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On This Day | Barnsley 2-3 Liverpool | 1998

28 March 2018

It's twenty years ago this season since the Reds' first ever top-flight campaign and the match against Liverpool at Oakwell on March 28th 1998 sticks long in the memory.

Club commentator Matt Bailey takes a look back....


Liverpool arrived at Oakwell on Saturday March 28th 1998, looking to avenge a 1-0 defeat sustained against Barnsley at Anfield the previous November.
The Reds went into the game optimistic of completing a Premier League double over the Merseyside giants, having won three successive games against Wimbledon, Aston Villa and Southampton.
The referee that day was 37-year-old Gary Willard from Worthing in Sussex - who had the dubious distinction of holding the highest tally of Premier League players booked during that particular campaign. 
There was an intense, almost hostile atmosphere inside the ground and tempers were frayed, especially in Liverpool's case. Barnsley started the better side and captain fantastic Neil Redfearn deservedly fired the Reds in front via Martin Bullock's deflected low cross from the left, in the 37th minute.
Karl-Heinz Riedle equalised from close range shortly before the break, as the first-half passed without major incident. That cannot be said of the second period….
Willard brandished his first red card, eight minutes after the interval, when Darren Barnard clipped Michael Owen's heels as he threatened to go clean through down the right hand side of the penalty area. Barnard looked to be the last man and that particular dismissal was in all probability correct.
The visitors capitalised on the Reds’ reduction to ten men and Riedle put them into the lead with a thirty-yard screamer, just before the hour mark. Six minutes later, Barnsley were down to nine men, when Chris Morgan's raised arm appeared to catch Owen in the face. The contact was minimal and not deliberate, but Willard gleefully produced another red card.
It was all too much for one angry supporter, who ran onto the field in a bid to attack the referee, but was rugby-tackled to the ground by Jan-Aage Fjortoft. Willard - fearing for his safety - decided to take the players off the pitch, possibly on the advice of the head steward and there was around five minutes of uncertainty before the teams eventually re-emerged from the tunnel and the game got back underway. 
The clash continued after the flashpoint and when Phil Babb brought substitute Georgi Hristov down in the box, Redfearn slammed home the resultant penalty, to put the nine man Reds back on terms, after 85 minutes.
Liverpool began to exploit the space as Barnsley tired and Steve McManaman fired in what proved to be their winner in the final minute. Darren Sheridan was then involved in a stoppage time altercation with McManaman and Paul Ince. Willard continued his zero tolerance approach to proceedings by issuing 'Shez' with a second yellow card and as a consequence; his marching orders.
This sparked a mini pitch invasion as seething fans attempted to vent their spleen on the beleaguered official. Ince and Redfearn managed to protect Willard, who was then led off the field with a police escort as chaos ensued once more. There was an appeal for calm over the public address system, the pitch was cleared and order restored to give the man in the middle the opportunity to blow the full-time whistle. 
I still feel a great sense of anger and injustice some twenty years on. Barnsley had gone into that game in a confident frame of mind following a fine run of form - we were outplaying Liverpool until Willard decided to have his "moment" in the spotlight and I feel we would've gone onto win if we had kept the full compliment of players and if we had done so, I remain convinced that we would also have avoided relegation.
As it was, that result and the events of the day seemed to knock the stuffing out of us and I don't think it was any coincidence that Barnsley only managed one victory in their final eight games of the season (Sheffield Wednesday: 2-1 at Oakwell over the Easter weekend). 
Our fate was effectively sealed on that sunny, incident packed, Spring afternoon at Oakwell two decades ago...


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