Barnsley are set to head into next Sunday’s final-day showdown at Wigan still with their play-off destiny in their own hands - but only just.
The Reds ought to have been looking at that game with bags of confidence and a two-point lead over Scunthorpe in the dramatic race for the final League One play-off position, but they threw two points away against already-relegated Colchester.
They were 2-1 up thanks to Ashley Fletcher’s clinical second-half double and playing against 10 men. But the Reds allowed wounded Colchester to grab a shock 98th-minute equaliser from midfielder Tom Lapslie.
So the Reds remain in the final play-off place ahead of Scunthorpe only on goal difference, with Gillingham a further two points behind.
While the Reds will aim to gatecrash Wigan’s promotion party at the DW Stadium on Sunday lunchtime, the Iron travel to Sheffield United and the Gills host Millwall.
Caretaker boss Paul Heckingbottom said: “There wasn’t too much said after the game. We were all a bit flat.
“We’ll have to go through the game with a fine tooth comb this week. We have to be better than that. But we’re still where we wanted to be and we should still get into the play-offs if we win our last game.”
The mood inside the stadium before kick off was also a mixture of nerves and expectation with the Reds set to take on an already-doomed U’s side who surely couldn’t get in their way of another precious three points.
Heckingbottom named an unchanged starting line-up following the gritty goalless draw at Sheffield United.
Josh Scowen continued at right-back due to the continued absence of injured James Bree, George Smith, Aidy White and Marley Watkins.
Young full-back Callum Evans was among the substitutes for the first time.
Colchester’s caretaker boss David Wright made two changes to his starting XI after their drop to League Two had been sealed seven days earlier. Elliott Lee and George Moncur earned recalls in place of Louis Dunne and veteran striker Chris Porter.
A sun-drenched first period also proved to be 45 minutes of peaks and troughs for the Reds.
Only 60 seconds had passed when the U’s were denied by the woodwork.
Elliot Lee dragged a cross back into Moncur’s path, and he struck a low shot against the base of a post.
The opening 20 minutes saw the Reds play in fits and starts, until Adam Hammill stung the palms of ‘keeper Elliott Parish with a well-struck effort.
Parish then produced a breathtaking point-blank stop to keep out Sam Winnall’s header on the half-hour mark.
At that point the Reds were well on top, and they were soon to be denied by the woodwork.
This time Alfie Mawson charged in to meet Hammill’s in-swinging corner-kick, only to see his header strike the floor before bouncing up and against the bar.
That was a blow for the hosts, but not as much as the one suffered in the 42nd minute when the doomed U’s took the lead.
Lee and Moncur combined again, with the latter slotting home a neat goal past Adam Davies from 15 yards.
The second period belonged to Fletcher, who dragged the Reds almost off the deck and lifted them to within seconds of what would have been a wildly celebrated, and well-deserved, victory.
Fletcher equalised in the 57th minute with a classy individual strike, poking the ball through the legs of Tom Eastman before smashing a low drive past Parish.
The Reds’ tails were up, with Winnall forcing Parish into another brilliant close-range stop, before Fletcher turned the game on its head by making it 2-1 to the hosts.
After sub Harry Chapman was thwarted by Parish from close in, Fletcher charged in to head home the rebound.
Oakwell went wild, and with Parish being forced off injured and all Colchester’s subs used, midfielder Macauley Bonne had to go in goal for the final 10 or so minutes.
Surely the Reds could now go and finish the job with relative ease.
However, that wasn’t how how it turned out as Lapslie headed home Joe Edwards’ cross in the 98th minute and Oakwell was stunned.
Heckingbottom’s men must now pick themselves up and go for the big prize again on Sunday.
Meanwhile, ahead of Saturday’s kick-off, Barnsley owner Patrick Cryne presented the club’s end-of-season awards on the pitch.
Winger Hammill and central defender Mawson both picked up two awards apiece.
Hammill pocketed the goal of the season prize following his memorable curling strike in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final win against Oxford at Wembley, as well as the fans’ player of the year prize.
Mawson won the young player of the year and the players’ player of the year awards.
Young defender James Bree (18), who has made 24 first-team appearance this season, won the Sky Bet League One Apprentice of the Year award.
After the final whistle, the Reds paraded the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy in front of their fans after what was the final home fixture of the regular season.
However, Colchester’s late. late equaliser meant that the atmosphere and occasion was a tad muted.
BARNSLEY (4-4-2): Davies 7; Scowen 6, Roberts 7, Mawson 8, G Williams 7; Isgrove 7 (Chapman 70, 6), Brownhill 5, Hourihane 6, Hammill 8; Winnall 7 (Tuton 90, 6), Fletcher 8 (Toney 90, 5). Subs not used: Townsend, Nyatanga, McCourt, Evans.
COLCHESTER (4-2-3-1): Parish 7; Edwards 7, Kent 7, Eastman 6 (Wynter 67, 6), Shorey 7; Garvan 7, Lapslie 7; Massey 4 (Gilbey 71, 5), Lee 8 (Wright 77, 6), Bonne 7; Moncur 7. Subs not used: Porter, Brindley, Barnes, Dunne.
REFeree: Nigel Miller (County Durham).