while Jordan Williams’ extra pace at left wing-back helped nullify the dangerous Valery on Birmingham’s right who had caused Callum Styles problems.
Romal Palmer, who made ten passes and 16 touches in an hour in central midfield, was replaced by Aapo Halme who won a series of headers and tackles in a game more suited to his strengths.
The change from three to five substitutes has been one of the main factors in Barnsley’s recent success, allowing Ismael to rotate his squad in a busy schedule. His ability to identify what needs to change during games and conviction to do so has also been vital.
BLACK SHORTS DUE TO COLOURBLIND PLAYER
Barnsley wore black shorts with their home kit in this game, instead of their usual white shorts.
That is because one of the Reds players is colourblind and would not have been able to differentiate quickly between his side’s home kits and the green third kit Birmingham planned to wear.
So the Blues agreed in advance to wear their home kit, which has white shorts so Barnsley changed to black shorts.
The Reds would like the colourblind player's identity to remain private.