Analysis of yesterday's 2-0 loss at Coventry City, after which Barnsley remain sixth in the Championship and four points clear in the play-off places with four games to play.
REDS SHOULD BE PROUD OF CLUB RECORD AWAY RUN
When Barnsley trudged off Watford’s Vicarage Park pitch in January after a 1-0 loss, no one could have imagined that their next away defeat would be 89 days later after an historic and potentially club-changing run.
The Reds drew 0-0 at Nottingham Forest later that month but then won at Brentford, Bristol City, QPR, Bournemouth, Wycombe Wanderers and Luton Town to set a remarkable club record of six straight away wins which put them firmly in the top six.
Victory over Coventry on Sunday would have put them on the joint best second tier run for away wins since the 1960s but, after making a far shorter trip, that sequence ended with probably their worst performance under Valerien Ismael.
They should be very proud of their six successive away wins which may well remain in the history books and memories of the supporters longer than this poor performance which they now need to prove was a one-off blip.
WAIT FOR AN AWAY WIN OVER COVENTRY STAYS AT 98 YEARS
Barnsley have still not won an away game against Coventry in 98 years.
Before the game, there was a minute’s silence for Prince Philip who was two when the Reds last won in Coventry.
They not won in 26 attempts, with 19 losses, since 1923 which is closer to the coronation of Queen Victoria, the death of Beethoven and the opening of the world’s first railway than it is to the present day.
The Reds had won at previous bogey ground Loftus Road twice in the last year and gained rare victories at Derby County, Sheffield Wednesday, and Bristol City, but they could not end the longest wait of all despite City playing in their temporary home at Birmingham’s St Andrew’s.
They may be happy for the wait for a win to stretch to a century as it could mean they are above the Sky Blues in the Premier League.
BARNSLEY HAD EIGHT DAYS TO PREPARE BUT LOOKED LESS FRESH THAN HOSTS
Coventry had played at Rotherham on Thursday night – gaining a vital victory to put them six points clear of the bottom three – whereas Barnsley had eight days without a game after their victory over Middlesbrough.
But it was the Reds who played as though they had tired legs.
While Barnsley’s goalkeeper and back three had adequate matches, the seven starters in front of them were all below their best to various degrees with some having their worst games of the season.
The hosts scored early through a wonderstrike by a centre-back who scored once since 2019 – thanks to poor work by the Reds – then defended very well before securing the win late on.
Barnsley had 61 per cent of the ball which is their highest since Ismael’s first game against QPR who had a man sent off early on. That reflected a growing trend of teams, as Coventry did, abandoning their usual approach of patient build-up to play long passes against Barnsley who, in this game, went less direct than usual. Instead of their ‘vertical’ game, when they look to loft the ball into the final third as soon as possible, with tremendous results in recent months, here they were more ponderous with patient build-up often getting them nowhere on a hard and bobbly pitch. Ismael admitted afterwards that they took too many touches and ‘would not score if we played for two hours’ in a display more reminiscent of his predecessor Gerhard Struber. Ismael summed it up well when he said ‘we were not really there’ and it did feel like this was almost a different side to the one who won their previous six away games,
By the time they returned to what they do best and peppered Coventry’s back line in the second half, they were rebuffed by good defending as well as their own poor finishing and the lack of attacking spark.
EX-REDS ROBINS AND JAMES IMPRESS
Mark Robins is unbeaten in five games against Barnsley who he left as manager almost exactly a decade ago due to a budget dispute.
He masterminded a fine gameplan, probably aided by another ex-Red in Matty James who spent the first half of the season with Barnsley before Ismael declined to extend his loan from Leicester City. That decision looked risky at the time but has been vindicated by the Reds’ surge into the top flight without James.
But, on Sunday, he helped his new club Coventry defeat his former team-mates with an excellent individual display.
James - who had the most career Championship goals of Coventry’s squad with nine - knows Ismael’s team, their mindset and tactics, their pressing triggers and individual roles.
He and fellow experienced midfielder Liam Kelly dominated the midfield battle, especially in the first half, while Coventry managed to pass their way through Barnsley’s lethargic press before playing good balls behind the Reds’ defence such as for the second goal.
With number ten Gustavo Hamer, a £1.3million signing, often dropping deep, the Sky Blues usually had an extra man in the middle.
Romal Palmer, who admits he learned a lot from James before being backed to replace him, struggled to make an impact and completed just 13 passes in 57 minutes despite Barnsley passing the ball far more than usual. He did have the Reds’ only shot on target in the first half but his looping header was easily saved. Palmer was replaced by Aapo Halme who added size and muscle but, as a centre-back playing in midfield, lacked the poise and creativity to make the breakthrough.
MORRIS BEST ATTACKER AND SURELY NOW DUE A 4TH START
Daryl Dike had his worst game of what has generally been an excellent spell at Barnsley.
The American was expected to terrorise veteran centre-back Kyle McFadzean but barely troubled him.
After being isolated in the first half, he received the ball a lot more in the second half but badly struggled to hold it up or find a team-mate with a pass success rate of 37 per cent.
Either side of the American, Cauley Woodrow and Conor Chaplin both had poor games and were taken off before the hour.
Chaplin – who was brought into the side for Dominik Frieser against his former club – made the most tackles in the first half but was taken off at the break.
His replacement Carlton Morris was far more lively and effective, putting the home defence under more pressure than any other Barnsley attacker.
Woodrow came off 12 minutes into the second half for Frieser who added energy to the side and forced a save out of Ben Wilson from a tight angle on the right.
Chaplin and Woodrow kept Barnsley in the Championship last season and still have plenty to offer in the run-in but Woodrow has two goals in his last 16 matches and Chaplin one in 26.
Morris has six goals this season, despite only signing in January then just starting three games and none since February.
Ismael's tactic of using him as a supersub has been excellent, and he had a minor groin problem, but it now seems right that he should make his fourth start at Huddersfield Town on Wednesday – probably alongside Dike and Frieser.