MATCH VERDICT: Barnsley 2-3 Wanderers
LOOK out top six – Wanderers are coming up on the rails!
We may still be some way from the finishing line but with two tricky hurdles to negotiate in the next six days, the Whites’ promotion credentials are sure to be clearer by this time next week.
Blackburn and Brighton are due at the Reebok and if the current forward momentum can be maintained, then you would have to admit that anything is still possible.
This one should have been won at a canter, such was the first-half dominance that was only partially reflected in a 2-0 half-time scoreline.
Somehow with a mixture of Yorkshire grit, a clever tactical switch by Bolton’s own David Flitcroft and a howling mistake by Adam Bogdan, Barnsley pulled themselves level within eight minutes of the restart.
Not for the first time in recent weeks, though, Wanderers conjured a level of resolve that they simply did not have earlier in the campaign. And as impressive as Craig Dawson’s goal-poaching was for the winner, the defensive work in the final stages was what Dougie Freedman was left eulogising about after the final whistle.
The Whites boss may have taken time to turn things round but his side are now building a head of steam at exactly the right time.
Whether his squad, now shorn of Mark Davies, has the depth to get the job done is the big question.
This would be the perfect time to pull another loan gem – a la Dawson – out of the back pocket, and give the supporters, who now seem fully on board with Freedman's grand plan, something to really sing about, particularly with Steve de Ridder’s spell now over and the winger heading back to Southampton.
The class gap really showed in the first 45 minutes against Barnsley and it was the man who stepped into the midfield gap left by Davies who was pulling most of the strings.
Chris Eagles has found himself out of the reckoning in recent weeks but for the first hour, he looked every inch the player who was stealing the show in the first half of the season.
It was his perfect pass to find David Ngog for the opening goal, taken at the second attempt by the Frenchman, after a smart initial save by Lee Steele.
Eagles then put one on a plate for Barnsley old boy Craig Davies, who scuffed his volley to the delight of the Oakwell fans who had been booing his every touch.
The Tykes had no answer to Wanderers' movement up front, nor in fact the width offered by both Marcos Alonso and Sam Ricketts at full-back. And it was the latter who provided an excellent cross for Eagles to bring another good stop out of Steele with a curling shot.
As half time approached, it was the unlikely figure of Jay Spearing who finally doubled the lead.
Ricketts’ long throw was cleared to the edge of the box, drilled low through a mass of bodies by the on-loan Liverpudlian, and helped into the bottom corner by a slight deflection. Bogdan was never a total spectator, however, and had to be on his toes to push away a vicious shot from David Perkins just before the break. You simply could not have predicted that Barnsley would get themselves back into the game at that point – but no sooner had play restarted, Eagles lost the ball on the wing and play was switched quickly for Tomasz Cywka to bend a shot into the bottom corner.
Five minutes later and Bogdan blotted his own copybook by spilling another effort from Cywka into the path of a grateful Chris O’Grady.
Disaster? Well not nowadays at Wanderers.
After dusting themselves off, the lead was quickly regained. Alonso curled a free kick round the wall to bring a save out of Steele – but Dawson was on the rebound like a flash, turning quickly to slam the ball into the net.
That sparked a crazy few minutes where Bogdan redeemed himself somewhat with a fine save at the feet of Jim O’Brien.
At the other end, Wanderers should have scored a fourth as Chung-Yong Lee, Davies and Eagles lined-up in a goalmouth scramble to score before Ryan Tunnicliffe somehow managed to clear over his own bar.
Freedman probably sensed the game was becoming too open and decided to shut up shop.
Medo Kamara came on for Eagles and David Wheater eventually replaced Davies to give the Whites a much more solid look in the final stages.
There would be no more late drama, although an injury picked up by Bogdan late in the game could be a cause for concern heading into tomorrow's clash with Blackburn.
Considering where we were just seven games ago, when the notion of relegation was being discussed after defeat against Watford, the rate of change has been quite incredible.
Wanderers are now six unbeaten and looking like the real deal heading into the last quarter of a strange old season.
Whether they have timed their run too late is the main worry but it makes for compelling viewing, that’s for sure.