Analysis from Barnsley's 2-0 home loss to Swansea City on Wednesday, in Poya Asbaghi's first match as head coach. The defeat left the Reds six points from safety.
ASBAGHI FIRST MANAGER TO NOT WIN 1ST HOME GAME SINCE MORAIS
Poya Asbaghi became the first permanent head coach in five not to win his opening home game since Jose Morais, who oversaw the last relegation to League One in 2018.
Having watched from the stands at Fulham on Saturday, the Swede got a much closer view of the job he faces to prevent another drop.
Asbaghi had impressed in his first press conference two days earlier with confidence, clarity and detailed explanations – which were a stark contrast to the likeable but hapless Markus Schopp’s often meaningless diatribes that were reflected in his team’s poor and confused performances.
But, on the pitch, the same problems remain as Barnsley had one shot on target, conceded poor goals and failed to produce a consistent 90-minute performance with a solid if boring first two thirds of the game being followed by a messy last 20 minutes in which they conceded both goals.
It would be very harsh to judge the new boss on this game, after two training sessions with a side who had lost nine of their previous ten, and it is not a clear indicator of the approach we will see once he has more influence on the team. But it was yet another sorry night in an abysmal season so far.
SWANSEA STRUGGLES ON ROAD END AT OAKWELL
Swansea, 13th before this game, should not have been particularly scary opponents.
They had collected just eight points from nine away games, conceding the second most goals on the road with 18 and winning just one of their last eight away games with five defeats.
They have lost some of their big names from last season, when they reached the play-off final after beating the Reds in the semi, including former Barnsley captain Conor Hourihane, loan stars Marc Guehi and Freddie Woodman and forwards Andre Ayew and Jamal Lowe who terrorised the Reds. They still had an experienced spine with several players who have hundreds of Championship and Premier League games under their belts.
The day had started badly for Barnsley when Mads Andersen woke up with Covid symptoms and, with the club waiting for a PCR test result, they followed protocol and did not play him.
With Liam Kitching and Aapo Halme injured, in came Jasper Moon, on his 21st birthday, in a back four for the first time in his professional career and – despite one bizarre foul throw late on – had a fairly solid match alongside Michal Helik. They had to defend almost non-stop and looked jaded by the time they retreated into their own box for the second goal.
Moon has become a scapegoat for some supporters but has been no worse than the majority of his team-mates despite being thrown into a Championship relegation fight in his first full professional season.
The hosts' only shot on target was by Cauley Woodrow and easily saved. It was the captain’s 55th effort on or off target of the season – the third most in the division – for a yield of three goals, while he has not scored in nine matches.
He was playing as a central striker but one of his roles was to drop deep and help Barnsley’s three central midfielders gain some control in the middle.
It was a more standard midfield three than at Fulham when they used a 4-2-3-1 but they struggled to assert control with Asbaghi saying ‘we were scared to keep the ball.’
Josh Benson is not a natural holding midfielder and, with less than 15 Championship appearances and only 20 career starts, it is unrealistic to expect the 21-year-old to dominate against a far more experienced Swansea defence and screen his back four all night.
VISITORS DOMINATE BALL AND EVENTUALLY FIND THE NET
Swansea have the Championship’s highest possession percentage, pass completion rate and number of passes and they upped all of those stats in this game in which they had 80 per cent of the ball.
They had an almost unheard-of 1,063 touches to Barnsley’s 381 and 895 passes to 230 while their centre-back Kyle Naughton completed more passes than the Reds’ entire team and was able to casually dink the ball over Dominik Frieser’s head and collect it deep in his half.
Barnsley’s gameplan was clear. Allow Swansea to dominate the ball in non-dangerous areas, do not try to press them and get picked off like at Fulham on Saturday, stay solid and compact in the new 4-3-3 shape, keep the score at 0-0 and then begin to attack later with the help of some of the four strikers on the bench. That worked for more than an hour, although it was stultifying in its dullness, as Barnsley looked much more organised than for most of the season.
Asbaghi said he would have fallen asleep watching the first half on TV as a neutral but was happy with the defending and commitment.
Barnsley started the second half well but then began to lose their shape defensively after making changes.
Swansea’s first shot on goal came on 69 minutes when Ethan Laird’s header from the right of the box was easily caught by Brad Collins.
The goals arrived in the next ten minutes as Barnsley returned to the chaotic, overwhelmed side we have seen for most of this season.
Asbaghi responded to the first goal by replacing midfielder Romal Palmer with home debutant striker Obbi Oulare who was reminiscent of Mido on his only Oakwell appearance when he slid into a very late tackle and was booked. They went to 4-2-4 but were caught for a second goal.
The boos at half-time had been harsh but the disgruntlement after the game was understandable following a 12th defeat in 19 matches.
SWANSEA’S SUBS MAKE MUCH BIGGER IMPACT
The Reds started the second half with more attacking thrust and the crowd started to liven up, especially with the introduction of substitutes Carlton Morris and Aaron Leya who are both very talented potential match-winners.
But that was actually the moment they lost their way, with both subs having little impact going forward and unbalancing the defensive structure – especially on the right where Iseka did not track back to support Brittain for either goal.
In that system, the winger has to keep up with the opposition full-back but Ryan Manning got away from Iseka for both goals whereas the man he replaced, Frieser, had been more solid, albeit with little attacking threat.
Iseka had six touches in his 35 minutes on the pitch and completed two passes while Morris looked much more like a player rusty after three months out with injury than he did when starting on Saturday.
In contrast, Swansea’s substitutes made a major impact as Olivier Ntcham netted the opener from a cross by fellow replacement Manning.
HUGE MATCH NEXT UP AT FELLOW STRUGGLERS POSH
The Reds now desperately need to beat third-bottom Peterborough on Saturday and kickstart what so far has been a miserable campaign.
The Posh are third-bottom, one place and four points above the Reds, while they have one goal and one point from their last five matches.
They lost 4-0 at Blackburn last night so have conceded the most goals in English professional football this season, but the vast majority of those have come away with their form at home generally solid.
Barnsley won 4-0 on their last trip to London Road in 2018, sending a statement of intent to League One on their way to promotion.
They need to send another statement at the weekend that they will not return meekly to the third tier and they can start trimming down the six-point gap to safety.