Blades' top-six dream ended by play-off-chasing Reds ...Derby verdict and reaction: Sheffield United 0 Barnsley 0
This was the type of old-fashioned derby, that saw no quarter given and absolutely none asked, which would have brought a nod of appreciation from the likes of Chris Morgan, Mick McCarthy and other hardmen from the past.
It produced drama aplenty but unfortunately, from Sheffield United’s perspective at least, none of the goals either the Blades craved or the game deserved, although Barnsley, now sixth in the table with two matches remaining, certainly had no reason to curse the final outcome afterwards.
Nigel Adkins’ side, by contrast, were left with a nagging sense of what might have been. David Edgar, the United centre-half, insisted their performance lent further weight to the theory that good times lie ahead. Albeit, despite still enjoying a mathematical chance of reaching the play-offs, a little further ahead than they might like.
“We’ve kept four clean sheets in five,” he said. “That’s something we weren’t doing at the beginning of the season. It’s like night and day from what we were doing before. We dominated from start to finish but we just couldn’t get that goal. We kept the ball out of the back of our net but we just couldn’t get it in at the other, which was so, so frustrating.”
United did not control Saturday’s contest to quite the degree Edgar claimed but, as the Canada international also acknowledged, this was an afternoon when defences dominated. Both Adkins and his counterpart, Paul Heckingbottom, entered the fixture with plenty of firepower at their disposal - Billy Sharp, Che Adams and Barnsley’s Sam Winnall had hit the target a combined total of 10 times in their previous eight games - but Alex Baptiste, Jay McEveley, Alfie Mawson and Marc Roberts rewrote the script.
The latter, if Baptiste returns to Middlesbrough when his loan expires at the end of the season, is exactly the type of uncompromising performer Adkins would require to fill the void.
“It’s a brilliant partnership,” Mawson, who joined Barnsley from Brentford during the close season, said. “We are good mates, and it always helps to have a friend to play alongside.
“You know each other’s weaknesses and strengths. I am sure Robbo is going to play at a higher standard, whether that’s with Barnsley or not. He works his socks off, and being a Barnsley lad always helps. He’s a monster and hasn’t reached the prime of his career.”
Barnsley arrived at Bramall Lane knowing defeat was an undesirable but not disastrous option. It was not a luxury their South Yorkshire rivals enjoyed.
United’s rearguard has now been breached only once in nearly eight hours of football - a fact which Edgar, who, like Baptiste, is scheduled to depart this summer - was understandably keen to stress as he waits to discover if his services will be required next term.
But, after spending the first eight months of Adkins’ reign being consistently inconsistent, United’s recent upturn in fortunes appears to have come a little too late. And that dynamic, as Mawson conceded, had a crucial bearing on the outcome of this game.
“It was a point against a very good side, who were tipped to win the league,” he continued. “They are a big team, with a huge budget, plenty of history. We showed them respect, didn’t dive in and do something silly, but we also showed we are no fools. We can take the positives out of that. It could be a massive point come the end.
“United’s fans were on their back for them to pump the ball in, because for them to win was realistically their last chance of getting the play-offs. We have done ourselves a favour squashing that for them.”
Barnsley are a very different side to the one which secured a draw, in fortuitous circumstances, during November’s corresponding fixture at Oakwell. Indeed, had the season begun after that match, they would have made the short journey south on top of the league.
Adams saw a shot turned onto the post during a frantic first half while Matt Done also went close after Winnall had been denied by George Long.
Barnsley’s Ashley Fletcher saw a goal disallowed following a clear but needless foul on Ryan Flynn.
The visitors responded with Done nearly releasing the Scottish midfielder before Sharp was inches away from beating Adam Davies to Martyn Woolford’s cross while fellow substitute Conor Sammon was thwarted by Roberts.
United were industrious, Barnsley energetic but, as the urgency increased, it had a detrimental effect upon the quality of both team’s play. The commitment, though, could not be faulted.
“It was a good, full-bloodied game,” Edgar said. “There were tackles flying in but, as much of the ball as we had, we just couldn’t create enough really clear cut chances.”
Sheffield United: Long 6, Basham 6, Flynn 6, Coutts 6, Sharp 6, Done 7 (Woolford 83), McEveley 8 (Sammon 87), Baptiste 8, Adams 7, Edgar 8, Hammond 6 (Cuvelier 73). Not used: Howard, Calvert-Lewin, McGahey, Whiteman.
Barnsley: Davies 7, Roberts 8, Scowen 6, Hourihane 6, Winnall 6, Brownhill 6, Fletcher 7 (Toney 90), Hammill 7, Williams 6, Mawson 8, Isgrove 6. Not used: Nyatanga, McCourt, Townsend, Khan, Tuton, Chapman.
Referee: David Coote (Nottinghamshire).