While the Reds were being dumped out of the FA Cup on an island off the coast of Hampshire on Saturday, they were also being left further adrift in the choppy waters of the Championship relegation zone thanks to Stoke City’s home win over Swansea City which increased the gap to safety to five points.
There was further bad news on Tuesday evening as late winners for Luton Town, Wigan Athletic and Huddersfield Town left them six points from safety and second-bottom, clear of last place on goal difference. Their trip to fourth-bottom Charlton Athletic tomorrow seems a season-defining match.
A victory would halve the gap between the Reds and the Addicks, who are on terrible form, while even a draw would keep Barnsley just about in contention. But defeat – and the improving form of teams like Huddersfield and Stoke – would all-but end their survival hopes.
The positivity and momentum built up by the Reds’ strong form – mainly at home – under Gerhard Struber, who raised the performances levels to a consistently higher standard than before he arrived, were reduced by the humbling losses to Preston North End and Portsmouth.
Those poor performances seem to have come out of the blue. The most palatable explanation is that Preston are just a very good team, who have Barnsley’s number this season, while the Reds were not quite switched on for Saturday’s cup tie. On top of that, there has been the drama of Bambo Diaby’s alleged failed drugs test, an injury to the impressive Clarke Oduor, the need for new signings to arrive and bed in during the January transfer window and a lack of time on the training pitch due to a busy schedule.
A more worrying explanation would be that Struber’s honeymoon period in the job is over and Barnsley will not be able to close another significant gap to safety. The head coach is trying to rectify and make up for mistakes made months before he arrived as the Reds collected a squad with too many players who were simply not ready for the Championship. They then dropped ten costly points in August to Charlton, Birmingham, Luton and Wigan who join them in the bottom seven.
Barnsley’s form at Oakwell has fluctuated wildly over the last three seasons with a club record 12-match winless run followed by the longest unbeaten sequence since the 1930s – 29 games – then eight without a win before an undefeated run of five matches ahead of the Preston disaster. It will need it to swing back in their favour for the reminder of the season while their away form clearly needs to improve as no side has fewer wins, goals or points on the road in the Championship this season.
What do the stats say? The Reds have made the most tackles in the league and are in the top three for interceptions while they have received the most yellow cards with 68. They have conceded the most home goals. Their tally of five wins from 29 games is the division’s lowest.
What is their run-in like? Tomorrow’s trip to off-form Charlton is the latest in a run of long away journeys. Their next home match is against bitter local rivals Sheffield Wednesday and the following Oakwell games against Birmingham, Middlesbrough, Cardiff, Millwall and Blackburn provide opportunities for points if they can repeat the displays that saw them beat Hull, QPR and Huddersfield. That takes them up to the next international break after which comes what currently looks like a massive week as they visit Stoke City on April 4 before facing fellow strugglers Luton Town and Wigan Athletic over the Easter weekend. The season ends with a daunting trio of matches against promotion-hunters Leeds United, Nottingham Forest and Brentford.
LUTON TOWN, 24th, 24 points
Luton collected 14 points from their first 12 games after two successive promotions, twice as many as Barnsley during that time. Their decision to pack their squad with Championship experience last summer, the exact opposite approach to the Reds, looked wise when they stormed into an early 3-0 lead at Oakwell in August to end Barnsley’s 17-month unbeaten home league run. But they had lost 13 of 16 and collected a point from eight games before beating Derby County on Tuesday to go level on points with the Reds but with a worse goal difference. Luton have eight ex-Reds but, although Ryan Tunnicliffe, James Bree and Matty Pearson have been almost ever-presents, gametime has been more scarce for Elliot Lee, George Moncur, Martin Cranie, Luke Berry and Jacob Butterfield.
What do the stats say? Luton are the only side to have a worse away record than the Reds having lost 13 of their 15 matches on the road while conceding 39 goals. They have conceded the most in Championship with 63 while their goal difference of minus 26 is also the worst. Their 19 losses from 29 games is also the most in the division. The Hatters are in the bottom three for shots conceded while they have had the fewest shots on target.
What is their run-in like? Easter looks huge as they host Barnsley before visiting Huddersfield Town, but in order to get there still in contention for survival, they need to cause some shocks against higher teams and make the most of trips to fellow bottom four sides Charlton and Wigan Athletic.
WIGAN ATHLETIC, 22nd, 26 points
The Latics are staring at a third drop to League One in six years and a fourth relegation in total since winning the FA Cup in 2013. Paul Cook’s side overtook Barnsley on Tuesday by beating Sheffield Wednesday with a 90th-minute winner. That was just their second win in their last 17 games – but their second in four since the turn of the year – and put them within four points of safety. They scraped a goalless August draw at home to a Barnsley side who had eight first team players injured then saw Ben Williams sent off. Goals have been a major problem for Wigan as centre-back Chey Dunkley is their top-scorer with five. Kieffer Moore – who signed for £4million from Barnsley in August – has played 19 league games and scored three times including in midweek.
What do the stats say? The Latics’ total of 27 goals from 29 games is the lowest in the Championship.
What is their run-in like? After a tough February against mainly top half sides, they face Luton, Huddersfield and Stoke in March. Their final two away games of the season are at Oakwell and Charlton.
CHARLTON ATHLETIC, 21st, 30 points
Charlton were 14 points clear of Barnsley in October but now the gap is six and could be halved if the Reds win at the The Valley tomorrow. After spending most of the first three months of the season in the top six, the Addicks have collected just nine points from their last 17 matches, winning only one while they have not won away from home since August. They suffered a further blow during the transfer window when Conor Gallagher – who netted six goals on loan from Chelsea including one at Oakwell – was recalled and sent out to Swansea City. But they have been boosted by the return from injury of striker Lyle Taylor as well as the loan signing of highly-rated Andre Green from Aston Villa. A win for Lee Bowyer’s side tomorrow would provide them with a comfortable cushion from the bottom three but a defeat or even draw would leave them in a precarious position.
What do the stats say? Charlton have had the fewest shots in the division and faced the second most, while they have made the second fewest tackles.
What is their run-in like? February could be a crucial month for Athletic as, after hosting Barnsley tomorrow, they visit Stoke City then, later on, welcome Luton Town and visit Huddersfield Town.
STOKE CITY 20th, 31 points The Potters appear to be pulling away from trouble, after a disastrous start saw them collect just two points from their first ten matches of the season. Michael O’Neill – whose first game was a 4-2 triumph at Oakwell in November – has collected 23 points from 14 games in charge, the sixth best record in the division in that time. Four of their seven wins under O’Neill have been against fellow relegation-battlers as they followed success at Oakwell by beating Wigan, Luton and Huddersfield as well as a shock victory at leaders West Bromwich Albion. Their win at home to Swansea City on Saturday put them seven clear of the Reds.
What do the stats say? Stoke had the worst home record in the Championship but the beating of the Swans means they now have a superior record to Barnsley and Huddersfield on their own soil.
What is their run-in like? City host Charlton a week tomorrow then visit Luton at the end of February. They will hope to be well clear of trouble by the time they face Wigan and Barnsley either side of the March international break.
HUDDERSFIELD TOWN, 19th, 32 points
Steve Mounie’s 96th-minute winner at Hull City on Tuesday leaves the Terriers six points ahead of the bottom three and eight above their near neighbours at Oakwell. They collected just a point from their first eight matches but they have picked up the eighth most points since then. They are far from the finished article under Danny Cowley, as shown by their poor defeat at Oakwell earlier this month, but are still capable of recording regular victories. They have bolstered their squad during the January transfer window with the arrival of experienced duo Andy King and Richard Stearman as well as teenage Arsenal loanee Emile Smith-Rowe.
What do the stats say? Huddersfield are currently the only Championship side to have a worse home record than Barnsley, with four wins and 17 points.
OTHERS Derby County face a potential points deduction after being charged with breaching EFL rules for spending, which could plunge them back into trouble. The Rams are currently 13 points clear of Barnsley. Another club under threat of deduction, allegedly, are Birmingham who have won just two of their last 15 league matches since October, both away from home, and their eight-point cushion from the bottom three could lessen especially if they lose at Oakwell next month. The likes of Middlesbrough and Reading also face Barnsley in February but appear to be moving clear of trouble.