BARNSLEY 1 -1 BURTON ALBION - BREWERS STAYING UP!Luke Varney chose the perfect moment to score his first Burton Albion goal as his equaliser at Oakwell ultimately secured a second season of Championship football for the Brewers.
The experienced front runner had only just arrived on the pitch as an early second half substitute when he stooped to head home a corner in the 52nd minute to cancel out George Moncur's 38th minute opener for the hosts. That his 52nd minute effort earnt Albion their 52nd point of the season and the one that makes it impossible for them to be caught in the fight against relegation seemed more than poignant.
Albion's record against the side who also got promoted from League One last season prior to this game was not good. In four previous meetings Albion had failed to find the net and had lost on their two previous visits to Oakwell. This was the perfect day to end both of those runs and with both Birmingham City and Blackburn Rovers securing precious victories to keep their survival chances alive Albion were determined to do their bit was well.
with just a point required from the final two fixtures for Championship survival there was more than a solid look about the starting line-up. Boss Nigel Clough elected to make two changes from the side that picked up the exhilarating and crucial victory against Leeds United last weekend. It was another Torkshire mission for the Brewers and for the trip to Oakwell there was a recall for on loan midfielder Luke Murphy who was ineligible to play against his parent club last time out. He returned as part of a midfield trio alongside Jackson Irvine and Lasse Vigen Christensen. The matchwinner against Leeds, Michael Kightly, also returned to the starting line-up paired in attack with Albion's other Leeds goalscorer Marvin Sordell.
In blustery conditions in South Yourkshire it was the hosts who got off to a positive start. A long range effort from George Moncur had Stephen Bywater scrambling slightly before grabbing hold of the ball at the second attempt.
Albion went for the slightly more direct approach and Kightly was quickly in behind the Barnsley defence from a long ball out of defence from Ben Turner. With the offside flag not going up the winger got there before keeper Adam Davies but could not quite steer the ball home. A good early chance to settle nerves.
The game certainly had something of an end of season feel about it but Albion almost broke the game of cat and mouse when Irvine pinched possession inside the Barnsley half before bursting forwards towards the edge of the box. With Davies off his line the Albion top scorer went for a chipped effort but didnt quite get the elevation to beat the Tykes stopper.
On loan Leicester midfielder Matty James showed some neat tricks and skills on the edge of the box to engineer a shooting opportunity for himself but failed to keep his effort down as play quickly switched to the other end.
Kightly did well to create another chance for himself, cutting in from the right this time before curling a rising effort over the bar.
Albion looked threatening going forwards but Barnsley still looked dangerous themselves when they got into the last 25 yards. A foul by Kyle McFadzean presented skipper Josh Scowen with a set piece to try and unlock the Brewers but the defensive wall was solid and repelled the midfielder's attempt.
The game continued to meander along, a booking for Tykes right back Gethin Jones rousing the home support as they felt that their player had been slightly hard done to for what was a mistimed but in no way malicious challenge on Tom Flanagan as he looked to clear up the touchline.
The Brewers proceeded to carve out an excellent opportunity with some expansive play. Sordell on the left fed Irvine and he in turn found the overlapping John Brayford on the right. The low ball into the centre was begging to be finished but Davies was able to drop on the ball before anyone in yellow could pounce. The frustration on the Burton bench said it all as they knew what a great chance it was.
Sordell was continuing to look lively and when he was hauled over just outside the box things looked very promising for Albion. Kightly took control of the free kick and with everyone expecting a cross to the far post he deceived everyone by trying to curl it around the outside of the wall aiming for the near post. The only thing that denied him was a deflection off the outside of the wall. The resulting corner also brought a good chance for Albion, Irvine heading just the bar.
The Brewers were then hit by a sucker punch. A poor pass out of defence by Mousinho was cut out by Ryan Kent and the Liverpool loanee did not waste the invitation to burst forwards. With Scowen in support between them they worked the ball into a good position for MONCUR to control, turn and fire home. A poor goal to concede from a Burton perspective and nerves were back on edge. Nigel Clough's men had looked comfortable so far and in little danger but they had it all to do now if they were going to earn survival on their own terms.
Barnsley had other breaks forward before the break but could not find a crucial second goal. It was all set up for a tense second half.
Half time: Barnsley 1-0 Burton Albion
A change for the second half saw Irvine fail to reappear and Yorkshire born and bred Lucas Akins on in his place. Barnsley looked to carry the greater threat in the early stages of the half. Albion were penned back and Bywater was becoming increasdingly busy. Kent cut inside onto his right foot and flashed in a vicious shot that Bywater had to smuggle clear and as a scramble ensued the ball came out to Tom Bradshaw who saw the Burton keeper pluck his effort out of the air. The pressure did not end there as another ball came into the Burton box with big centre back Angus McDonald acrobatically volleying towards the bottom corner only for Bywater to keep it out. A vital save at a vital moment.
Albion called Varney off the bench and within moments of arriving into the fray he had his first goal in Albion colours. A corner in from the Albion right came into the six yard box and there was the former Derby and Leeds man to steer a close range header home. Cue delirium behind the goal as the Burton fans vented their relief.
Varney almost made it a quickfire double shortly afterwards as a deflected effort from outside the box almost had Davies going the wrong way but the loop and spin on the ball allowed the big keeper to get back and drop on the ball inside his six yard box.
Playing as a lone striker now Varney had another chance to double his Burton tally when a long ball over the top got him in behind the Barnsley defence but his left foot effort could not beat Davies.
Although Barnsley continued to enjoy the lion's share of the game the pace and running of Varney was a constant threat. Kent worked a good chance for himself that flew just over the bar but it was Albion who almost grabbed a second when Christensen lifted a ball over the defence Varney held his run to avoid being offside and was only denied as Davies ventured to the edge of his box to meet him and win a 50-50 challenge.
Hearts were most definitely in mouths in the Burton end when a low cross was drilled in from the left into Albion's penalty area and Kyle McFadzean swung a leg at it trying to clear and was within inches of slicing into his own net.
Damien McCrory was sent on for the closing stages to replace Flanagan in the left back slot. Flanagan was already on a yellow card after a rash challenge early in the half and Albion could ill afford to finish the game down to ten so the insurance of McCrory was called upon.
The last ten minutes were on a knife edge with Albion determined to hang on to their precious and hard earned point earned thus far. Their cause was not aided by a poor decision from referee Jeremy Simpson to award the home side a corner when the ball had clearly gone out off a Barnsley man. Varney picked up a yellow for his protests but Albion relieved the pressure when referee Simpson blew for a foul on Christensen as he tried to clear.
There was pandemonium inside the Burton box as the clock ticked towards ninety minutes a slick interchange of passes had Tom Bradshaw in a good position but he was crowded out as the ball pinged around and Albion eventually cleared somehow. John Brayford got an injury in the scramble but, as always was able to play through to the end.
Four minutes of stoppage time seemed like a lifetime as Burton defended for their lives but referee Simpson's final whistle brought unbridled joy and satisfaction to all in yellow and black and their thousand plus strong following. Albion's adventure in the Championship is far from over. Second tier football is secured for next season.