CRAIG Davies’s sharply-taken tenth goal of the season wasn’t enough for Barnsley as Chris Hughton’s impressive Birmingham kept up their challenge for automatic promotion.
The much-changed Reds gave a pleasing account of themselves against the high-flying Blues and Davies was denied a second goal by the woodwork, but the visitors look the real deal.
Despite Saturday’s Oakwell victory against Portsmouth, Reds boss Keith Hill opted for five changes to his starting line-up for last night’s clash against a Birmingham side who were bang in form and unbeaten in 10 Championship games.
David Perkins was out with a knee injury, while also dropping out of the starting XI were Jim O’Brien, Scott Golbourne, Andy Gray and Stephen Foster.
In came Jay McEveley, Matt Done and Chris Dagnall - all promoted from the bench - while 17-year-old midfielder Paul Digby and recent signing David Cotterill were both handed Barnsley debuts.
It was perhaps no surprise that the promotion-chasing visitors were quickly on the offensive, and they got themselves a fortunate opening goal after just eight minutes.
Chris Burke latched on to Marlon King’s cross and, although his curling shot looked to be heading over the crossbar, Reds skipper Rob Edwards got in the way and diverted the ball past Luke Steele with his head.
The Reds maintained a good tempo and levelled in the 18th minute.
And Cotterill was the architect. Hill will have been delighted to see his new capture turn neatly down the flank before sliding in a lovely low cross for striker Davies to convert easily from eight yards.
Within another nine minutes Birmingham had struck back to retake the lead, this time with a real cracker.
Morgaro Gomis produced a bit of trickery to play in Keith Fahey in, and the Blues midfielder crashed home a great left-foot shot off the post from 25 yards.
Still the Reds continued to probe for a second leveller, and hot-shot Davies came agonisingly close when his curling shot bounced back out off the crossbar with goalkeeper Boaz Myhill clutching at thin air.
Into the second half and the Reds were still striving to impose themselves on their loftier opponents, with Korey Smith trying his luck, unsuccessfully, from long range.
It was Blues left-back David Murphy who threatened next, as his floated free-kick from way out on the right somehow deceived Steele and almost dropped in at the far post.
Similarly at the other end, the Reds almost profited from more fortune as Birmingham’s Jordon Mutch nearly sliced sub O’Brien’s corner-kick into his own net.
It was the impressive Burke who was the creator supreme for Birmingham’s killer third goal with just 12 minutes left.
The Reds’ back four had worked tirelessly all evening, but Burke’s pace created space down the left and he whipped in a cracking cross for sub Nathan Redmond who finished from a tight angle just five minutes after entering the fray.
The atmosphere fell immediately flat inside Oakwell.
Barnsley (4-4-2): Steele 7; Wiseman 6, McNulty 6, Edwards 7, McEveley 6 (Golbourne 73); Cotterill 7 (O’Brien 61, 7), Smith 5 (Tonge 73), Done 7, Digby 6; Dagnall 5, Davies 8. Subs not used: Preece, Gray.
Birmingham (4-5-1): Myhill 7; Spector 6 (Ibanez 89), Davies 7, Caldwell 8, Murphy 6; Burke 8, Mutch 7, Gomis 6 Redmond 73, 7), Elliott 7, Fahey 8; King 5 (Rooney 73). Subs not used: Doyle, Jervis.
Goals: Davies 18 (Barnsley); Edwards og 8, Fahey 27, Redmond 78 (Birmingham).
Referee: Carl Boyeson.
Bookings: Cotterill, McNulty (Barnsley); Spector, Mutch (Birmingham).