With ten games to play, Barnsley are second-bottom, five points from safety after their three-game winning run ended with a 2-0 defeat at Reading on Saturday. Cardiff are 11th in the table, five points off the top six but winless in four games.
Struber’s team lost 3-2 at the Cardiff City Stadium on December 7, having led twice through Conor Chaplin then an own goal. But Lee Tomlin got the winner in the 94th minute. He is now injured.
Struber told the Chronicle: “I remember that game and I had pain in my whole body when we went home. It was a painful loss and a very disappointing moment. But now we have developed our mental state and we are further along in this case. The boys can more bring performances in more phases in games, especially when opponents play long balls.”
Struber believes the energy levels, which he felt were too low in Reading, have risen after a week of training, while insisting that defeat has not had an impact on the atmosphere at Oakwell. He said: “The mood is very good. We have a very good spirit and everyone believes. It is a very good feeling. After Birmingham (a 1-0 loss last month which left them nine points adrift), I had to bring my energy into the boys and give the boys a good feeling. But, right now, that is not necessary because the boys believe.
“We create a good tactical plan for Saturday and we hope we can win. “We have recharged the batteries which was the biggest issue in the last game. We did not have the right physical condition and the mental state was not our normal state. When we are not at this level with our energy, it is difficult for us. Now we have the right mental state for a difficult game.”
Cardiff use a direct style and have the Championship’s lowest average possession percentage, pass completion rate and passes made while they have won the most aerial challenges. He said: “It is a big strong opponent who are good in set pieces and throw-ins. We know what we have to do. I hope we create a very big performance for our supporters. Cardiff are number one for set pieces in the whole league.
"I think half of their last eight goals have come from throw-ins which is a big strength for them. We have worked this week to be ready for that. We have been creative in training to defend those long throws. The normal way in the Championship is long balls. The away game in Cardiff showed me about the long balls. We have a good strategy against this opponent.
"We want to create good overloads and have good transition in offence. We need more control on the ball against Cardiff. We need a clear structure against them and a clear pressing style.”
Former Barnsley player Neil Warnock left Cardiff in November when they were 14th, and was replaced by former Millwall manager Neil Harris whose 20 Championship games have so far brought seven wins, nine draws and four defeats. After losing 6-1 at Queens Park Rangers on New Year’s Day, Cardiff were unbeaten in seven league matches with three wins and four draws before a 2-0 loss at lowly Stoke City last week.
They then lost 1-0 at home to Nottingham Forest before they drew 2-2 at home to another promotion-chasing side Brentford on Saturday, coming back from 2-0 down before half-time. Cardiff have conceded the third most away goals in the division this season with 33. Only Derby County and Luton Town have let in more away from home this season.
After tomorrow, Harris will have managed against no side more than Barnsley in his career. After losing his first four meetings with them as Millwall boss – including the 2016 League One play-off final – he has won the next three games. Barnsley have played Cardiff 52 times, winning 14 and losing 26.
They have only won three of the last 21 clashes since 2002, as they did the double in the 2009/10 season and then triumphed 4-3 in December 2016 thanks to Ryan Williams’ injury-time winner.
The Bluebirds have won the last three games between the sides. City have an excellent record at Oakwell, winning seven of their ten visits since 2002 with their only loss in Barnsley in almost two decades being a 1-0 defeat in 2009 courtesy of Carl Dickinson’s 90th-minute free-kick. After tomorrow’s game, Barnsley visit QPR a week later before hosting Millwall and Blackburn Rovers ahead of the international break in late March.