FULL-TIME: Jon Stead scores twice as Bristol City stun Barnsley 5-3
Rampant Bristol City registered their biggest win of the season to beat Barnsley 5-3 and climb off the foot of the npower Championship table.
Six points adrift of safety and under intense pressure at the start of the day, the Robins came good when it really mattered to make it four wins in as many home games since Sean O'Driscoll was appointed head coach in mid-January.
Veteran striker Jon Stead led the charge, scoring twice to take his season's tally to five and give City renewed hope of avoiding the drop.
Stead headed the home side in front after 16 minutes and Liam Fontaine netted his first goal in three seasons to double the lead shortly before half time.
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Stead swept in his second and City's third six minutes into the second half and centre-back Lewin Nyatanga headed his first goal of the season four minutes later.
Spirited Barnsley pulled a goal back through substitute Chris O'Grady, but Steven Davies headed his 11th goal of the season soon afterwards to consign the visitors to a first defeat in 10 games dating back to New Year's Day.
Loan signing Ryan Tunnicliffe pulled another one back for the Reds eight minutes from time and substitute Jason Scotland further reduced the arrears, but David Flitcroft's side finished well beaten.
Having spent much of the previous two games at Cardiff and Crystal Palace defending against superior opponents, City were required to start on the front foot at Ashton Gate.
And that is exactly what they did, Stead offering the home side early encouragement when heading Liam Kelly's cross over the bar.
Stead then had appeals for a penalty turned down, Reds centre-back Stephen Foster appearing to pull him back on the edge of the six-yard box, only for referee Scott Mathieson to dismiss vehement City protests.
Already established as an attacking fulcrum, Stead tested Barnsley keeper Luke Steele with a low shot that was gathered at the second attempt and then had another effort blocked when a pass to Stephen Pearson might have yielded more tangible dividends.
In confident mood after six straight wins, the visitors also posed a threat going forward and newcomer Tunnicliffe, signed on loan from Manchester United on Friday, almost made a good first impression with a drive that drew a good save from Heaton.
City's keeper again had to be at his best to parry a powerful shot from Rory Delap after burly striker Marlon Harewood had shrugged off the attentions of three red-shirted defenders to set-up the former Stoke full-back.
But the Robins were well and truly in the ascendant and the impressive Stead put them in front in the 16th minute. Paul Anderson swung over a corner from the left, Marvin Elliott nodded the ball towards goal and the much-travelled striker demonstrated strong neck muscles to power the ball beyond Steele from six yards out to register his fourth goal of the season.
Barnsley players were furious, believing Stead had fouled Foster before guiding his header into the top corner.
The Yorkshire side were still rattled when Stead again stole in behind their three-man defence and delivered a low cross that eluded the in-rushing Davies by inches.
City had Heaton to thank for protecting their lead, the former Manchester United keeper displaying startling reactions to tip over Martin Cranie's bullet header.
Having conceded three goals from dead ball situations in the previous two games, it was City's turn to profit from set-piece routines on this occasion.
Anderson and Pearson worked a short corner and right-back Brendan Moloney played a brilliant ball towards the far post where Fontaine timed his arrival to perfection to ram the ball past Steele from an acute angle.
It was the central defender's first goal of the season and it afforded his team crucial breathing space approaching half time.
Barnsley boss Flitcroft made a change almost immediately, sacrificing Foster, introducing attacking midfielder O'Grady and switching to a flat back four.
The next goal was going to be decisive and it went to the home side six minutes into the second half.
Davies delivered a free kick from the right flank, Fontaine headed the ball into the path of Stead and the Yorkshireman beat Steele from seven yards out with a scuffed shot that wrong-footed Steele.
City extended their lead four minutes later. Barnsley failed to clear their lines following a corner, Elliott headed the ball back across goal and Nyatanga rose high to head his first goal of the season and put the Robins out of sight.
But the visitors reduced the arrears within two minutes, O'Grady bundling the ball over the line after Heaton had saved Harewood's powerful shot.
Flitcroft decided to throw caution to the wind, introducing Scotland and Thomasz Cywka and going with three forwards for the final half an hour.
City weathered a brief Barnsley storm and almost added a fifth, Steele rushing from his goal to thwart Davies. But the Liverpudlian was not to be denied and he was left unmarked to head in Pearson's in-swinging corner seconds later.
Barnsley kept going and Tunnicliffe beat Heaton with a low shot from the edge of the penalty area to mark his debut with a goal eight minutes from time.
Substitute Scotland then rifled in a shot from 18 yards out, but it was too little too late for the visitors.
Bristol City (4-4-2): Heaton; Moloney, Nyatanga, Fontaine, Cunningham; Anderson (Adomah 76), Elliott, Kelly (Kilkenny 76), Pearson (Howard 80); Davies, Stead.
Barnsley (3-5-2): Steele; Foster (O'Grady 38), Cranie, McNulty; Delap, Perkins, O'Brien (Scotland 56), Tunnicliffe, Kennedy; Dagnall, Harewood (Cywka 63).
Referee: Scott Mathieson (Cheshire).