FULL TIME: Wanderers 1 Barnsley 0
WANDERERS clung on to a third successive victory thanks to Jermaine Beckford’s ninth goal of the season, heaping further relegation woe on Danny Wilson’s Barnsley.
They needed a helping hand, though, and Chris O’Grady missed a penalty six minutes from time that would have given the struggling Tykes a priceless point in their survival fight in the Championship.
Beckford’s goal on the strike of half time coincided with his return to the starting line-up for the first time since January 11, when he limped off with a hamstring problem against Nottingham Forest.
It didn’t always look like enough to secure a sixth home win of the season – but both sides missed good chances in an action-packed second half.
Freedman had hinted at wholesale changes in his programme notes but it still came as a surprise to see him blood six new players into the side that beat Doncaster in midweek.
Both goalscorers at the Keepmoat – Neil Danns and Joe Mason – were among the casualties, while there was also a first start since early January for Jermaine Beckford up front, in place of Lukas Jutkiewicz.
The first half proved to be a taut affair as Wanderers’ persistence in trying to play the ball out from the back was not necessarily matched by their ability to keep hold of possession in midfield.
Struggling Barnsley looked just that – although in lively winger Ryan McLaughlin they had someone who continued to cause Alex Baptiste problems on the right all afternoon.
Chances were few and far between. Referee James Adcock turned down a big shout for handball against defender Jean-Yves M’Voto and Beckford blasted a shot high and wide after Barnsley had struggled to clear a flicked header from Andre Moritz.
It was the visitors who crafted the first real opportunity, though, as Ryan McLaughlin cut a cross to the near post, stabbed hopelessly wide by Dale Jennings.
Wanderers’ best early effort came a few minutes later when a deep cross from Rob Hall was headed back into the danger area by Chung-Yong Lee and clipped straight at Tykes keeper Luke Steele by Beckford.
As the game looked to be petering out to 0-0 at the break, a long ball from Matt Mills caught the Barnsley back five, indeed the whole ground, napping.
As the Tykes defenders looked towards the linesman expecting an offside decision to be made, Beckford nipped in, took the ball around Steele and poked the ball into the net to the disbelief of the visiting fans behind the goal.
After the restart, Freedman’s gameplan was even more apparent as Trotter and Spearing dropped deep at Bogdan’s goal kick and Alan Hutton lined up furthest man forward on the right.
Bogdan’s punt was flicked on, and the on-loan Aston Villa full-back sprung into action, combining well with Chung-Yong, whose snap-shot forced Steele into meaningful action for the first time.
Barnsley were creaking at the back and they had another let off just before the hour mark when Beckford seized on to a fine ball from Hall and raced in on goal. His first shot was saved well by Steele, but after Beckford got round the keeper with another touch – his next, entirely off balance and from an acute angle, drifted agonisingly wide of the empty net.
A 1-0 lead continues to be a fragile one at the Reebok these days and there was a reminder of that fact when McLaughlin nipped past Baptiste to steer a far-post header inches wide from Jennings’ cross.
Beckford would have doubled the lead had he got a better connection on Hall’s excellent cross, and had Wanderers scored a second, the points would never have been in any doubt.
But Barnsley dug their heels in and will feel they should have had a penalty when O’Grady toppled under the challenge of Trotter.
McLaughlin went closer still after getting on the end of another dangerous cross from Jennings on the left.
Former Bayern Munich winger Jennings became more influential as the game went on – and he forced Bogdan into a scrambling save with 10 minutes remaining with a speculative effort that nearly caught the Hungary international off guard.
Six minutes from time it looked as if the Yorkshire side had been given a helping hand in their survival fight.
Baptiste – not for the first time on the day – was caught wrong side of McLaughlin and wrestled the winger to the ground to concede a penalty, his third in six games.
But when the Tykes needed a cool head from the spot, O’Grady failed to supply it, with his effort cracking off angle of post and bar to safety.