Martin Devaney hailed a ‘big improvement’ despite a 3-1 defeat to Preston North End in Barnsley’s final home game of their relegation zone.

The Reds took the lead through Aiden Marsh and were better than in the previous game against Blackpool, a 2-0 defeat, but Preston were the better side and could have had several more.

Caretaker Devaney told the Chronicle: “It was a big improvement, there was a reaction from the players.

“There were some fresh faces and I gave opportunity to a lot of lads who haven’t played this season. I thought they dealt with the situation really well in the first half and even the second half. There was a lot of endeavour to run around and win the ball back. But I think we could have been better when we got the ball.

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“From the Huddersfield game last week, there were seven or eight missing. It was always going to be tough. That’s the first time they have played together as a team.

“We had to make sure today that there was something positive for the fans to see. In terms of the effort, workrate and pride in wearing the shirt, we showed that in spells.”

Marsh netted 16 minutes into his first league start for his hometown club. He said: “Victor (Adeboyejo) did well on the right, he took it around one and and flicked it over another. I thought ‘there’s a chance this might bobble through to me’ then when it came through I thought ‘I am just going to have a crack’ and luckily it went straight it. It was crazy. It felt like slow motion.

“I will take that throughout my life. I will bottle up that emotion and take it into the next game. I used to sit in the East Stand and hoped to play for Barnsley.”

Devaney was disappointed with Preston’s goals. He said: “They have quality and experience. We could have defended the box better for their second one, we switched off. For the third one, it’s Jason (Sraha)’s first game at this level and he’ll learn from it. It was more of a physical thing, you could see he was tired but we couldn’t make changes because we have already made subs trying to be positive.”

Devaney – who fielded five academy players in the 11 – had promised to ‘pick players proud to wear the shirt’ while saying others had ‘downed tools’. Mads Andersen, Remy Vita and Callum Brittain were not involved, with Devaney staying they were injured.

Captain Cauley Woodrow dropped to the bench. Devaney said: “I am trying to manage Cauley’s gametime. He’s played a lot of games after being out injured. We felt it was best to look after him.”