Barnsley’s morale-boosting victory over QPR on Saturday is being followed by a rare free week to work on the training ground then two crucial trips in which they must surely get their first away win of the season to have a chance of staying up.
The Reds cut the gap from eight to five points at the weekend, although it will grow tonight when third-bottom Peterborough United host fourth-bottom Reading. Those two sides and Derby look set to join Barnsley in a four-way scrap to survival.
But the Reds will have little chance of competing unless they follow their third win of the Championship season – in their 30th match – with several more before the international break in a month’s time.
The trips to Coventry City on Saturday and Hull City on Tuesday are chances to improve their woeful away record this season. The Reds surely need at least one win, ideally two, to build momentum and belief but also to stop the gap growing.
After fans could return to football matches for this season, Barnsley’s away backing had been strong – with regular crowds of 1,000 or more following last season’s play-off semi-finalists across the country.
The 950 who watched the thrashing at leaders Fulham, despite poor form, and the 1,200 who made their way through snow to see a very dull 0-0 at Peterborough were particularly impressive turnouts.
But, understandably, those numbers have dwindled recently – as the Reds sunk further into relegation trouble – other than for the cup game at Huddersfield which was watched by 2,500 Barnsley fans in a fantastic show of support.
About 300 made the long trip to Luton last Tuesday and the club announced this week that they had sold 414 tickets, up to that point, for the relatively short trip to Coventry.
The away crowds are being trimmed down to the absolute diehards, and it is no surprise at all that hundreds are choosing not to part with about £50 – sometimes much more – in travel, match ticket and food to watch a team that has not won in 19 away games.
The Reds have lost six straight away games in all competitions for the first time since the very end of their last relegation season in 2018, while their last 11 league fixtures on the road have brought just one point. No other side in the EFL have not won on their travels this season.
Coventry may not be the ideal place – in terms of history – to end that slump as the Reds have not won an away game against the Sky Blues in 26 attempts since 1923, losing 19.
But Mark Robins’ side, after an excellent start to the season, have been on bottom six form for several months and are missing several key players. They are also one of three teams to have lost to the Reds this season, a 1-0 defeat back in August with Brad Collins saving a 96th-minute penalty from Viktor Gyokeres who had almost joined Barnsley earlier that summer and now has 12 goals for the season.
A win there for the first time in 98 years would be the perfect follow-up to the QPR success.
Midweek hosts Hull have collected one point from their last four matches, going into home games with QPR and Barnsley.
The KCOM Stadium was the last place that Barnsley fans saw their side win away in person – a 1-0 victory under Gerhard Struber thanks to Cauley Woodrow on February 26, 2020 which is almost two years ago exactly.
That was during a remarkable run to safety having been nine points adrift with 14 games left. The deficit is smaller this time – due mainly to points deductions and Reading’s eight-match losing run – but they will not have the months-long break that Covid-19 gave them to regroup two years ago.
This would probably be the greatest of all their escapes, given how poor they have been for the majority of the campaign, and it has to start this week.