With the league season ending tomorrow, Doug O’Kane hands out prizes
MOMENT OF THE SEASON
The appointment of Valerien Ismael
Ismael was in his kitchen in Munich in October with his wife, mulling over various job offers that they were not particularly convinced by.
Then he received a message to tell him that Barnsley were interested in making him their new head coach and the couple instantly agreed it would be the right move.
After wowing the Barnsley board over zoom, he flew to the UK on October 23, watched the Reds draw 1-1 at Millwall under caretaker Adam Murray the next day then, the day after, went to Oakwell for the first time to take training.
They beat QPR two days after that, the first of 23 victories in his first 37 league games which took them from fourth-bottom and a 500-1 shot for promotion into the Championship play-offs for the first time in 21 years. It is miraculous turnaround for a side that survived on the final day last season while it has revived supporters’ hopes of a top flight return that seemed nothing more than a distant fantasy until recent months.
Although the excellent performances of the players, the bond forged in the squad by last season’s survival and the impressive recruitment by those above him are also key factors, Ismael has been the main reason why Barnsley have finished in the top six this season.
His drive, passion, authority, clarity of instructions to players, cast-iron belief in his style of play – which has caused teams huge problems – and relentless focus on each game at it arrives while working towards a larger overall goal have all worked wonders.
Whatever happens this month, this has been one of the best, if not the best, performance by a Barnsley manager over a season.
PLAYER OF THE SEASON
There are several contenders for this title, and a good argument could be made for Mads Andersen, Michal Helik, Callum Brittain, Callum Styles and Cauley Woodrow.
But Mowatt just takes it after captaining the Reds into the play-offs and being an extremely consistent performer in central midfield.
He spent much of last season as a defensive midfielder but has been freed up to be more attacking this season by the presence of first Matty James and now Romal Palmer.
He is in the Championship’s top ten for assists with seven and no central midfielder has more goals than his eight.
His crosses and set pieces have caused opponents major problems, especially in the second half of the season.
No Championship player has netted more goals from outside the box then Mowatt who scored spectacular long-range strikes against Millwall, Watford, Preston and Queens Park Rangers while he even netted directly from a corner against Middlesbrough.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
The Danish defender is emblematic of the improvement made by Barnsley’s young team over the last two seasons.
Although his progress really started at the end of last season following lockdown, he has gone from the weak link who gifted opponents a series of goals to one of the best defenders in the Championship.
He has made the most clearances and interceptions of any player in the division with only his former Oakwell club-mate Kieffer Moore winning more headers. More unusually for a defender, Andersen has also registered five assists this season as he has caused chaos at attacking set pieces. Along with Michal Helik – who is just behind him in most of the stats lists – they have formed the backbone of Barnsley’s team.
If Andersen starts tomorrow, he will be the first Barnsley outfielder to start every league game in a second tier season since Nicky Eaden in 1996/97.
NON-BARNSLEY FC EMPLOYEE OF THE SEASON
Midway through the second half of the USA’s friendly against Trinidad and Tobago in Orlando on January 31, with his team 7-0 up, coach Greg Beerhalter brought on Daryl Dike for his international debut.
That meant that he was eligible for a work permit in this country and Barnsley chief executive Dane Murphy, watching in the middle of the night in the UK, was able to complete the deal that had been in place for weeks. Dike has been a revelation for the Reds, scoring nine goals and adding a physical, powerful focal point to their attacks.
An honourable mention in this category goes to Reading striker Lucas Joao, whose astonishing open goal miss on Good Friday at Oakwell meant the Reds maintained a gap between the two clubs which grew until it became unassailable for the Royals last week.
Brentford, away, February 14
The Bees were unbeaten in 20 matches, with eight wins in their last nine, and had gone to the top of the league.
Barnsley had played Chelsea in the FA Cup less than 72 hours previously but took confidence from that excellent display, despite a Thursday loss to the Premier League giants, into this Sunday game. The Reds, just as they did on the final day of the previous season, rattled their ball-playing hosts with frantic pressing before winning through Conor Chaplin’s last goal for the club, to date, and Carlton Morris’ first. That started a seven-match winning run which took them into the top six.
BEST TEAM GOAL
Dominik Frieser at Sheffield Wednesday
Mads Andersen plays a 50-yard pass to the right touchline where Callum Brittain controls the ball then, before it lands, volleys a pass to Matty James who returns it to the wing-back. Brittain then fizzes the ball to Cauley Woodrow who, 30 yards out, dummies for Conor Chaplin to play an excellent chipped pass over the home defence.
Dominik Frieser goes clean through and nutmegs the goalkeeper.
This is not just the best goal because it ended an 11-year wait for a Barnsley win over Sheffield Wednesday, but because it was an excellent move.
It shows that those who describe Barnsley as a direct side are not seeing the full picture.
BEST INDIVIDUAL GOAL
Daryl Dike v Birmingham
A dull match was lit up by this extraordinary strike just after the break.
The American striker belted a phenomenally powerful 15-yard shot into the top right corner from the right of the box.
Valerien Ismael said it was the best strike he had seen in his 30-year footballing career.
Alex Mowatt and Callum Styles have both scored wonderful goals from further out, but this was the most breath-taking, unusual goal of the season.