Doug O'Kane analyses Barnsley's 2-0 loss at Swansea City.
EARLY GOALS EVENTUALLY COST REDS
Jamal Lowe’s goal after 75 seconds meant the Reds had conceded in the second minute of back to back games and gone behind within five minutes athree times in a row.
They had come back to win the previous two but never truly looked like doing so again as an adequate first half performance was followed by a poor second half display.
Although this side has plenty of character, they are handicapping themselves with these sloppy starts. Jack Walton made an early error at Hillsborough then, in the next two games, he has seen his side concede a set piece almost from kick-off which has led to a goal.
Although it was possible to recover from a second-minute goal by the side with the worst defensive record in the division four days earlier, Preston North End, it would have taken a monumental effort and some individual brilliance to do the same to Swansea - the side with best defence.
The effort was there but the brilliance was not as Barnsley lacked zip and intensity in their play, allowing the third-placed Swans to easily keep an 11th clean sheet in 20 games and a sixth in seven at home.
Hopefully this has just been a bad week for early goals and the trend will not continue.
SET PIECES AGAIN HAUNT BARNSLEY
Barnsley are leaking regular set piece goals. After Brentford’s Ivan Toney and Preston’s Sean Maguire headed in corners at Oakwell in the last month, Swansea’s second goal saw Victor Adeboyejo head a corner into his own net. It was the second time in four days that a striker defending the front post has flicked the ball backwards instead of heading clear - after Cauley Woodrow accidentally assisted Maguire.
Ismael later said he would have to work on positioning on the training pitch.
Swansea’s first goal also came from a set piece. After a free-kick was headed out by Mads Andersen, Yan Dhanda headed the ball back into the box and Ben Cabango beat Matty James in the air to flick it on. Alex Mowatt had been left marking both Andre Ayew and Jamal Lowe, who the ball floated towards and he volleyed an easy finish in from six yards out. Lowe was totally unmarked during the whole move. It has not been easy to drill players on the zonal marking system Barnsley use from set pieces during this busy schedule. But, without a clean sheet in eight games, they must make it a priority this week.
SWANSEA COPED BETTER ON WELSH MARCH
Sunday League footballers across the country will be playing today on better surfaces than the muddy, sandy, bare pitch at the Liberty Stadium.
Within minutes of the final whistle, three tractors began the process of digging up the pitch which had been damaged by heavy rain as well as the fact that Swansea share it with rugby club Ospreys.
The shocking surface - a Welsh Marsh - was one of the factors in Barnsley’s poor performance.
Although they are not quite the 'total football' outfit as they were under previous managers, Steve Cooper's Swansea often build up from the back and were unsettled by the pressing of Derby County in a 2-0 loss three days earlier.
But this time – on an unreliable pitch – they decided not to do so, denying Barnsley any real chance of pressing by launching long balls towards their pacy strikers and relying on set pieces - an approach which flummoxed Valerien Ismael who cited it as one of the main reasons for the result. No Swansea players had a higher passing percentage than 52.
The Reds had more possession than in any game under Ismael since facing ten man QPR in his first match, while they touched and passed the ball more than their hosts. They usually rely on good passing and movement from their attackers which was simply not there partly due to the pitch but also some poor performances.
LACK OF DEPTH SEEN IN SECOND HALF
The away front three of Cauley Woodrow, Conor Chaplin and Dominik Frieser all had off-days, receiving the ball infrequently in the home half but doing very little with it when they did. None of them touched the ball more than 30 times or passed it more than 25. Woodrow's best touches were defensive headers in his own box, Chaplin found that none of the usual intricate passes or touches worked for him, and Frieser was only really noticeable – despite his newly dyed hair – when talking long throws. They all looked tired in their third game in seven days.
Ismael clearly saw they were not working as an attack and brought them all off on 56 minutes. On came Adeboyejo and George Miller, who have each scored three goals in their last 50 league games, and Luke Thomas who has not netted in his last 50.
The front three may have needed freshening up but it was perhaps too early and extreme a move to change them all in one go, especially given the ability of Woodrow and Chaplin to conjure something out of nothing. But that shows the lack of depth in Ismael's squad and why he is looking for a new striker in the January window.
The player who made the most menacing run towards the Swansea goal was the Welsh club's own £20million signing Andre Ayew who bizarrely took the ball to the edge of his box before losing it and setting up a chance for Victor Adeboyejo at 2-0.
BARNSLEY SHOULD BE PROUD OF RUN
Barnsley fans can tuck into their Christmas dinner with their side five points off the play-offs and 12 clear of the bottom three.
That represents a huge improvement on last season and it is a position they looked unlikely to be in when they did not win in the first seven games and Gerhard Struber left the club.
They could not make it four wins in a row as this was one game too many with the pitch, early goal and tough opposition key factors - as well as the absence of suspended wonderkid Callum Styles.
There are areas to work on, as highlighted above, but overall the last two months have been hugely encouraging and have laid a platform for a successful season.
Ismael repeated in pre-match that he did not want to travel to five hours for nothing and was still irked by the 3-0 loss on his first game in Wales at Cardiff City last month.
This time he said he was willing to accept a poor performance in the middle of a busy schedule after a good run, but added that he will lose sleep over the fact that Swansea did not have to play well to win.