Mark Perrow reports from Ashton Gate
Five-star City were in ruthless mood as they recorded a fourth straight home win to see off fellow strugglers Barnsley in an Ashton Gate goal fest.
Usual suspects Jon Stead and Steven Davies were among the scorers along with defensive duo Liam Fontaine and Lewin Nyatanga, whose goals either side of the interval added to a party atmosphere hardly dented by second half strikes from Ryan Tunnicliffe, Tomasz Cywka and Jason Scotland after the hosts led 5-1.
A frenetic start showed no signs of subsiding even after Stead’s 16th minute opener, and Fontaine’s first goal in three years doubled the lead ten minutes before the break.
Stead’s second soon arrived as the first of three goals in six minutes, immediately followed by a Nyatanga header before the visitors smuggled home an untidy consolation just shy of the hour mark.
Davies made it five with yet another set-piece goal, while two well-placed shots from Cywka and Scotland in the final ten minutes proved academic.
Sean O’Driscoll made one change to his side beaten in midweek at Crystal Palace, bringing Davies back into the fold at the expense of Albert Adomah
in reverting to the team victorious last time out at Ashton Gate against Nottingham Forest.
A lively opening saw both teams come close inside the first five minutes – first City through Stead, who headed over from Davies’ cross, before Barnsley debutant Ryan Tunnicliffe stung the palms of Tom Heaton from 25 yards.
City were beginning to dominate with Stead the main threat, as the striker looked to be hauled down with his back to goal by Stephen Foster, but the defender survived prolonged penalty appeals.
But it was the Yorkshireman running in behind the Tykes’ defence that was causing most problems, forcing a fairly routine save from Luke Steele before cutting inside and seeing his shot blocked, and then his pass intercepted as he looked to feed the onrushing Stephen Pearson with blue and black shirts flooding back.
At the other end, good work from Marlon Harewood saw the veteran shake off a couple of challenges and lay the ball into the path of Rory Delap, whose first-time drive was expertly repelled by Heaton high to his left.
But the goal City – and Stead – had threatened duly arrived on 16 minutes, when Paul Anderson’s deep corner was headed goalwards by Marvin Elliott and redirected into the net from close range by the front man for his third goal of the New Year.
And a second could easily have followed soon after, when Stead’s driven cross along the six-yard line looked set to be finished by Davies, only for Jim McNulty to slide in and do just enough to put him off with the goal gaping.
It really was end-to-end stuff, and Barnsley responded by forcing Heaton into another excellent save, as Tom Kennedy’s outswinging free kick was headed goalwards by Martin Cranie with some power but tipped over by the flying keeper.
And the former Cardiff City stopper had to dive full length again soon after, as in-form striker Chris Dagnall let fly from 25 yards but saw his rising drive just disappear beyond Heaton’s left-hand post.
When the contest descended into a mini lull for the first time around the half-hour mark, it was City who responded first and took advantage by doubling the lead through a most unlikely source.
After Stead’s quick thinking from a free kick on the halfway line, Anderson was released down the right flank and forced a corner. When the resulting kick was taken short, Brendan Moloney’s teasing cross eluded everyone inside the penalty area until Fontaine arrived right on cue to get his studs to the ball at the far post and wheel away in celebration.
Needing a response after the interval, Barnsley started quickly and Harewood laid the ball off to the edge of the box invitingly for Tunnicliffe, but the Manchester United loanee shot without conviction and saw his effort blocked.
Four minutes later, City had scored a nerve settling third to virtually secure the points, as Fontaine got a head on Davies’ free kick before the ball broke to Stead to tuck away his second of the day via a deflection.
But City weren’t finished there, as Nyatanga joined centre-back partner Fontaine on the score sheet with a well-placed header after the Tykes failed to clear Pearson’s corner.
It was a whirlwind start to the second half, and the goal frenzy continued with a Barnsley consolation as O’Grady’s goal-bound shot was eventually forced over the line by Tunnicliffe after a melee ensued when Heaton vacated his line to dive at the feet of substitute Scotland.
It sparked a period of pressure for the visitors, as Cranie fired over from 15 yards before a header back across goal threatened to take an unkind ricochet into the City net via a red shirt.
Despite the deficit Barnsley were growing in confidence, but their temporarily increased belief was soon punctured by City’s fifth set-piece goal through Davies.
He should have scored earlier too, latching on to David Perkins’ ill-advised header back to Steele only to be denied when one-on-one with the keeper. But from the resulting corner, Pearson’s delivery was gleefully headed home from eight yards for Davies’ 11th goal of an impressive debut campaign.
The scoring was still not over, as Cywka drilled in a fine low shot from 20 yards before O’Grady tested Heaton – kept relatively busy considering the result. Scotland found the bottom corner on the stroke of added time, but, despite five added minutes, Barnsley had left themselves far too much to do.