DELIGHTED Reds boss Keith Hill saluted Jim O’Brien after the talented Scotsman broke the deadlock on the way to a gritty victory against crisis club Portsmouth.
In his first start since Boxing Day following a worrying spell out through injury, O’Brien pounced with a superbly-taken goal to finally break ten-man Pompey’s resistance with just 15 minutes to go.
Substitute Matty Done added a well-deserved second goal deep into stoppage time as the Reds bounced back from back-to-back defeats in pleasing style.
After presiding over a first clean sheet in 13 games, Hill said: “Injury means it’s been a frustrating period for Jim, but he’s come back in and he’s a real energy bubble.
“He took his goal superbly to get us on our way, but that’s two games inside a week now so it has been difficult asking him to get through that.
“We’d all spoken candidly during the week and we expressed the need to protect ourselves at the back.
“Thankfully we’ve done that now and I’m really pleased with the clean sheet.”
Despite the Reds turning in what Hill later described as a ‘sackable’ performance during the week at Burnley, the Reds manager made just two changes to his starting line-up.
And one of them was enforced as loan midfielder Michael Tonge was out injured after limping out of the Turf Moor clash on Tuesday.
Fellow midfielder Done was also sacrificed – having to be content with a place on the bench – while in stepped the experienced Stephen Foster to stiffen up the defence.
O’Brien was also handed a start after impressing when coming on as a substitute on Tuesday.
Winger David Cotterill, signed during the week following his release from Swansea City, wasn’t 100 per cent so he was on the bench.
It’s been a traumatic spell for Portsmouth having dropped into administration for the second time in three years on Friday.
Such was their plight, boss Michael Appleton could name only three substitutes, and one of them was an injured goalkeeper.
Many felt it was an ideal time to playing a team in as much of a mess as Pompey, but Barnsley themselves struggled in what turned out to be a totally dismal first half.
The visitors had been docked 10 points on Friday, and the gloom that surrounded Appleton’s side somehow seemed to get through to the Reds in the opening 45 minutes.
It started off brightly enough, however, with the woodwork coming to Pompey’s rescue in just the third minute.
And it was an opportunity that came out of nothing as Craig Davies pounced on a loose ball before crashing a half-volley against the crossbar with goalkeeper Stephen Henderson well beaten.
At the other end, Norwegian international frontman Erik Huseklepp looked dangerous and he fired wide from an angle when maybe he should have done much better.
Davies saw another shot deflected wide for a corner-kick, but the Reds were struggling to find any real impetus.
They will have been lifted when Pompey were reduced to ten men five minutes before the break, however.
It was striker Dave Kitson who saw red, and deservedly so, after being shown a second yellow card by Mr Ilderton following a crude, knee-high challenge on loan midfielder Korey Smith.
It did get better after the break.
In the opening ten minutes of the second period the Reds had a spring in their step and Andy Gray saw a smart shot well saved by under-worked Henderson.
O’Brien volleyed wide as the hosts began to look like a side capable of breaking the deadlock, then the Scotsman’s free-kick to the far post was glanced inches the wrong side of the post by Gray.
Just when it was looking as though Pompey would hold on for a point, the Reds did find that finishing touch.
The impressive Smith played a short pass into O’Brien, who turned just inside the box before calmly slotting a rising shot past the rooted Henderson.
At last resistance had been broken, and Barnsley pushed on for another goal.
Davies twice went close, before the victory was finally well and truly wrapped up deep into stoppage time.
With Pompey committed to pushing for a late, late equaliser, sub Done latched on to Scott Wiseman’s hopeful ball forward before battling past Jason Pearce and then slotting comfortably past Henderson.
The final whistle blew pretty much straight away, leaving Pompey manager Appleton to reflect on a disappointing end to a dreadful week.
He said: “My players gave me everything so I can’t fault them.
“We’re all football people and there’s a sense of pride we need to keep despite what’s going on behind the scenes.”
North-east whistler Eddie Ilderton had a relatively uneventful game to preside over. There were a few niggly challenges going in in the first half as both sides’ frustrations at a lack of goalscoring opportunities threaten to boil over. However, the referee kept a lid on things well and when David Kitson did go off following a well-deserved second yellow card, there were no complaints from either side or either bench.