Analysis of Barnsley's 1-1 draw with Huddersfield Town at Oakwell on Saturday. The Reds stayed eight points from safety.
ONE OF BEST DISPLAYS OF DISMAL SEASON
Calling this one of the best performances of this abysmal season is like picking out the tallest Oompah Loompah, the fastest snail or your favourite dictator from history.
It’s been a shocking campaign of nearly constant misery but this display in a Yorkshire derby draw, while far from perfect, was improved enough from previous games to be a positive afternoon in a still very bleak situation.
The Reds fell behind for a sixth successive home game but, unlike earlier in the season when a goal seemed to gut them, they did not panic and showed good character to level 12 minutes later against the run of play.
While the away fans, whose side were eighth before the game, booed at the final whistle, the home supporters seemed reasonable pleased.
Huddersfield had the better chances overall with seven of the nine shots on goal, but it was so much better than recent performances that it generated positivity about Poya Asbaghi’s impact so far and his potential to make further improvements in the near future.
If this progress continues across the remaining 25 games, with a good January window, the Reds have a fine chance of staying up.
POYA’S REDS STARTING TO LOOK LIKE AN ORGANISED TEAM WITH A PLAN
Barnsley, unlike for most this season, suddenly looked like a well-organised side who had been working on a clearly understood gameplan in training. Asbaghi’s first two matches, with next to no time on the training pitch, had seen them play very defensively.
But - after a first full week in training under him - they attacked far more in the first half of this match than in both the previous two as they had had time to add attacking plans to the defensive structure the new man prioritised. They faded slightly after the break but defended well to collect what could be a valuable point.
Various players have said it has been vital to be given clear instructions by Asbaghi and to have an identity as a team, implying that was not the case under his predecessor Markus Schopp.
Some interesting new tactics emerged. The Reds had a centre-back regularly moving into midfield to add an extra body in their weakest area, the two wide centre-backs marauded up the wings at times, and the front three were regularly switching places.
It may seem the bare minimum requirement of a professional sports team to work on specific plans to hurt their opposition and cover their own weaknesses, but no such strategies had been evident for much of the season.
MAGIC MORRIS COULD HELP END GOAL WOES
Barnsley are the lowest scorers in the Championship but, with Carlton Morris in the team, that looks likely to change.
Morris was outstanding - winning the most headers of any Barnsley player, regularly getting the ball back with good pressing, beating men on marauding attacking runs and showing excellent movement.
He probably should have scored more than one goal but, once he regains sharpness after three months out, is sure to add to his tally of eight for the club for whom he has made just ten league starts. He had the Reds’ only two shots on target and he had the confidence and swagger to try various turns, tricks and touches which has been missing from the team for most of the season.
His goal was his first since his controversial winner over Rotherham in April, which essentially put the Reds in the play-offs. His return to scoring form could help them reach their new goal of safety.
OTHERS IMPRESS IN STRONG OVERALL DISPLAY
There were other strong performances from goalkeeper Brad Collins who made six saves and Mads Andersen, who looked imperious in the middle of the back three.
Andersen had swapped places with Michal Helik, who moved to the right of the back three. He was at fault for Huddersfield’s goal with a poor pass but gained an assist for the equaliser, and overall was solid as he made the most clearances and blocks.
The wing-backs Callum Styles and Callum Brittain both looked back to somewhere near their best. Styles broke forward well as he has done for several games, and combined well with Morris, while Brittain swung in a series of good crosses.
Earlier in the season, it looked as though the wing-backs had no clear instructions on how to balance their defensive and attacking roles but here they seemed to add a good width and balance to the side.
They both dropped back to form a flat back five when Huddersfield had the ball, out of which left centre-back Liam Kitching appeared to have permission to charge forward and help win the ball in central midfield.
The middle has been a real area of concern for the Reds, but Claudio Gomes and Romal Palmer seemed to be picked as the most ‘battling’ possible pairing with Josh Benson dropped after a dip in form.
They occasionally lost the ball but were bailed out by the back three, while overall they battled well against Huddersfield’s star man Lewis O’Brien and Scott High who is from Barnsley. They were not as impressive after the break as the Terriers had most of the ball and the Reds tired.
Palmer made the most tackles and interceptions while he was involved with some good first half moves.
POINT MUST BE FOLLOWED BY WIN
This positive point has to be followed up with victories to close the eight-point gap to safety, ideally a first away win of the season at Preston next week.
Preston are 18th, so one of the clubs Barnsley will hope to drag into the relegation scrap. After that game, the Reds play three of the top seven in their last the games of 2021 so the trip to Deepdale feels like another enormous match.
They will hope for another positive week in training which brings further improvement.
The next step will be to sharpen their attack further.
Barnsley put some excellent moves together against Huddersfield, passing the ball around with one touch football, but often lacked the final killer pass, cross or finish.