Analysis of Barnsley's 1-0 victory over Rotherham United which put them within a point of the play-offs.
REDS LUCKY BUT HAVE EARNED IT OVER SEASON
This was Barnsley’s 23rd Championship win of the season and by far their least deserved.
The Reds produced one of their worst displays under Valerien Ismael - who said they were 'very very poor' - but got away with it as they scored a controversial opener then saw their relegation-battling visitors missed a series of excellent chances. Results are all that matter at this stage of the season, but this was far from a convincing or enjoyable performance from a Barnsley perspective.
The hosts were cumbersome and ponderous, slow to loose balls and in their decision-making as they struggled to string passes together or attack in their usual purposeful way.
But how often have Barnsley been like Rotherham on Saturday over the years?- playing well but undone by missed chances and refereeing decisions.
The Reds are finally the promotion-chasing team with momentum and a bit of luck on their side.
However they did it, to move onto 77 points - their fourth best tally ever - and nine points clear in the top six is a magnificent achievement.
They are probably owed some fortune after their sensational efforts all season while it is one of the intangible by-products of success that everything starts to go your way.
As Ismael said: “When you are in a season when everything goes in the right direction, you win such a game. When it goes in the wrong direction, you lose such a game.”
This was Rotherham’s sixth games in 14 days due to Covid-related suspensions earlier in the season, including the last one which saw them play for 72 minutes with ten men against Middlesbrough on Wednesday. Energetic high-pressing Barnsley are usually the last team you would want to play in those circumstances but the Reds were just not themselves for the second weekend match in a row following their loss to Coventry.
Ismael suggested his side may have been nervous with the top six so close.
It was their second 1-0 Yorkshire derby win in four days. But, whereas in Huddersfield on Wednesday they should have won by far more, this time they were very fortunate to scrape the victory with a goal that was their only effort on target, and it can barely be described as that.
ROTHERHAM AGGRIEVED BY GOAL
Goalkeeper Viktor Johansson brilliantly clawed a first-minute Cauley Woodrow shot out of his top right corner but his game would end seconds later. Callum Styles played the resulting corner short with Alex Mowatt then crossed for Michal Helik to head towards goal where Carlton Morris challenged Johansson to the ball, which was touched into the back of the net. Rotherham fumed that it was a foul on their goalkeeper, who had to be substituted with a broken eye socket, and Morris did seem to lead with his arm. But Barnsley may point out that they have had goals wrongly disallowed several times this season for fouls on the goalkeeper.
Referee Gavin Ward - who sent off Barnsley’s Milan Lalkovic at Leyton Orient in 2015 - did not punish Morris who admitted he ‘half expected’ the goal to be ruled out.
Ismael said Barnsley ‘scored too early ’ which is one of football’s stranger cliches but seemed to work in this case as an odd and dramatic first two minutes gave them the lead but also seemed to knock them off their stride - especially due to the long injury break - and motivate the Millers.
REDS SUCCESS SHOULD GIVE HOPE TO CLUBS LIKE MILLERS
Rotherham, who look set for a third relegation in four years with the other two seasons bringing promotion, are the type of yo-yo club Barnsley were until this season. The two neighbours have often been pigeon-holed together as plucky South Yorkshire outfits who are too big for League One but not rich enough for the Championship.
Barnsley have proven this season that you can break that cycle and, although they do have a slightly bigger budget than the Millers, it is not equivalent to the 38-point gap between the clubs. The difference is that Barnsley were able to survive their initial relegation fight, adding a unity to a talented squad that has been widely supplemented by savvy signings and the inspired appointment of Ismael.
Their success should give hope to the likes of Rotherham - although it may be hard to think like that when they have half as many points as Barnsley and are in the bottom three.
COLLINS A CLASS ACT
Goalkeeper Brad Collins missed the reverse fixture due to Covid-19 but was outstanding this time.
Since Lucas Joao missed an open goal for Reading on Good Friday, Collins has been exceptional and is now one of Barnsley’s most consistent performers.
He seems to time every run out of his area to perfection at the moment and showed how good a shot-stopper he is with some wonderful saves.
Freddie Ladapo missed a hat-trick of excellent one-on-one chances with Plymouth Argyle at Oakwell in 2018, in a similar game which saw the Reds take the lead early then play poorly but win 1-0. He also should have equalised at the New York Stadium in Barnsley’s 2-1 December win.
This time Ladapo was denied one-on-one chance by Collins on 43 minutes then, just after the break, missed the ball when he looked certain to score five yards out with the goal gaping. It would have been miss of the season if it had not been for Joao.
Chiedoze Ogbene was also denied one-on-one by Collins who later sprang to his right to make another excellent save from the Irish winger.
TOP-SCORING FRONT THREE’S FALSE START
Barnsley’s three top-scoring strikers, Morris, Daryl Dike and Cauley Woodrow, started together for the first time since Millwall at home in February and second time overall.
It was an attack many fans had been calling for for some time.
When Woodrow almost scored and Morris did score in the first two minutes, they looked set to terrify the Millers - but never did. They lacked service, as they touched the ball 98 times between them - for context, former Barnsley captain Angus MacDonald made 73 touches in the Rotherham defence - and struggled to link up when they had the ball as they made fewer than 50 passes.
All three made crucial contributions defensively, tracking back and also clearing set pieces, but they did not play like a first choice attack of a top six side.
Woodrow has now scored once from open play in 19 games while Dike completed just five passes and was embroiled in an aerial battle with Rotherham’s big back three, who often resorted to fouling him. The American had Barnsley’s only chance in the 90-odd minutes after the goal as he outmuscled Richard Wood to go through on goal but the defender deflected the shot wide.
Morris was the best of front three - scoring the goal and always trying to get attacks going, but he got in the way of better-placed team-mates on at least two occasions and seemed to struggle with cramp towards the end of his second start in four days after three in the previous three months.
That front three is packed with talent so will surely come good eventually, if given time, but they missed a chance to cement themselves as Barnsley’s first choice attack.