Zac Ashworth was Wanderers’ unlikely goal-scoring hero as the Whites came from behind to put another important point on the board in their promotion quest, writes Pete Oliver.
Ashworth had scored the first goal of his EFL career a week ago in victory at Carlisle when a slice of luck helped him open his account.
But there was nothing fortunate about his second one as he headed home a vital second-half equaliser to extend Wanderers’ unbeaten home League One run to four games and keep one of their top-six rivals at bay.
With just one away defeat all season Barnsley are serious contenders and a tough nut to crack once they lead – as they did thanks to Devante Cole’s early strike.
But Ian Evatt’s men are equally up for the fight in their bid to stay the pace and mounted an excellent comeback in a high-quality game.
Wanderers fully deserved their leveller when it came through Ashworth’s 64th-minute header as the wing-back also helped banished the memory of his mid-week penalty miss in the Bristol Street Motors Trophy as the Whites went out on spot-kicks.
And Wanderers then almost claimed maximum points late on through new signing Aaron Collins in a gripping finish as he was only denied by a superb save from Liam Roberts.
Wanderers gave another of their January recruits a start in the shape of Caleb Taylor as the on-loan West Bromwich Albion defender replaced injured skipper Ricardo Almeida Santos.
Eoin Toal was passed fit to play alongside Taylor and taken the captain’s armband but the new-look defence was breached inside the first five minutes when a long throw was flicked on for Barnsley’s top scorer Cole to sweep home his 17th goal of the season.
That came in the face of a bright start from the Whites, who looked a threat every time they went forward without being able to test Tykes’ keeper Roberts.
Barnsley have proved their resilience on the road all season and were ready to soak up the pressure that came their way before having a great chance to double their lead with almost half an hour gone.
Josh Sheehan was again excellent in trying to spark many of Wanderers’ attacks but this time the fulcrum was caught in possession and when John McAtee fed Adam Phillips, the Barnsley midfielder pulled his shot wide of the target.
That sparked another spell of domination from the Whites as they pinned the visitors back, probed around the penalty area and delivered balls across the face of the goal – often through the dynamo Kyle Dempsey - without being able to make the breakthrough.
The second half started in similar fashion as Jack Iredale headed just wide from an Ashworth corner before Taylor made a vital tackle at the other end to deny McAtee a run at goal as he continued the positive impression he made on debut before making with just over 20 minutes to go.
It was a wide-open contest and as Wanderers erred again it took an excellent save from Baxter to keep out an effort from Cole and his side in game.
With Barnsley enjoying their best spell, Baxter then made another excellent stop to block a typical long-range drive from Phillips and after Iredale also made a potentially-goal saving tackle, Evatt made his first changes with half an hour to go to try and regain the initiative.
New signing Aaron Collins and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson were sent on to form a new front line and within moments they made the difference as Ashworth headed the equaliser.
Bodvarsson’s touch and release freed Collins who added to his number of assists – the second highest in the division – with a sumptious deep cross which Ashworth met with a superb far-post header which he powered into the net to make it two in two.
It was the perfect start from Collins and the former Bristol Rovers’ man almost did it again when feeding Paris Maghoma for a shot he lifted high and wide from the edge of the penalty area with a chance to win.
Calvin Ramsay, on his first league appearance for the Whites after coming off the bench, then fed in a lovely ball for Bodvarsson, whose goalbound flick was blocked at the expense of a corner Iredale again nodded wide.
And with Wanderers going for the winner, it took a brilliant late save from Roberts to keep out a deflected effort from Collins and deny the deadline-day signing a dream debut as the Whites maintained their momentum ahead of a mid-week trip to Cambridge and the chance to return to the automatic promotion places.
Wanderers: Baxter; Toal, Taylor (Ramsay 68), Iredale; Sheehan (Morley 73); Dacres-Cogley, Maghoma, Dempsey, Ashworth; Charles, Adeboyejo. Substitutes: Mendes Gomes, Ogbeta, Jerome.
Booked: Maghoma, Dempsey
Barnsley: Roberts; Williams, de Gevigny, Earl; Cotter (O’Keefe 69), Connell, Phillips, Cadden; Kane (Grant 81); McAtee, Cole. Substitutes: Killip, Russell, Pines, Cosgrove, Grant, Watters.
Booked: de Gevigney, Connell, Williams, Cole
Referee: Leigh Doughty
Attendance: 21,709 (1,594 away)