Match Verdict & Highlights: Barnsley 1 Doncaster Rovers 0

Barnsley's Ashley Fletcher celebrates his goal
Barnsley's Ashley Fletcher celebrates his goal

Anyone concerned that the season would be over by February for Doncaster Rovers need not have worried.

But those wanting the season to be kept alive as long as possible are now probably reassessing their hopes and expectations.

Manager Darren Ferguson may have only last week quite bluntly brushed off talk of his side being drawn into a scrap at the wrong end of the table.

But after they left the home of neighbours Barnsley with a fourth successive defeat and another disappointing performance, all concerned with the club must now accept they are definitely in a relegation fight.

A quite catastrophic swing of results has left them only three points clear of League One’s bottom four with the next win frankly nowhere in sight.

It is very easy though to assess Rovers on what they are capable of rather than what they are now.

Conor Grant fires a shot on goal

Conor Grant fires a shot on goal

Putting it bluntly, right now Rovers are a side devoid of confidence, breeding mistakes, nerves and a major lack of the cohesion that made them a very impressive side before the turn of the year.

It would have been incredibly disappointing had their not been an improvement on the previous week’s horrendous performance against Sheffield United.

But improvement at Oakwell was minimal, doing little to provide confidence that the threat of relegation will be a mere flirtation.

Rovers had their moments and there was a definite improvement in the second half when vital personnel changes were made.

Barnsley's Aidan White is stretchered off

Barnsley's Aidan White is stretchered off

But ultimately, Barnsley enjoyed a rather comfortable afternoon and were deserving winners even though Ashley Fletcher’s scrappy 81st minute tap in was all they had to show.

In terms of live seasons, Barnsley still retain hopes of gatecrashing the play-offs. And on the evidence of this game and recent form, it would be foolish to write them off just yet.

Barnsley look incredibly confident and composed under Paul Heckingbottom’s leadership. They stuck to their game plan from the first minute to the last, never wavering or worrying that what they were doing might not bring the win.

The Reds built their attacks with patience, gently probing into the final third and winning a ridiculous amount of corners. Only the lack of a killer touch let them down.

Barnsley's Sam Winnall has his shot saved by Doncaster's Thorsten Stuckmann

Barnsley's Sam Winnall has his shot saved by Doncaster's Thorsten Stuckmann

Ultimately this was a classic on-form versus off-form battle where the nerves and doubts in one side were exploited by another very much comfortable in its own skin.

Barnsley pressed incredibly well from the off, forcing errors in a Rovers midfield that struggled to have any real influence once again.

The Barnsley midfield in contrast looked dangerous, with the superb Conor Hourihane dictating play.

The Reds’ main success, in the first half at least, came down the left through Adam Hammill.

While certainly blessed with talent and trickery, Hammill’s cause was aided by Rovers’ team selection.

For two consecutive games Cameron Stewart has been deployed at wing back and for two consecutive games the defensive side of his game has been exposed as severely lacking.

With a stepover or four, Hammill skipped past Stewart time after time and surged inside, creating attack after attack.

Hammill should have scored early on after a neat one-two took him into the box only for him to scuff a shot at returning Rovers keeper Thorsten Stuckmann, who also reacted superbly to keep out a powerful header from Alfie Mawson.

The winger’s influence waned after the break when Ferguson hauled Stewart off, sending on the reliable Craig Alcock with Mitchell Lund switching to right back.

Barnsley had vulnerabilities of their own, particularly after Aidan White was forced off with an ankle injury and replaced by George Williams at left back.

The decidedly right-sided Williams drifted inside all too easily leaving a huge gap which Rovers exploited all too sparingly.

Lund - who had Rovers’ best two chances - was given the freedom of Oakwell on the edge of the box in the second half after claiming James Coppinger’s pass but drilled straight at Adam Davies.

Lund’s other opportunity came before the break with a free header from a corner which he scuffed woefully off target.

After struggling through the first 40 minutes of the game, Rovers came to life in the dying stages of the first half.

And the could easily have gone into the break ahead. After a quite brilliant dribble, Cedric Evina - currently Rovers’ most threatening attacking player - spotted the run of Paul Keegan whose scruffy shot was inches away from creeping in at the far post.

Rovers were better in the second half. As well as Alcock’s introduction, Coppinger came off the bench to replace Harry Middleton who had struggled.

But Rovers looked more solid rather than more threatening.

Barnsley continued to threaten with Stuckmann forced to tip away a rising shot from Hourihane before grasping a header from Sam Winnall.

The game somewhat petered out after the midpoint of the half with neither side enjoying clear cut chances.

Barnsley’s enduring patience paid off nine minutes from time however when they got their goal.

A low shot from Hourihane was heading wide until Stuckmann opted to parry, giving substitute Fletcher chance to dart in and clip home the rebound.

Ferguson quickly sent on loanee Lynden Gooch but Rovers struggled for inspiration and Barnsley saw out the win quite comfortably, leaving them seven points off sixth spot and their season very much alive.

Rovers on the other hand need to make sure this season is stone cold dead as soon as possible.

the teams

Barnsley: Davies 6, Bree 7, Roberts 7, Mawson 7, White 6 (Williams 24 5), Isgrove 6 (Fletcher 60 6), Brownhill 7 (Scowen 60 6), Hourihane 9, Hammill 8, Watkins 6, Winnall 6. Subs not used: Townsend, Tuton, Nyatanga, Khan.

Rovers: Stuckmann 6, Lund 7, McCullough 7, Taylor-Sinclair 6, Evina 7, Stewart 5 (Alcock 52 7), Keegan 6 (Gooch 82), Middleton 5 (Coppinger 46 6), Grant 5, Williams 5, Tyson 6. Subs not used: Marosi, Butler, Chaplow, Mandeville.

Referee: Andrew Madley (West Yorkshire)

Attendance: 11,638 (1,421 away)