Analysis of Barnsley's 5-4 extra-time win over League Two Barrow in the FA Cup at Oakwell on Saturday.
ASBAGHI'S FIRST WIN WILL NOT BOOST SURVIVAL BELIEF
“SOMETIMES you can gain more confidence by winning but playing a s**t game than playing a wonderful game but losing,” said Poya Asbaghi pre-match.
This was not one of those occasions.
This 120-minute FA Cup nail-biter was certainly not the confidence-boosting straightforward win the Reds needed, or a pleasing break from their Championship struggles, in the first of a season-defining six-game spell throughout January.
It looked like it was going to be at half-time with Barnsley 2-0 up and Barrow down to ten men.
But their diabolical defending and total inability to keep hold of a lead allowed the Cumbrian club, who played with ten men for 82 minutes, to come from behind three times.
Barrow were excellent, but Barnsley shambolic.
The same question must have been asked in the stands and somewhere in the players’ heads: ‘if it is so hard to beat Barrow, how are we going to get the ten or so Championship wins we need to stay up this season?’
Barrow were 19th in League Two, having won once in their last 13 fourth tier games while they had not scored or won in their last five away matches across more than two months.
They were handicapped further when Tom Beadling was sent off after 38 minutes for a high foot into Romal Palmer.
Beadling’s manager Mark Cooper thought they should have had a penalty for a foul by Jasper Moon on Beadling, just before the red card, and a handball by the hapless Liam Kitching right at the end of normal time at 4-4.
Cooper helped to finish Danny Wilson's second spell in charge of Barnsley with a win for Swindon in 2015. A victory at Oakwell on Saturday would have undermined Asbaghi’s reign.
But the Swede instead tasted victory - albeit a pyrrhic one with their confidence rattled by conceding four and energy levels sapped by an extra 30 minutes ahead of crucial league matches starting on Wednesday against Stoke.
Asbaghi said they ‘played like children’ during a second half which was ‘not acceptable’ but put that down to complacency in a cup game.
Others will think it is a sign that this team is a long way from being able to win football matches at their current level.
GREAT CUP TIE BUT WORRYING FOR REDS
This was the type of cup tie that left the national journalists who flocked to Oakwell in the hopes of a giant-killing foaming at the mouth during the second half.
It was an extraordinary game, particularly between 78 and 89 minutes when five goals went in. There were comebacks, nine goals including three long-range screamers, a red card and tempers flaring on the pitch and in the dugout.
But any sense for Reds fans that they had witnessed a classic cup tie, as well as a rare win, must have been mixed with disappointment or even embarrassment at the shambolic elements of their side’s performance.
The last time Barrow visited Oakwell, in the FA Cup in 1969, Kes was in cinemas, the death penalty was just about to be abolished in the UK and Rupert Murdoch had just bought The Sun.
There was also a flu bug around Barnsley, which had laid low some players and staff.
In a bizarre coincidence, the Reds were without several first team players with Covid-19, and two first team coaches, while many others were out with injury.
But they still fielded a side with enough talent to win this game without drama.
There won’t have been many occasions in Barnsley’s history when they scored five but walked off the pitch far less pleased with themselves than the opponents.
Every Barrow goal was followed by delirious celebrations on the pitch and in away end which made up a quarter of the attendance. The home players were very muted after netting - especially late on when they knew whatever the result they would still be heavily criticised - while the less than 4,000 home fans in the East Stand must not have known what to make of this baffling display.
MORRIS LEADS LISTS OF POSITIVES
There were some positives.
Barnsley won for the first time under Asbaghi, and ended an eight-game wait for victory since beating Derby more than two months earlier.
They reached the fourth round of the FA Cup which could provide much-needed funds and momentum.
They scored five goals - despite their starting 11 netting just four previously all season - and got their first of the season from a free-kick, while Devante Cole and Carlton Morris showed their ability in front of goal.
Morris in particular excelled, coming on to score twice and become joint top-scorer in all competitions with four. He finished superbly while providing some much-needed leadership, screaming at his team-mates and also demanding the ball in attack.
Asbaghi said if all the players were like Morris, Barnsley would have won 7-0.
There was also the debut of teenage Reds fan Joe Ackroyd - one of four under 23s who were on the bench.
It was good to see the 19-year-old midfielder come on after being in the academy since he was ten and he helped to see out the win.
DEFENDING ABYSMAL IN SECOND HALF
During most of the second half, defensively, Barnsley in no way resembled a professional football team.
Barrow had not scored on the road in five fourth division games but smashed in four against an incredibly ropey home back line.
The Reds hadn’t played especially well in the first half but found themselves 2-0 up before self-destructing.
Jasper Moon started the comeback for Barrow as he lost the ball deep in his half then committed a foul that earned him a yellow card and Barrow the free-kick from which Ollie Banks scored their spectacular first.
Moon was taken off almost instantly so cannot be blamed for the capitulation that followed.
Liam Kitching replaced him at centre-back, having started on the left, and was at fault for the 2-2 equaliser while he could have done better for Barrow’s third and fourth. Kitching - who played under Barrow boss Cooper at Forest Green - got one assist and could have had more, also missing a decent headed chance at 2-2, but seemed to totally lose his composure at the back during the frantic end to the match.
Captain Mads Andersen cruised through the first half and scored but, as those around him crumbled after the break, he did not dominate and lead like the captain and most experienced player at Championship level. He could not catch James Jones who was unmarked to make it 3-3.
Overall, there was just a lack of leadership and solidity which meant Barrow could force their way back into the game three times with relative ease until becoming exhausted in extra-time.
POYA SURPRISES WITH ATTACKING SELECTIONS
Asbaghi surprised with his attacking selections.
He chose to play Devante Cole on his own up front, with Victor Adeboyejo behind him in the ‘number ten’ role and two full-backs in the wide attacking roles but on the opposite flanks to where they usually play as Callum Britain was on the left and debutant Remy Vita on the right.
It didn’t really work as, even though they went 2-0 up, the goals came from defenders and there was a real lack of threat up front. Adeboyejo was very poor, often miscontrolling on the rare occasions he touched the ball. Victor, who turns 24 this week and was the third oldest starter, does not really have the skill set to play an attacking midfield role as his game is based on powerful running and physicality rather than linking play and creativity.
Cole - Barnsley’s oldest player at 26 - was almost anonymous for 80 minutes then scored a spectacular goal , which he barely celebrated, before looking more lively in extra-time.
Brittain made a very bright start and helped to set up the second goal despite being a right-footer on the left flank, then moved back into defence later in the game.
Vita looked lively in his first game, more than four months after arriving on loan from Bayern Munich, but could have scored four goals, and at times when he would have made the win much easier to obtain for his team.