Doug O'Kane analyses Barnsley's 2-0 home loss to Swansea City.
REDS MATCHED 2ND-PLACED TEAM UNTIL ERRORS
This game was frustrating because Barnsley showed for 45 minutes that they can match, at least, one of the best teams in the division - which bodes well for the rest of the season - before giving away two poor goals.
They continued their bad record against the top sides but not due to a gulf in quality, more a lack of concentration.
Swansea are unbeaten in six, with five wins, while they are second in the league and have the best defence in the EFL with just 13 goals conceded in 24 games and 14 clean sheets. But they looked beatable until being gifted control of the game and were less impressive than in their deserved 2-0 home win on December 19.
In the two matches against the Reds either side of Christmas, they have foregone their traditional passing style for a direct approach - scoring from set pieces and hopeful punts up the pitch.
In Wales, the Swans found plenty of space behind the Reds back three but, at Oakwell, their hosts did not defend as deep while Barnsley pressed a lot better to prevent accurate long balls.
On a difficult pitch which had been cleared of three inches of snow, Barnsley had more possession, more passes and more touches as well as 15 shots to seven, but the visitors netted from their only efforts on target.
FIRST GOAL ANOTHER SET PIECE STRIKE
Connor Roberts' long throws had been Swansea's best weapon in the first half in which they offered little else, with one being clawed away by Jack Walton early on as it almost went all the way in. Another led to the opening goal in first half injury-time, with the visitors’ first effort on target. Just like at the Liberty Stadium, when Alex Mowatt was left marking two players for Jamal Lowe's opening goal, this time it was Michael Sollbauer who was left with two men. After the ball sailed over Callum Styles’ head, Sollbauer pulled Korey Smith back but Ben Cabango was left free to head in before Michal Helik could get to him.
Ismael played down his concern about that goal, or Barnsley’s defending against set pieces, but it is an ongoing problem that many hoped would be solved after two solid weeks on the training ground. It was a good throw and a good header but the marking and organisation could have been much better.
The Reds also badly struggled from attacking set pieces, often attempting to play short corners which were easily cleared.
SECOND GOAL TOTAL DISASTER
The Reds have shown regularly this season that they can come back from 1-0 down but the second goal ‘killed the game’ in Ismael’s words.
Barnsley should have easily cleared but there was no communication and Mads Andersen headed the ball into Helik then they bumped into each other which allowed Lowe to run through on goal and beat Walton. Lowe was standing in an offside position when the initial pass was made and was interfering with play as he put pressure on the defenders. Ismael said it was offside - and that Barnsley should have had a penalty for handball - but offered no excuse for a ‘stupid mistake’.
Andersen and Helik, despite dominating most games aerially, both are capable of damaging errors which regularly cost their side.
It may be time for changes in the back three but Toby Sibbick may be the only senior option with Aapo Halme, Liam Kitching and Jordan Williams on their way back from injury.
The Reds have the potential to finish in the top half, at least, this season but not if they defend like that.
BRITTAIN AND VICTOR IMPRESS, THEN LOOKS BRIGHT ON DEBUT
There were some good individual performances for the home side.
Wing-back Callum Brittain was easily Barnsley's best player. Not only did he make the most touches and threaten on the attack but he also defended very well and made nine clearances.
Brittain saw a cross headed wide by Cauley Woodrow at 2-0 then the wing-back almost scored his first Barnsley goal with a sensational 25-yard strike but Freddie Woodman did well to claw it out of the top left corner. He then fired over again from the edge of the box after jinking past a defender.
Victor Adeboyejo – who replaced Dominik Frieser in the starting 11 – held the ball up impressively as he played on the left of the front three but often drifted inside to be the focal point of attacks, while his passing accuracy was the best of any home starter.
The striker, who turned 23 last week, could have put the hosts in front as he blasted over from 20 yards after Ben Cabango fell over, then fired at Woodman from a tight angle on the right of the box. Those came from good early forward passes by Herbie Kane and Michael Sollbauer respectively.
On the first occasion, Adeboyejo should have played the ball to his right to top-scorer Woodrow who would have been clean through on goal. He has been told to shoot more by Ismael but that was a rare opportunity to carve open the EFL’s best defence.
Carlton Morris, the new signing, also looked lively after replacing Conor Chaplin for his debut.
TOUGHEST POSSIBLE START TO 2021
Barnsley have now played the Championship’s top two sides Norwich City and Swansea City in their last two matches. Although they have collected no points, they have been far from outclassed and certainly will feel aggrieved they did not collect at least a point against Swansea.
On Tuesday they visit fifth-placed Watford who have the division’s best home record and the second best defensive record after Swansea.
It is as tough a start to 2021 as the Reds could have been handed but anything they pick up from those three games was always going to be a bonus. They should not be judged too harshly for results against far more well-paid and experienced teams with greater strength in depth. They have shown they can pick up plenty of points against bottom half sides but are not quite ready to put together the consistent 90 minutes required to defeat the top sides. Overall, that is not a bad position for the tenth-placed Reds to be in.