A look back at yesterday's 2-0 defeat at Deepdale.
REDS ‘SWITCH OFF’ WITH TOP 6 SECURED
It is only natural that there would be a subconscious drop-off in Barnsley’s intensity and focus in the game after they secured the superb prize of a place in the top six.
It happens in all sports across the world every season and this year’s Championship is no different.
Champions Norwich, who visit Oakwell next, lost twice after securing promotion, Watford joined them in the top flight then lost yesterday while Bournemouth, who had also qualified for the play-offs, were beaten at bottom club Wycombe.
For the Reds, whose young squad never expected to be in this position, it is no real surprise that they should be temporarily thrown by their sensational achievement. There is also the added complication that - as much as they insist the last two league games mean just as much as the play-offs - they know their careers were less likely to be defined by what happened at Deepdale and against Norwich than the following fixtures.
Somewhere in the back of their heads, there must be a reluctance to dive into tackles with the same intensity which, in a worst case scenario, could risk injury or suspension for the play-offs.
Valerien Ismael said it was a 'normal process for human beings' and added:
"The training week was good but, at 3pm on Saturday, it was like the guys switched off completely.”
He suggested that he would grudgingly accept that as a one-off and that it could be a ‘warning’ that they cannot let their standards slip further.
DEFENSIVE SET PIECES COST REDS
This was a bizarre game in which striker Daryl Dike made the most clearances for Barnsley and centre-back Michal Helik had the most shots. The fake crowd noise pumped around Deepdale added to the surreal atmosphere.
Barnsley had the most possession, touches and passes, as well as the better chances overall, than their mid-table hosts, but conceded either side of half-time from a corner then long throw.
Barnsley have improved hugely from defensive set pieces in the second half of the season but were vulnerable from them all game, with Ismael saying it was down to a lack of concentration due to the top six place being secured.
Before the goals, Preston had threatened from set plays with Jordan Storey heading wide from close range at the back post from a corner then Sepp van den Berg volleyed against the chest of Brad Collins five yards out after a long throw was flicked on.
Mads Andersen and Michal Helik are usually defensive rocks for the Reds but were each at fault for one of the goals as they seemed to lack concentration.
Andersen headed a corner towards his own goal for the opener then Helik lost Ched Evans for the 2-0 goal.
They could have made amends at the other end as Helik had Barnsley's only shot on target of the first half with an overhead kick that was easily saved then Andersen headed over a good chance at 2-0.
MOON IMPRESSES IN CENTRAL MIDFIELD
Romal Palmer – who came back into the side for Aapo Halme – completed just two passes in the first half, out of eight attempted, and only made 13 touches.
He was replaced in central midfield for the second half by Jasper Moon, a 20-year-old centre-back making his second professional appearance. Moon – who had only previously come on as a late substitute at Rotherham in December – played well as he made the joint most tackles of any Reds player throughout the game.
Moon almost scored his first professional goal after a left-wing Alex Mowatt cross dropped to him ten yards out but his low shot was straight at the goalkeeper.
Ismael said Moon had impressed in training recently in midfield and rewarded him with a start. If he continues to perform like that, depending on Herbie Kane’s fitness, he could be involved in the play-offs.
AGILE CHAPLIN MISSES EARLY CHANCE
Conor Chaplin replaced Carlton Morris in the starting 11 which was slightly surprising as Morris scored in the previous match whereas Chaplin had one goal in his last 25 games. It had been felt that Ismael may go with his three top-scoring strikers up front for the remainder of the season in Morris, Dike and Woodrow.
But Ismael said he wanted to use the agility of Chaplin and tends to like to leave a regular scorer on the bench for impact in the second half.
The starting front three linked up well at times and had by far the best passing percentages of any Reds in the first half. Chaplin should have opened the scoring in the ninth minute but looked like a striker lacking confidence as he sliced well wide when unmarked ten yards out after Dike found Woodrow who ran down the left of the box and picked out his team-mate.
Chaplin was replaced at the break by Morris who added more of a physical presence and put in a good shift without really coming close to scoring.
Woodrow – who looked caused problems on the left in the first half – faded after the break then was replaced before the hour with Victor Adeboyejo who could not repeat his match-winning heroics of the reverse fixture.
Dike was a real handful for the Preston defence, especially early on before he mainly saw the ball while defending in his box rather than causing chaos at the other end.
He headed over a difficult headed chance from a Callum Brittain cross after 30 minutes then, at 2-0, he saw a six-yard shot deflected wide six yard out when he looked likely to score following another Brittain cross.
HOME GAME FIRST IN PLAY-OFFS
The defeat means Barnsley can longer break their records for wins and points at second tier level this season, or equal their overall record for away wins in a season, while they will definitely play the first leg of the play-offs at home.
But they still won more away games than in any second tier campaign in their history while, if fans return for the play-offs, being at home first may actually be an advantage.
It is slightly worrying that, in the seven games since the international break, the Reds have only really played well in the wins at Luton and Huddersfield. But it seems very harsh to overly criticise the performance of a club with one of the lowest budgets in the division who had qualified for the play-offs with two games to spare.