And so the torture continues until the end for the supporters of Hull City and, in a different but now less painful way, Barnsley.

That Hull can still go up to the Premier League automatically is hard to credit, given how poorly they played in failing to score for the third match in succession but such is the case if they beat the champions, Cardiff City, at home next Saturday. They may even do so if they lose, though that will require Watford, one point behind Hull, to be beaten at home by faltering Leeds United.

It is an unlikely scenario: as they demonstrated in beating Leicester City away on Friday night, Gianfranco Zola's side are very much, as the Italian put it after the match, "in a good moment". Zola then suggested that the second automatic promotion place was probably destined to be decided on the final day, and he can only have been happy to see Barnsley make his prediction a reality.

David Flitcroft was delighted immediately afterwards, but his side's hopes were dented by Peterborough's home win against Sheffield Wednesday, which pushed Barnsley back into the bottom three. "A lot had been talked about Hull in the build-up but our players focused on their jobs. We had a full week to prepare and every single one of them fulfilled their objectives," Flitcroft said before the Peterborough game, after excellent strikes from Jacob Mellis at the start of the first half and Chris O'Grady five minutes into the second had given his side a fully deserved victory.

"We had resilience, courage and resolve but we also had quality. When we were crushed 6-0 at home by Charlton a few weeks ago, a lot of people thought our season was over but now we go to Huddersfield for our final game and if we turn up with the energy we showed today, we are a match for anyone in this division."

Hull could not have made a worse start. Flitcroft had elected to match City's customary 3-5-2 formation, and the extra man in midfield made an immediate impact for the Reds as Mellis, running from deep, out-paced Paul McShane on the left side of Hull's back three. The narrow angle as he bore down on goal suggested that for all the power of his rising shot, the City goalkeeper David Stockdale should have got something on the ball as it fizzed over him and in off the underside of the bar. Mellis certainly looked surprised as he turned away in celebration.

As in their previous two games, at Wolves and at home to Bristol City, Hull appeared both nervous and desperately lacking in ideas. Barnsley looked like they knew exactly what they were doing, playing a high line, stifling their opponents in midfield and looking to their forwards O'Grady and Chris Dagnall to pull wide into the extra space in the channels.

Steve Bruce brought on Jay Simpson for the ineffective and lightweight George Boyd at the start of the second half but once again saw Hull suffer an early blow when O'Grady was allowed to turn inside the area and drive his shot across Stockdale and into the far corner of the goal.

Bruce made another change up front – an admission, surely, that he got his selection badly wrong – but it made no difference in terms of Hull's failure to create an opportunity worthy of the name. McShane headed over from a corner with five minutes remaining, but the 5,900 supporters who had travelled from East Yorkshire left in gloomy silence.

"We're hugely disappointed in the way we played and have to admit we've been beaten by the better team," the Hull manager said. "You can't just blame nerves, we just didn't perform and overall we didn't deserve anything.

"I'm confident we'll respond in the right way, because that's what we've done all season. We've had the bottom three now and taken one point: in this league there's never an easy game but I'm still confident we'll do it against Cardiff next week."