Doug O'Kane looks at Barnsley's 2-1 Easter Monday win at Luton Town.
Luton won 1-0 at Oakwell on the opening day of this season which stopped Barnsley equalling a club record six home clean sheets but, on Monday, they could not prevent the Reds from winning six straight away games for the first time in their club’s 134-year history.
It is also the first time they have won ten away games in a second tier season. Only runaway leaders Norwich City have more Championship wins or points away from home than the Reds this season.
The victories at Brentford, Bristol City, QPR, Bournemouth, Wycombe and now Luton from Valentine's Day until Easter Monday have seen the Reds cover around 2,200 miles in round trips – roughly the same distance as Barnsley to Beirut or the eastern shore of Canada. It has been a sensational run and a wonderful achievement.
Daryl Dike's brace put Barnsley 2-0 up then he won and missed a penalty, which Ismael wanted captain Alex Mowatt to take, seconds before the hosts made it 2-1 to set up a very nervous final ten minutes.
It was a very strange end to the game in which Barnsley should have been out of sight and, as Valerien Ismael hinted at, a wake-up call that there is no room for sentiment in what has to be a ruthless end to the season for the Reds. They may have wanted a Dike hat-trick, but the win was more important and Mowatt is considered the best penalty taker when Cauley Woodrow is not on the pitch. The fact that centre-back Michal Helik was in position to shoot the rebound, and not defending the counter-attack, shows they lost their discipline briefly.
An equaliser – following the loss to Sheffield Wednesday and draw with Reading – could have been a big blow to Barnsley's top six hopes, with the two sides below them winning.
But the Reds saw the game out as they have so often this season as Luton pumped a series of balls into the Barnsley box but failed to create a real chance to level, with just two shots well over from outside the area.
Some teams would have crumbled, as Mowatt said later, after the penalty incident but Barnsley stood strong and got the win.
They also deserve credit for their performance before the penalty which saw them, after a poor first 20 minutes for both sides, control the match while scoring twice and creating several more chances whereas Luton offered virtually nothing in attack. They were a cut above their mid-table hosts and looked very inch a promotion candidate.
Dike continued a remarkable start to life in England which is rapidly marking him out as one of the best up and coming prospects not just in the Championship but potentially in global football. As well as his two goals, which took him to seven in nine starts, he won eight headers and dominated the Luton defenders all afternoon with some sensational surging runs from near halfway into the box which the Hatters seemed helpless against. His first goal was particularly impressive as he took the ball perfectly in his stride before finding the bottom left corner from just inside the box. He now has four goals in his last two away games.
Woodrow got his fifth assist of the season for the opener while he also set up the second goal in an impressive performance which saw him link play well and get involved in some fine moves.
While Dike and Woodrow did the damage at one end, Ismael singled out Toby Sibbick to praise after what the head coach said was the centre-back's best game for Barnsley. It is hard to disagree as he did everything right alongside the also impressive Helik and Mads Andersen.
Sibbick has been rotated with Michael Sollbauer on the right of the back three but after this performance, and Sollbauer's error against Reading, the 21-year-old looks to have put himself in the first choice 11 for now.
He was switched to the left of the back three in the second half, to essentially man mark Harry Cornick after Luton changed from 4-4-2 to 3-5-2 – a job he did very well. Sibbick has made a superb impact since being re-integrated into the Reds squad after being loaned out twice in 2020 but barely playing.