Analysis from Barnsley's 2-1 defeat at Birmingham City yesterday, which kept them last in the Championship. The hosts went 2-0 up before a late Victor Adeboyejo strike.
LOSS AGAINST OFF-FORM SIDE BIG MISSED OPPORTUNITY THIS defeat meant that, with 21 games left, Barnsley could not reach last season’s points tally of 78 or beat the 23 wins they accrued in that campaign.
It has been obvious since the opening weeks that they would not reach those heights again but those are shocking statistics at pretty much the halfway point and put into perspective their alarming fall from their promotion challenge of a year ago.
The unbeaten run in the new year that some fans had sarcastically joked about cane to an end in their first league match of 2022.
In the context of a season when winning any game is extremely difficult for the Reds, this was among the more winnable fixtures.
Birmingham were 18th and had not won in seven, with five defeats including an FA Cup loss to League One Plymouth Argyle with a full-strength side in their previous home match.
The Reds had the first three shots on target - drawing three good saves at 0-0 - then had the only clear-cut chances of the last 35 minutes. But in-between that they conceded twice, as well as several other chances, as they were haunted by their familiar failings of this season - losing the big moments, losing midfield control, missing chances, conceding poor goals and not putting together a consistent 90 minutes.
Playing a third game of the week, having conceded six at Fulham on Tuesday, City let the Reds have far more space than usual on the attack.
But Barnsley are the lowest scorers in the division and, in their first league match for three and a half weeks, they lacked the sharpness needed to collect points.
Eight of Birmingham's 11 had played 100 or more Championship games and were at least 27 years old, while neither applied to any of Barnsley's players. In the end, that experience told as they took their chances and left the Reds last, eight points off safety.
Birmingham had made the most fouls and fewest passes in the division while Reds boss Poya Asbaghi described them pre-match as 'really direct'.
While they did go long often, the possession was an even 50/50 split and the hosts actually made more passes than Barnsley who seemed to struggle increasingly to play the ball to each other.
REDS ONLY EFL TEAM WITHOUT AWAY WIN
Doncaster Rovers’ win at MK Dons left Barnsley as the only EFL club yet to win an away game this season.
The Reds have not won in 13 on the road, drawing four and losing nine, including eight losses in their last nine.
It is their longest wait for a first away win of a season since 1975/76 and the longest winless away league run at any point since a 16-match sequence in the 2007/08 season.
Since around 1,000 fans went to both Fulham and Peterborough, the away end numbers have been understandably shrinking despite shorter trips to Preston, Blackburn and Birmingham.
There were 605 at St Andrew’s, with chants coming from the away end of ‘we want Conway out’ and ‘we want our Barnsley back.’
A group of about 500 Birmingham fans marched from the city centre to the ground, letting off flares, to protest against their owners - and the Reds fans are also severely disgruntled. They need to see a lot more on the pitch and in the transfer market in the next week, but it could already be too late.
RARE ERROR BY COLLINS
Brad Collins has been Barnsley's best player this season by a significant distance, but he had a rare poor game on Saturday.
The goalkeeper looked nervous all afternoon, dropping a cross in the second minute which would have led to a goal if not for a touch by the offside Lukas Jutkiewicz, who later intercepted a Collins clearance just outside the box before the hosts wasted another chance.
Collins could do nothing about the opener but was at fault for the suckerpunch second goal just after the break, missing a corner which was tapped in by former Reds trialist Scott Hogan.
He has barely made any mistakes all season, and possibly was just rusty in his first game for 23 days, but this error could show the lack of confidence throughout the whole squad is infecting even the best players.
VICTOR A BRIGHT SPOT
Victor Adeboyejo capped an impressive individual performance with his third goal of the season.
He was Barnsley’s best player, winning the ball in dangerous areas, driving at the home defence and some playing intelligent passes, with the highest pass completion rate.
Despite playing out of position as a number ten behind the striker, he could have had two assists in the first half and was denied a goal by a fine save.
Victor has often been a scapegoat for fans, and his tally of nine goals in 88 matches is clearly disappointing.
But 63 of those appearances have been off the bench and he has the most goals per minute of any Barnsley player this season.
Aged 24, and the longest-serving first team outfielder, he has to step up and become a key player in the absence of Cauley Woodrow.
FORMATION AND CHANGES FLAWED
Poya Asbaghi has not won any of his first seven league games, which matches John McSeveney’s wait for a first league victory as Barnsley boss a half century ago.
He was lacking in options due to injuries, Covid, and the club’s failure to sign anyone in the window, and he has inherited a terrible situation, but some of decisions were surprising.
The 4-2-3-1 formation leaves Barnsley outnumbered in central midfield - their weakest area - with attacking threats such as Carlton Morris having to play as a winger and do plenty of defensive work.
Then there was the replacement at 2-0 down of Romal Palmer by Jasper Moon - centre-back by trade - instead of Will Hondermarck, a much more attacking midfielder. Asbaghi said that was due to Moon’s long throws, which have not been particularly threatening.
Most of the damage was done before Asbaghi was appointed but he needs to start winning games at some point if he is to convince that he is the right man to lead Barnsley in the long-term future.