A goal in each half saw Derby County fall to a disappointing 2-0 defeat at the hands of Barnsley in the Sky Bet Championship.
A huge slice of luck saw the hosts, promoted back to the second tier after a two-year absence, take the lead as Conor Hourihane’s drive onto the post was turned into the back of the net off the outstretched Scott Carson.
Despite finishing the first 45 minutes strongly, Alfie Mawson’s header in the early stages of the second half extinguished the Rams’ fire as Nigel Pearson’s men fell to their first defeat of the 2016/17 season.
After a largely even start during the opening stages at Oakwell, things quickly descended for Derby.
Josh Scowen screwed an early effort wide of goal during a cagey first 10 minutes, but although the opening goal came shortly after, it did so in hugely fortuitous circumstances for the hosts.
A period of patient build-up saw Marley Watkins, collecting a cross on the right, play the ball across the edge of Derby’s 18-yard box with time and space where Hourihane, lurking, wound up to strike.
He did so, connecting cleanly with his left foot and after his effort cannoned off the post, it rebounded to smack against the back of the outstretched Carson and ended up nestling in the back of his own net.
Things got worse for Pearson, the Derby manager, shortly after he was forced to withdraw Jeff Hendrick as early as the 12th minute, throwing on Will Hughes in his place. Fifteen minutes in, it was far from an ideal start for the Rams.
Both sides were struggling to create chances over the course of the first half as the early pace set by both outfits settled. Craig Bryson’s swipe on a volley, after Carson’s long punt forward caught the Barnsley backline out, flew wide and over Adam Davies’ crossbar and proved to be the only chance record for either side.
In a closely fought encounter, it was Barnsley’s work rate and tenacity that was shining through as they limited Derby to very little time in possession across the park.
Pearson’s men grew more into the contest as the clock ticked towards the interval, with only a last-gasp challenge from Marc Roberts denying Darren Bent a clean effort on goal from 12 yards out.
With a minute of added time allocated and Derby on the front foot, Tom Ince also drove over the crossbar after collecting a pass from Cyrus Christie in the middle of the park.
Pearson responded by introducing Chris Martin to the fray in a bid to maintain his side’s strong finish, but all their hard work was extinguished three minutes into the second half as the Tykes doubled their lead.
After the hosts had won a free kick on the right, the impressive Hourihane delivered an inch-perfect set play on to the head of Mawson, who had marched forward from centre back, to simply guide the ball beyond Carson.
Soon after it could have been three. Hourihane, again, causing problems as his volley from range had Carson back-pedalling, but the Derby ‘keeper did enough to turn it over the crossbar this time.
Ryan Kent, the tricky winger, also cracked the post with a wicked drive as a two-goal deficit threatened to widen at Oakwell.
The Rams, backed by just under 4,000 boisterous travelling supporters, did have their own chances with Davies forced into action to ensure the Rams did not make the latter stages of Barnsley’s first home game back in the second tier nervous.
He denied Ince from inside the area after the 24-year-old had perfectly cushioned a diagonal cross, whilst Martin bent a free kick over the crossbar from the edge of the area and Craig Forsyth forced saw a header palmed away.
Heckingbottom’s side, however, continued to look the most likely as Hourihane forced Carson into another stop at his near post following a smart exchange of passes, whilst the Rams’ stopper claimed another Kent effort at the second attempt with five minutes remaining.
Despite a lot of huff and puff, Derby’s first away game of the season ended in disappointment as Barnsley, after two years away from the second tier, got their season off and running.
Barnsley: Davies, Bree, Roberts, Mawson, White, Hammill (Lee, 90), Scowen, Hourihane, Kent, Bradshaw (Payne, 73), Watkins (D’Almeida, 90)
Substitutes not used: Townsend, Yiadom, Macdonald, Moncur
Derby County: Carson, Christie, Keogh (C), Shackell, Forsyth; Blackman, Bryson, Butterfield (Russell, 55), Hendrick (Hughes, 12); Ince, Bent (Martin, 46)
Substitutes not used: Grant, Baird, Johnson, Pearce
Attendance: 15,049 (3,932 Derby supporters)