FIRST-HALF goals from Garath McCleary and John Swift saw Reading record an excellent win at Oakwell.
It was quite the afternoon, too, for McCleary, who was sent off on 34 minutes for lashing out at Barnsley skipper Conor Hourihane after the latter had produced a rash challenge on Danny Williams.
The winger had put the visitors in front on nine minutes when following up his saved penalty, with a stunning strike from Swift later in the half rightfully doubling the advantage.
Disappointingly Royals were unable to add to a tally which they looked capable of building on due to being a man light, yet still looked comfortable for long spells of the game – only for an Adam Armstrong strike 10 minutes from time to set up a nervy finale.
The same player would go close again as team-mate while Josh Scowlen was just millimeters away from securing Barnsley a point with virtually the last kick of the game.
The elation, though, was there to be seen come the final whistle as Reading held out to secure a fourth win of the season – and in doing so ended the hosts’ perfect start to the season on home soil.
Swift was one of two changes made by Jaap Stam following the midweek goalless draw with Birmingham City, with the summer arrival taking the place of Stephen Quinn.
Also handed a start was Tyler Blackett, who slotted in at left back, with Jordan Obita instead named on the bench.
Swift, though, fully justified his inclusion with an orchestral performance in the middle of the park and a super goal to boot, but with Reading having to defend more after the break his involvement came to an end in the 52nd minute.
The deadlock was almost broken by the hosts in stunning style early on through Ryan Kent.
Having skipped past a couple of challenges, the midfielder decided to let fly from some 20-yards, only to see his strike bounce back off the crossbar with Ali Al-Habsi beaten.
Barnsley were looking the more likely to go on and open the scoring during the early exchanges, yet would find themselves trailing moments later after losing possession from their own corner.
The low flag kick was intercepted by Swift, who would almost single-handedly lead a counter attack which would result in the same player winning a penalty having had his heels clipped by Adam Davies when exchanging passes with McCleary.
Looking to maintain a perfect record from the spot this term, responsibility from the spot belonged to the latter. McCleary opted to go straight down the middle, but Davies stood firm and a third goal of the campaign from 12 yards for the winger was denied.
Redemption for the Tykes ‘keeper, however, was short-lived. This is because the ball kindly rebounded back in the path of McCleary who, under little pressure, was able to prod home on the rebound.
Adam Hammill and Kent saw chances saved by Al-Habsi and put over respectively, while at the other end Roy Beerens saw his goal-bound effort kept out by a fine recovering block from from Marc Roberts.
It was the Royals, tidy in possession – as has become customary this term – who packed the greater punch and shortly after McCleary went close with a first-time effort were deservedly two-goals to the good.
Some might argue Swift had no right to shoot from where he did, but with the opposition backing off, the midfielder continued to carry the ball forward before pulling the trigger from the 20-yard mark, with his strike flashing past Davies and nestling perfectly in the top corner.
Royals were now in cruise control and a third goal, you felt, was soon coming.
The visitors, however, would find themselves a player short on 34 minutes when McCleary saw red – for doing exactly that.
A heavy challenge from Hourihane on Williams left the latter sprawling around on the floor in agony, but the Barnsley captain was not yet finished and began berating the American international as he awaited treatment.
Clearly incensed, McCleary felt the need to run some 10 yards and get involved, shoving his opponent in the face as a pushing match ensued.
The offence was deemed worthy of dismissal from referee David Coote, who then booked Hourihane for the initial tackle, and it was a blow of sorts for Reading because McCleary was enjoying a productive afternoon offensively.
Such was his superiority down the right flank the hosts were forced into an early change, with full-back Aidy White leaving proceedings early in the 17th minute with what appeared to be an injury possibly picked up during the torment received from the Jamaican.
Royals would see out the remainder of the half with little fuss, but were thankful Winnall was off target when presented with a free header early in the second half as Scowen also sent a similar effort over the top as the hosts duly cranked up the pressure.
Between both chances Stam had felt a change was necessary, so Swift’s involvement was ended after 51 minutes, with the more defensive-minded Obita his replacement.
But these two chances aside, Barnsley would not threaten again until almost the 70th minute mark when Adam Armstrong forced Al-Habsi into a save diving low to his near post.
This is because Reading, in McCleary’s absence, were producing a disciplined performance with 10 men and generally looked comfortable keeping possession and protecting their two-goal lead.
They would create an opening too, but the hard-working Yann Kermorgant could only send the ball into the welcoming arms of Davies when pulling the trigger from just outside the box.
Two half-hearted appeals for a penalty would arrive soon after, but just as though it looked like the guests had done enough to leave south Yorkshire with all three points and a successive clean sheet, Armstrong popped up to cut the deficit.
It was a decent effort from the on-loan Newcastle United, too, getting his head over a Tom Bradshaw flick-on and drilling the ball into the bottom corner from the edge of the Reading box.
The same player would produce a hearts-in-mouth moment for the away contingent minutes later, and the relief was evident when his close-range header bounced the wrong side of a post.
A similar scenario would occur with just seconds of five additional time remaining.
Bringing down a ball in the box would present Josh Scowlen with an opening. He was able to nudge the ball past the committed Al Habsi, but put too much curvature on his attempt which was brilliantly divereted out for a corner by
AL Habsi and then Blackett when under pressure from Armstrong at the far post.
The resulting flag kick was to be the last action of the game as a clinical yet dogged Royals celebrated a win which extends their unbeaten league run to five games and moves them up to seventh in the table.
BARNSLEY: Davies, Yiadom, Roberts, MacDonald, White (Kpekawa 17), Hammill, Scowen, Hourihane (c), Kent (Janko 68), Winnall (Bradshaw 68), Armstrong.
Subs not used: Townsend, Morsy, Jackson, Watkins, Janko.
Goals: Armstrong 80.
READING FC: Al Habsi, Gunter, Blackett, McShane (c), Moore, Evans, Swift, Williams, Beerens (Quinn 72), McCleary, Kermorgant (Mendes 86)
Subs not used: Jaakkola, Harriott, Watson, Kelly.
Goals: McCleary 9, Swift 27.
Booked: Swift, Blackett, Williams
Sent off: McCleary
Referee: David Coote
Attendance: 12,675 (418 away)