Analysis of last night's 2-1 loss at Blackburn Rovers, which left Barnsley seven points from safety and winless in eight.
REDS MUST ACCEPT THEY HAVE MAJOR PROBLEMS AND DESERVED TO LOSE
Sometimes, to deal with problems, you have to acknowledge they exist in the first place.
Almost as worrying as this poor performance and another damaging defeat, were the post-match comments from Poya Asbaghi and his players that suggested they felt they played well and were genuinely unlucky to lose.
The Reds were outclassed by the third-placed Rovers, especially in the first half, and were only spared a humiliating thrashing by the referee and some poor finishing. They barely attacked while their midfield was almost non-existent at times and the defence exposed over and over again.
They were very fortunate to go in 1-1 at half-time with a smash and grab leveller then the hosts deservedly won the game after the break.
Yet the post-match rhetoric was that they had some good spells and were just undone by a couple of errors which led to the two goals – ignoring the many other chances the hosts wasted.
It is only natural that they would take the positives to try to keep morale high but that description is so far removed from the view in the press box and on the terraces that it makes you wonder if they are properly addressing the problems that have haunted them throughout the first half of the season and also in this first game of the second half.
The situation is extremely bleak although not yet unsalvageable – they have bridged bigger gaps before – but it will be impossible if they do not recognise certain areas, especially central midfield, need urgent attention and help in the transfer window and that this performance in Blackburn was a very long way from the standard of display that will keep them up.
POYA STILL CANNOT GET BALANCE RIGHT
Asbaghi had as free a month as you could imagine during a Championship season, with just three games in 31 days before this match, providing plenty of time to work on the training pitch – including 12 days since the draw with West Brom.
But he still cannot get the balance right between being defensively solid, but offering nothing going forward, and attempting to create more chances but leaving themselves very exposed at the back.
In this game, they barely created anything and were very open at the back.
The Reds had 58 per cent possession and more than 100 more of both touches and passes than their hosts, but did little with it. They had just two shots on target, both in the first half, and never realistically looked like levelling.
Barnsley’s backline was incredibly easy to pass through and, in the first half especially, they were often a disorganised rabble at the back.
Asbaghi inherited a very tough situation, and has had difficult fixtures against top sides recently, but his six-game wait for a first win is the longest of any Barnsley boss since 1971/72.
MIDFIELD EXPOSED YET AGAIN
Barnsley’s defence was not properly protected, as usual this season, by the central midfielders in front of them.
Romal Palmer – who came in for Claudio Gomes – and Josh Benson both had extremely poor matches as they lost the ball regularly.
They both have potential but, on Wednesday night, looked nowhere near the required standard of a Championship midfield pairing.
They must take responsibility for their performances, but so must those at the club in charge of recruitment and Asbaghi for not making changes when they were clearly being overwhelmed.
Blackburn midfielder Joe Rothwell, who had a difficult four-game loan spell with Barnsley from Manchester United in 2015 but scored and hit the post on Wednesday, has two goals and seven assists this season compared to zero goals and two assists by anyone playing in the centre for Barnsley all campaign.
Palmer is a good player, he showed that in the first half of this year when he was an ever-present alongside Alex Mowatt in a side that charged into the play-offs. But this season he is not playing next to a captain fantastic who is an accomplished Championship operator, but instead he is the oldest, at 23, of a group of extremely young and inexperienced central midfielders that the club mistakenly thought would be able to compete consistently in this ruthless division.
Although he made the most tackles of any Barnsley player, Palmer lost the ball inexplicably for the opening goal and could have done better for other chances that Blackburn missed.
He had a half-chance to score his second career goal on the ground where he got his first but miskicked 15 yards out at 2-1 down.
Benson’s passing was good at times, setting up some of the Reds’ rare attacks, but also very wayward at other times – gifting Rovers two big opportunities which they missed.
He is a 22-year-old in his first full season of professional football and doesn’t yet seem to possess the consistent defensive discipline or tackling nouse to be a holding midfielder at this level while his technical ability and free-kick prowess are yet to be on display regularly in matches.
BLACKBURN AWAY HARDEST GAME IN LEAGUE CURRENTLY
It must be pointed out that Blackburn away is probably the hardest fixture in the Championship at the moment.
Rovers had won their previous five games without conceding and had the best home record in the division.
This victory took them to within a point of top.
Both starting 11s averaged 24 in age but Blackburn had six players with more than 100 Championship appearances compared to none for Barnsley. Rovers started five academy players but also £7million signing Ben Brereton Diaz, who scored his 20th of the season, while they could bring on £6million substitute Sam Gallagher.
Tony Mowbray – who has built a young side into Championship stars in a way Barnsley’s owners must admire – said afterwards that he had watched four recent Reds games as preparation and ‘knew where all their players wanted to pass’. That seemed clear as Blackburn resembled Barnsley of last season – winning the ball high up the pitch and counter-attacking, or playing accurate long balls over the defence.
Those tactics worked perfectly and created a plethora of chances which should have led to a much more convincing scoreline.
HELIK INJURY A CONCERN
Barnsley were dealt a blow when centre-back Michal Helik – who had made some impressive blocks – had to come off with an injury, and the winner arrived minutes later.
Substitute Jasper Moon and captain Mads Andersen must both feel they could have done better with that goal, but again they were exposed by those in front of them.
Asbaghi said afterwards that he took Helik off as a precaution and was hopeful the injury was not serious, although he did not know for sure.
With Cauley Woodrow also injured, Barnsley are missing two of their most experienced and proven Championship players, even if their performance levels have dipped from last season.
They are also – at 26 and 27 with 18 months left on their contracts – prime candidates to be sold in the upcoming January transfer window if the club chooses to do so and bids are made.
In the doomsday scenario, both have made their final appearances for the club but, hopefully from a Barnsley perspective, they will soon be back on the pitch and contributing to the survival fight.