A frenetic first 19 minutes containing four goals saw Aston Villa take the three points in an entertaining winter warmer at Villa Park.
A quick-fire double from Scott Hogan gave Barnsley a mountain to climb after just seven minutes, before Dimitri Cavare’s first Reds goal saw the visitors respond. Former skipper Conor Hourihane restored the two-goal buffer for Villa, who soaked up a host of Barnsley chances in the second half to preserve their lead.
Both sides went into the clash in a decent vein of form, with Hecky’s men unbeaten in four league matches, whilst Steve Bruce’s team had won their three previous Championship games, the best current run in the division.
With Villa immediately looking to whip as many deliveries into the area as possible, it was just five minutes in when the opener arrived, Ahmed Elmohamady exchanging passes with Robert Snodgrass down the right flank before Hogan connected to divert home the Egyptian’s cross.
Just a matter of moments later, the deficit was doubled, and Hogan was quids-in again. Snodgrass’ corner from the same side left the Reds in disarray and the centre forward touched it into the back of Adam Davies’ net.
Another immediate impact saw the scoreline halved, as Cavare arrived to meet Barnsley’s corner with a bullet header, opening his Sky Bet Championship account.
The goal rush, unbelievably, did not stop there, and third up for the home side was none other than Oakwell hero Hourihane. As Barnsley threatened the equaliser, Villa still looked blistering in attack, and Jack Grealish was able to work space well to lay on the Irishman who swept into the bottom corner.
Whilst the scoring settled down for the remainder of the first half, the game continued to be open and both sides looked to create. Brad Potts was denied by Sam Johnstone and Cavare’s persevering run to the right-hand byline was just unable to find Tom Bradshaw in a good break.
Grealish meanwhile was thwarted by a stretching save by Davies from 20 yards, and Ethan Pinnock had to be alert to divert the lively Albert Adomah’s low cross inches past the post, as the teams went in at the interval separated by the 3-1 scoreline.
Half Time: Aston Villa 3-1 Barnsley
The back line for the Reds was altered to a bank of four at the break, with Adam Hammill introduced for Jason McCarthy in an attacking change from Hecky. Converting to a back four turned out to prove key for the Reds, whose play improved massively in the second half.
The game remained wide open, with Kieffer Moore’s stooping header and low strike from the left both halted by Johnstone, and at the other end two golden chances for Villa with Hogan denied a hat-trick by the upright, and Hourihane dragging wide from 15 yards.
As the end-to-end battle continued, Moore worked himself a top-drawer opportunity, dancing past two defenders before blazing over the top inside the box.
The pressure from Barnsley was certainly more threatening in the second half and by the halfway point in the 45 minutes, the Reds were fully dominant. The introductions of Mamadou Thiam and debutant Dylan Mottley-Henry provided another attacking outlet, but the visitors were still unable to force a way past Johnstone despite the impressive threat.
Tom Bradshaw and George Moncur were both denied by the Manchester United loanee goalkeeper, and Villa stayed resolute to see out the game which could have been very different if the second half chances had been taken.
Full Time: Aston Villa 3-1 Barnsley
Aston Villa: Johnstone, Hutton, Terry ©, Chester, Elmohamady, Bjarnason, Snodgrass, Grealish, Hourihane (Whelan 86), Adomah (Onomah 77), Hogan (Davis 90)
Subs not used: Bunn, Taylor, Lansbury, Elphick
Barnsley: Davies ©, Cavare, McCarthy (Hammill 46), Lindsay, Pinnock, Yiadom, Mallan, Potts (Mottley-Henry 68), Moncur, Bradshaw, Moore (Thiam 73)
Subs not used: Townsend, Pearson, Brown, Wolfe