Analysis of Barnsley's 2-1 loss at Luton Town on Tuesday. The Reds fell behind, levelled through Carlton Morris, but conceded a second half penalty which condemned them to a sixth straight league loss and left them eight points adrift of safety at the bottom of the Championship.
IMPOSSIBLE TO IMAGINE SURVIVAL AT THE MOMENT
It is time to wake up and smell the Papa John’s Trophy.
Barring one of English football’s greatest ever miracles, which is impossible to imagine at the moment, Barnsley will be playing in League One next season.
Some will say that has been certain for weeks if not months, but the memory of the ‘great escape’ of two years ago from a larger points gap later in the season, and the fact that most of this squad nearly got to the Premier League last summer, kept some hope alive.
That has now gone. It is surely too late.
You cannot win two of 29 games, lose six in a row twice, be winless in 13 twice, and have the fewest points, wins and goals in the EFL then entertain any realistic notion of survival.
Even if the points tally needed for survival is only 40 this season, that would require about eight wins from 17 games for a side who, at the moment, look hard pressed to get the eight points which they are currently adrift by.
They will fight on, of course – that is the bare minimum you expect of a professional sports team and they have to tell themselves that the gap can be whittled down, but there must be major doubts in their minds now. Focuses may soon turn to avoiding humiliating league and club records for the worst season ever, salvaging their own personal reputations and providing something to cheer for the long-suffering fans, 306 of whom made the long midweek trip to Luton.
The Reds have four points from 15 away games this season, and one from the last 11, while they are winless in 19 on the road in all competitions since April, losing their last six.
LUTON MIDFIELD SUGGESTS BARNSLEY COULD AFFORD EXPERIENCE
While there were problems all over the pitch on Tuesday, the centre is, as so often this season, a good place to start.
Luton’s midfield three of Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Allan Campbell and Henri Lansbury are thought to have been recruited for less than a million pounds combined and had more than 400 Championship appearances between them. Mpanzu has been developed for years while Campbell and Lansbury were signed last summer.
Given that the Hatters are understood to have a comparable budget to the Reds, that blows holes in the statements coming out of Oakwell recently that Barnsley cannot afford to bring in Championship experience.
The Reds’ central three of Josh Benson, Domingos Quina and Claudio Gomes were all 21 or 22 and had played less than 20 Championship matches each, although Quina has some experience in the top flights in England and Spain.
The Reds’ model of focusing purely on developing players needs some slightly older heads to help that development happen, which has been totally missing this season. Not to mention that Quina and Gomes are on loan so may not be developed for Barnsley’s benefit.
While they did not totally outclass Barnsley’s midfield three, Luton’s engine room eventually won control of the centre and provided the important moments as man of the match Campbell scored the opener and then set up the winner.
Luton did not play particularly well in this game, the latest side to drop below their usual standards against Barnsley possibly due to complacency, but overall they were the better team.
The Hatters – who gained a first home win over Barnsley in eight attempts since 1998 – are putting the Reds to shame this season, with more than treble their points. This win took them to within goal difference of the play-offs, while it was an eighth victory in their last 11 games and only the top three have scored more home goals this season.
The Hatters had seven players starters who had played more than 100 Championship games compared to just Mads Andersen for Barnsley while the hosts’ 11 had more than double the second tier experience of their visitors.
SECOND HALF POOR AND CHANGES BAFFLING
This was a typical Barnsley display from this season – with a promising start, a missed chance, a loss of control of the game then a poor goal conceded.
The only shock was that they scored for the first time in four games, with their first shot on target in nearly four hours of football, but other than that they only really came close in the first and last minutes – with poor spells in-between.
It has become a recurring theme in the second halves of these crucial recent games that Barnsley have very few real chances and play without the urgency and intent you would expect for a team whose season is on the line. They often seem to lack any real idea of how to break the opponents down, with long spells of toothless possession before threatening more in injury-time when it is too late.
They were not helped by Poya Asbaghi, who broke a club record for the longest wait for a first league win of any Barnsley boss, making some very surprising changes.
The Swede – who many supporters appear to have lost faith in – switched to a back four after the 2-1 goal but the Reds seems unsettled after that.
The decision to replace Benson with fellow central midfielder Romal Palmer, and leave striker Aaron Leya Iseka on the bench, was baffling.
The substitutes had scored more league goals, before the game, than the starting 11.
Iseka has not scored in 12 games, and has been poor in most of them, but he has got goals this season and may well have provided more of a threat than centre-back Michal Helik who was sent up front instead.
That Helik ended the game like that, having started in passing out confidently from goal kicks in his six-yard box, showed Barnsley’s capitulation throughout the evening. As a dejected captain Andersen said post-match, the Reds got dragged into a more direct battle after the break.
COLLINS’ BAD FORM CONTINUES
Brad Collins is a good goalkeeper but it appears that the pressure of this incessantly bad season, and a three-week break from playing at the start of 2022 due to Covid cases, have led to him making a string of mistakes.
After conceding the penalty for the winner, having also been at fault for the opener, he seemed to lose his cool and was booked for protesting then became a pantomime villain for the home fans. His decline must have been a sad sight for close friend and goalkeeper coach Kevin Pilkington, who worked with him at Barnsley before moving to Luton early in this season after spending pre-season with Markus Schopp.
Collins was at fault for Birmingham and Bournemouth’s winners in late January and should have done better for the only goal against Cardiff last week. His two errors in Luton mean that, just weeks after looking a certainty for Player of the Year and summer bids from rival clubs, he must be close to being replaced by Jack Walton who was good in the cup on Saturday.
The point of having two young promising goalkeepers is that one can step in when the other has a bad patch of form.
But the Reds may feel Collins has enough credit in the bank for his superb first half of the season while a cynic might think that dropping him now could lower his pricetag in the summer.
MORRIS ONLY REAL POSITIVE
Lone striker Carlton Morris – starting for the first time after recovering from Covid-19 – was Barnsley’s best player, scoring an excellent goal and looking like the Reds’ only real threat for much of the game.
There were brief flashes of Daryl Dike’s domination of the Luton defence in his two-goal showing last April but, unlike the American, Morris does not have the team around him to back up his good work and provide him with regular chances. Morris was one of two players in the Barnsley starting 11 to have scored this season in the league, with the other being Styles who has not netted in 24 games since his solitary goal in August.