JERMAINE Beckford returned to the starting line-up and celebrated the fact with a goal – but Dougie Freedman was still left wondering what might have been after the final whistle against Barnsley.

In his first start since early January, top-scorer Beckford ghosted in for the decisive goal in first-half injury time to sink the relegation-haunted Tykes at the Reebok.

A hamstring problem kept the 30-year-old front man out of action for two months at the start of the year – and Freedman believes his extended absence could have been a factor in his lack of sharpness in front of goal against the Tykes.

Beckford had a few more clear sights of the Barnsley goal but failed to punish the South Yorkshire side.

Lukas Jutkiewicz’s arrival in January helped plug the gap left by his former Everton team-mate – but Freedman wonders what might have been had he been able to draw on both strikers’ services in the last couple of months.

“To get 95 minutes from Jermaine – and I think he looked sharp – it’s only a matter of time before he gets two or three goals,” he said.

“You won’t get me sucked into moaning about injuries or suspensions. It just shows that if you are in the fortunate position – as one or two clubs are in this division – that you can keep your strikers fit, you’ve got a chance of being in the mix.

“I don’t mind putting this on the record, I think our attacking play in the first 10-12 games was pretty much non-existent.

“When you have that, it’s very, very difficult to keep on keeping clean sheets.

“I think with Lukas Jutkiewicz and a fit Jermaine Beckford, we’d be getting chances and hopefully take them. And then who knows?”

Joe Mason returns to a Premier League relegation battle with Cardiff City today after a successful second loan spell at the Reebok which has seen him score five goals in eight games.

Freedman insists, however, there was no room for sentiment in giving the young striker a farewell appearance from the bench.

“I’ve got no emotions – it was a shake of his hand and ‘thank you very much for working with us.’ Hopefully I’ll soon bump into him again.”

Freedman was delighted with a clean sheet – his side’s 11th of the season – and said it was testament to the hard work conducted on the Euxton training ground over the last few months.

“I like the 1-0 mindset,” he said. “I don’t feel sorry for my defenders but they work extremely hard on the training ground and some of them are doing double sessions when my ‘diamonds’ are having a nice massage or a bit of lunch.

“It’s credit to them and to Curtis Fleming, who is a good defensive coach, and that’s how we get these 1-0 results, hard work.”