Lee Johnson has saluted Barnsley’s ‘educated’ fans after they stuck by their team and were rewarded with a late, late equaliser against Peterborough at sun-soaked Oakwell.
The Reds players could quite possibly have been booed from the pitch at the end of Saturday’s largely uninspiring game between two sides whose season was already effectively over in terms of missing out on the play-offs.
However, Luke Berry dived in bravely to head home Conor Hourihane’s corner-kick with almost the last action to salvage a point from a game that will probably not live long in the memory.
Following Johnson’s initial exciting winning streak when he first took over at Oakwell after his high-profile switch from Oldham Athletic, the Reds are now without a win in eight League One games.
However, the manager praised the reactions of the Oakwell faithful for showing the support which will undoubtedly have lifted the young players who were on show in a team shorn of any of the current loan players.
“I thought our fans were very, very good,” said Johnson with a relieved smile on his face.
“They showed their maturity and were educated enough to realise that for the greater good of the club, people needed encouragement.
“They were good even when we weren’t having a good mini spell, and that was really pleasing for me.
“The fans didn’t get on the players’ backs, but they could have done.
“Instead they encouraged the lads, and when the young players in particular did something well they gave them an extra clap, if you like.
“That’s good, because its shows me that everyone out there understands what we’re trying to achieve and everybody realises the overall situation.”
It had been a very young team that took to the field for the Reds’ penultimate home fixture of the season.
Clearly Johnson had been keen to take a look at the future, with the summer particularly in mind, as he didn’t name a single loan player in his starting XI.
Teenage defender Jack Cowgill made his first Reds start at the heart of the defence alongside Lewin Nyatanga, while Mason Holgate, Paul Digby, Berry and Milan Lalkovic were also handed chances to shine with the season now effectively over.
It was a similar tale for Posh, with caretaker boss Dave Robertson also making three changes as he tried to arrest a run of five games without a win.
Alan Sheehan, Ricardo Santos and Harry Beautyman were all drafted in following a miserable midweek home draw against Crewe.
It proved to be a disastrous opening spell for full debutant Cowgill, who was at fault for the opening goal for Posh after just 15 minutes.
Attempting to meet and clear Michael Bostwick’s hopeful punt forward, Cowgill totally missed his kick, allowing Conor Washington to run beyond him and coolly slot his 11th goal of the season past bemused ‘keeper Adam Davies.
Nerves had clearly been a factor for the unfortunate youngster, but his early woes almost doubled minutes later.
This time Cowgill mis-timed his challenge, allowing Harry Anderson in to run clear at goal. Thankfully, Davies came to the rescue with a brave stop this time.
The Reds were most definitely in holiday mode early on, with Kgosi Ntlhe the next to go close for Posh as he forced Davies into another fine stop.
The hosts did rally before the break and both Lalkovic and Berry missed presentable chances, before Hourihane then fluffed a sitter shortly before the break.
Latching on to Lewin Nyatanga’s hopeful ball forward, the Reds’ leading scorer somehow got beyond ‘keeper Ben Alnwick, only to then woefully screw an effort well wide of the gaping goal from 15 yards.
That pretty much summed the Reds’ first half up, but the performance did improve after the restart.
Josh Scowen looked a real threat on the flanks and he went close following a neat one-two with Hourihane.
Hourihane then floated in a free-kick deep and towards the far post, only for the on-rushing Winnall to head into the side-netting.
Former Reds’ stopper Alnwick was then forced to keep out a smart effort from Scowen, before Posh responded with a golden chance which Anderson wasted.
He fired a sitter wide from close range after meeting Marcus Maddison’s cross.
Ntlhe saw red with 15 minutes to go after being deservedly shown a yellow card, and from then on it was clear that the Reds suddenly sensed a great opportunity to get back into the game.
It didn’t happen initially, however, with Scowen’s header saved by Alnwick being the closest they came to a goal. before they finally struck gold in the dying seconds.
The game was in the 95th minute - after four minutes added time had been called - when Hourihane floated the ball into the box for Berry to stoop and bury his first league goal for the Reds and a second overall this season.
Cue the relief and the cheers of support at the final whistle seconds later rather than any boos or cries of disapproval.
“I thought the players did allright as a group,” added boss Johnson. “And it was fantastic for the club to have five or six Academy graduates involved in the squad.”
BARNSLEY (4-5-1): Davies 7; Holgate 5, Cowgill 4 (Bree 64, 6), Nyatanga 7, Smith 7 (John 54, 6); Scowen 8, Digby 4 (Pearson 55, 7), Hourihane 7, Berry 8, Lalkovic 5; Winnall 6. Subs not used: Dibble, Oates, Williams, Cranie.
PETERBOROUGH (4-2-3-1): Alnwick 7; Smith 6, Santos 8, Zakuani 6, Ntlhe 5; Bostwick 5, Beautyman 5; Anderson 7, Maddison 5 (Oztumer 72, 6), Sheehan 7; Washington 7 (Edwards 90, 6). Subs not used: Henry, Brisley, Newell, Burgess, Norris.
REFEREE: Sebastian Stockbridge – the man in the middle got the sending-off right. Two clumsy challenges proved costly for Ntlhe.
HERO: Luke Berry capped an impressive personal performance with a brave late goal. Hardworking in the Posh midfield, Berry must have impressed his manager with an all-action effort.
KEY MOMENT: Once Ntlhe had gone off, Barnsley sensed a way back into the game. They eventually got their reward, though it did come so very late.
VIEWPOINT: If Luke Berry hadn’t dived in bravely to rescue a point so desperately late in this game, Barnsley’s players would probably have been booed off at the final whistle. The team - shorn of any recent loan stars - struggled at times, even later in the game when Posh had been reduced to 10 men. However, some of the younger players did impress on the day - particularly unlucky left-back George Smith who was forced to limp off at a stage when he had been the man of the match