There’s a good degree of optimism around Barnsley at the moment – and with good cause after the Reds made it three League One games unbeaten with another welcome win.
A solid, if not spectacular, all-round performance saw them beat the Gills, who had suffered just one defeat in the league going into the clash.
The victory also saw the Reds climb to eighth, just two points off the play-off spots.
It is still early days, but if Lee Johnson’s men can string a few more results together, a promotion charge will soon be the talk of the town.
Although they were on the back foot early on, Johnson’s youthful side showed the maturity to seize control, and did so through Ben Pearson’s emphatic finish on 18 minutes.
Gillingham pushed for an equaliser for the rest of the half, but the hosts were able to soak up this pressure before landing a killer blow on the break of half time.
It would have been all to play for had Barnsley gone into the break just one goal ahead, but Sam Winnall’s effort in stoppage time put a different spin on the second half.
Justin Edinburgh’s Gills side weren’t really able to trouble goalkeeper Nick Townsend until the last ten minutes as Barnsley’s back four remained impenetrable.
Reds assistant head coach Tommy Wright spoke of his delight in the Reds being able to win games ugly, although that analogy was possibly over-critical after what was an equally solid attacking show on the day.
“I didn’t think the quality on the ball was great today but the important thing is we won ugly,” admitted the Scot.
“We lacked a bit of energy and we lacked a bit of quality, but you’ll get games like that. Credit to the players because they’re a young group and they have to learn how to win when they’re not playing so good and we did that.
“We probably played better against Shrewsbury and were beaten but we stood up there as we knew what Gillingham would do – they’d put the ball in the box and put numbers in.
“George [Smith] looked good – we’ve got a habit of producing good young defenders at this place in Mason Holgate and John Stones.
“He’s a lovely lad and he’s good to coach – he wants to get better and he will get better.”
Smith deserved plenty of praise for another positive performance at left-back – the 19-year-old seems to get better with every 90 minutes he plays.
However, he and his defensive colleagues did ride their luck a little in the opening quarter of an hour. Luke Norris could have put the visitors in front after just three minutes and then a last-ditch block prevented Ben Williamson from netting the opener.
Had either of those chances been taken, the game could have taken an entirely different course but a defensive lapse at the other gave the Reds the first goal.
A half-hearted clearance fell to compact midfielder Pearson and he unleashed a rasping effort into the bottom corner for 1-0 from 25-yards.
Then on 27 minutes Kadeem Harris brushed off the attentions of Ryan Jackson before cutting into the box and releasing a pile-driver which Stuart Nelson did well to divert wide.
The crucial moment fell in the second minute of stoppage time though as great work from Watkins out on the right saw him put the ball on a plate for Winnall, who fired home his third of the campaign.
The Gills were only able to apply serious pressure in the final five minutes when Nick Townsend made a brilliant save with his legs to deny substitute Cody McDonald and then in additional time, Max Ehmer’s header struck the woodwork as the clean sheet was preserved.
Barnsley: Townsend 6, Wabara 7, Mawson 7, Nyatanga 7, G. Smith 8, Watkins 7, Pearson 7 (M. Smith 74, 5), Scowen 6, Hourihane 6, Harris 6 (Crowley 72, 5), Winnall 7 (Roberts 90, 5).
Subs: Davies, Bree, Jackson, Wilkinson.
Gillingham: Nelson 5, Jackson 5, Egan 5, Ehmer 6, Dickenson 5, Wright 7, Loft 5, Osadebe 4 (Hessenthaler 65, 5), Dack 6, Norris 5 (Donnelly 62, 5), Williamson 6 (McDonald 62, 5).
Subs: G. Morris, Garmston, Houghton, A. Morris.
REFEREE: Darren Deadman (Cambridge)