A very young Barnsley side fell to a 3-1 defeat at Professional Development League leaders Bolton Wanderers on Monday evening.
Jack Earing opened the scoring with a stunning 25-yard strike three minutes before the interval, before Chinedu Obasi doubled the hosts’ advantage just after the hour mark.
Amir Berkovits’ tidy finish put the Reds back in contention, but Connor Hall, the league’s top scorer, headed home moments later to seal all three points for Bolton.
It was a game of lots of quality, but few chances as both sides defended resolutely throughout. Victor Adeboyejo came closest to scoring for the Reds in the first half when his long range free-kick was brilliantly parried by Mark Howard.
Cole Lonsdale, dangerous throughout for the Trotters, whipped in a dangerous free-kick on the half hour mark, which Jake Greatorex did well to collect amid the flying bodies in front of him.
Bolton then squandered a wonderful opportunity to take the lead when Obasi headed Lonsdale’s cross over the bar from three yards out.
But the hosts would not be kept at bay, and it took a moment of magic from Earing to undo the stubborn Barnsley backline. The Bolton midfielder picked up the ball 25-yards from goal, took aim and unleashed an unstoppable strike into the top corner that left Greatorex no chance.
It was harsh on Barnsley, who looked organised and assured throughout the first half, with Adam Lund and Will Smith showing signs of maturity at the heart of defence.
The Reds were more lively after the restart and came close to levelling the scores when Berkovits and Adeboyejo both saw close range efforts blocked by the home defence.
Bolton defender Harry Brockbank then attempted a speculative drive from 40-yards that whistled past the post before the hosts grabbed their second goal.
Barnsley failed to deal with Lonsdale’s cross from the left and Obasi was able to capitalise on the confusion to tap the ball home from inside the six-yard box.
But Paul Harsley’s side hit back immediately and grabbed the goal their spirited performance deserved when Berkovits converted from close range after Louis Rowe’s header was blocked on the line.
That lifeline, however, was short lived as the hosts went up the other end and scored a killer third goal. Hall, just on as a substitute, rose highest to head home Tyler Walker’s cross to effectively end the tie as a contest.
Greatorex was on hand to pull off another fine save to deny Brockbank as he got down low to magnificently turn a free-kick around the post as the game drew to a close.
Barnsley substitute Danny Greenfield came close to reducing the deficit late on as he bustled his way past three Bolton players, but his fierce shot flew narrowly over Howard’s crossbar with two minutes left.
REDS XI: Greatorex, Gagen, Smith, Lund, Williams, Walsh (Lynch, 64), Wardle, Tingle (Greenfield, 78), Berkovits, Adeboyejo, Rowe (Swinburn, 82)
Not used: Kendrick, Dolan
BOLTON XI: Howard, Little (Mitchell, 70), Darby, Edwards, Brockbank, Morris, Charsley (Battle, 46), Earing, Obasi (Hall, 66), Walker, Lonsdale
Not used: White, Turner