Barnsley boss Daniel Stendel admitted his promotion chasers were “lucky winners” after Jacob Brown’s stoppage-time strike gave the Tykes a 1-0 victory at struggling Walsall.
Brown fired home amid a goalmouth scramble to give Barnsley a win that owed much to some fine saves from stand-in keeper Jack Walton.
Ben Williams also cleared off the line from Walsall’s Corey Blackett-Taylor as Stendel’s side rode their luck to stretch their unbeaten run to 19 league games.
Stendel said: “We cannot be satisfied with the performance but we can be happy with the result. It is an important victory. It is what we need at this time of the season.
“We did not play our best game but we have togetherness which helps us to win these close games.
“Sometimes when you are the top of the table, you have more luck than the teams at the bottom – and that was the case. We were lucky winners.”
The win – accompanied by a seventh straight clean sheet – moved second-placed Barnsley five points ahead of Sunderland, who have two games in hand.
Stendel added: “We knew before the game we could increase the gap over Sunderland and this was a problem, we thought we could win this game and forgot that it’s going to be a hard fight.
“We have seven games left. Nothing is decided at the moment. Sunderland have two games in hand. But we are in good shape.
“Sunderland have a lot of games in April. We have to win our games, then we can look at what they do.”
Walsall, meanwhile, remain in the relegation zone after a third straight defeat and boss Dean Keates bemoaned two key decisions.
Isaiah Osbourne had an early 20-yard volley ruled out for a foul by team-mate Josh Gordon while Keates claimed Brown handled for the winner.
Keates said: “We’ve created opportunities and not taken them – but Ozzy’s scored a great goal in the first half. It’s not a foul, as simple as that.
“Then you look at their goal, it’s hit Brown on the thigh and then the hand but the referee has not given that one.
“We aren’t getting those small margins at the moment. When you are at the top of the league, one or two things bounce in your favour.
“For 90 minutes we were by far the better team. If we had won 2-0 or 3-0 I don’t think anybody could have moaned at the score. I thought the lads were outstanding, absolutely outstanding.
“It’s disappointing to lose, it’s a massive, massive body blow but we have to regroup.
“We’ve got some massive games coming up and if we keep performing like that and giving full 90-minute performances, something will turn and go in our favour.”