Doug O'Kane analyses Barnsley's win at Birmingham City on Tuesday.
Scott Hogan’s opener after 56 minutes for Birmingham meant Barnsley had to do something they had not done for a long time – come from behind to win.
The Reds had been beaten in all seven previous games this season in which they conceded the opening goal, whereas they had won six and drawn three when scoring first.
The only times they had collected points after falling behind in 2020 were draws with Luton Town in July and Sheffield Wednesday in February.
But, this time, they showed excellent character to win thanks to Cauley Woodrow’s 71st-minute penalty and the 84th-minute winner by Callum Styles as both players continued their impressive seasons.
Barnsley not won from behind since beating Blackpool in their final home game of the 2018/19 League One season, while they last did so in the Championship against Sheffield United, who led 2-1 before losing 3-2 in April 2018.
The last time they won at this level after conceding the opening goal was the 3-2 success over Leeds United in January 2017 and their most recent away Championship win from behind was the 4-3 at Cardiff in December 2016.
The referee in Cardiff four years ago was Tony Harrington, the same man who have Barnsley a penalty to equalise on Tuesday to the dismay of many Birmingham fans.
While they scored from a slightly soft spot-kick and a deflected shot, in a game which saw all three efforts on target go in, they earned that fortune by being the better side throughout.
Former Barnsley trialist Hogan’s previous goal against the Reds, in a 1-0 win at Oakwell in February, left them nine points from safety with 14 games remaining while it was the 58th they conceded in 32 games that season.
Since then, not only have they stayed up in remarkable fashion, but they have let in just 28 in 30 league games – with 13 clean sheets and 12 wins. They are a different team now, with a huge team spirit and growing confidence which will only be enhanced by this comeback win.
The Reds conceded a sloppy opening goal having dominated and missed several chances for the second time in four days following the loss at Blackburn Rovers on Saturday.
The games followed almost identical patterns until the turnaround in the final 20 minutes, with Barnsley once again failing to take chances in the first 70.
Ismael chose a new front three as Victor Adeboyejo joined Conor Chaplin in flanking Cauley Woodrow. The trio all worked very hard, tracking back and doing their bit to defend set pieces, while they linked up well on the attack, looking fluid, mobile and in sync with each other, but they just lacked end product – with all three missing chances.
Adeboyejo’s first touch sometimes let him down, particularly late in the first half when he was put clean through by Woodrow but he took a heavy touch and the ball was cleared. That rustiness is perhaps not surprising as it was his first league start for the Reds since the 0-0 draw at Doncaster Rovers on March 15 last year.
Woodrow and Chaplin also missed good chances, especially the latter who dragged wide in the six yard box early on. Chaplin’s passing and movement often create a lot of problems for the opposition but he needs to score again to renew his confidence in front of goal.
The wastefulness was not restricted to the forwards as wing-back Callum Brittain missed a golden chance for his first Barnsley goal midway through the second half, blazing over in plenty of space 12 yards out on the right of the box after a low Chaplin cross ran to him.
Against a better side, those misses would have been more severely punished.
Within hours of the final whistle at St Andrew’s on Tuesday, Barnsley as a town was placed back into tier three under the government’s Covid-19 measures.
But the town’s football team’s chances of being dumped back into tier three of England’s football pyramid reduced further due to this big win which meant they are nine points clear of the bottom three and seven off the top six.
Although only a third of the campaign has been played, and both Hull City and Charlton Athletic went down last season after better starts than the Reds have made this time in terms of points, Valerien Ismael’s men seem good enough to stay clear of trouble and keep their excited gaze focused higher up as it has been since the dramatic survival in July.
We will know a lot more about their prospects at the end of the eight-game month of December, and even more after the January transfer window, but beating the division’s worse sides – which Birmingham appeared to be one of on this showing and recent form – will be crucial as they build the gap between them and the bottom three and close the distance to the top half.
A third loss in a row, following defeats to Brentford and Blackburn, would have put a big dent in the momentum built up in Ismael’s first five games but instead they have won five in eight under him and are now on a high going into Friday’s match against Bournemouth.
The Birmingham game was similar to the Reds’ last victory, at home to Nottingham Forest last week, as they scored two late goals with their only shots on target – one of which was netted by Styles and assisted by Woodrow, who also got the other.
They lost the next two after Forest but, if they can follow this latest win with positive results against Bournemouth and Wycombe, they could move into the top ten before visiting Sheffield Wednesday on December 12.
Cauley Woodrow’s equalising penalty was his 40th goal for the Reds in 92 appearances.
The last two players to net 40 for the club were Sam Winnall and Bruce Dyer, with the latter departing in 2003 – so it is a real rarity to have such a consistent and prolific scorer.
The goal was an early birthday present as Woodrow turned 26 on Wednesday and also his sixth of the season in all competitions, following on from 15 last season.
Four of his five league goals this campaign have been penalties but that should not be held against him as he won two of them himself and dispatched all four expertly in high-pressure situations.
Woodrow missed three chances in Birmingham which were not simple but you would usually back a striker of his quality to score at least one of them. Eventually he contributed to a win, as he so often does, by levelling then claiming his third assist of the season for the winner, the most of any Red by two this season.
He is a high-class player who creates opportunities for himself and team-mates in every match.
Barnsley’s last two victories, against Nottingham Forest and now Birmingham City, have been secured in the final ten minutes by an 18-yard strike from Callum Styles.
That is a very good return for a 20-year-old playing out of position at left wing-back but we are begin to expect great things from Styles who is enjoying a specular breakthrough season.
The winner in midweek at St Andrew’s was deflected into the bottom left corner so not quite as impressive as his strike into Forest’s top right corner. But the fact that he is adding goals to the assists and chances he lays on for team-mates, the excellent technical skill he possesses and his growing defensive prowess makes him one of the most exciting prospects the Reds have had in many seasons.