A look at the teams at the relegation scrap, after Barnsley’s rare win

READING, 21st, P: 31, PT: 23, GD: -24

2022 has been a disaster for the Royals.

They looked set to win the first game of the year against Derby but threw away a 2-0 lead after 86 minutes.

They then lost to National League North side Kidderminster Harriers in the FA Cup and were crushed 7-0 at home to Fulham, the first of seven successive league losses, conceding 24 goals in that time.

Many media sources have been reporting all week that Veljko Paunovic would be sacked as manager but he stayed in charge for their 0-0 draw at fellow strugglers Peterborough United on Wednesday.

Defeat would have put them in the relegation zone but instead they are two points clear.

The Royals were deducted six points in November for breaking the EFL’s financial regulations.

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They had been unable to sign players for money due to a transfer embargo but have brought in very experienced free agents and loans such as England internationals Andy Carroll, who has since left, and ex-Red Danny Drinkwater.

Andy Yiadom was relegated with Barnsley three years ago and will not want the same feeling again.

What do the stats say?

Reading and Peterborough had the joint worst defensive records in the division, with 60 conceded each, but played out a 0-0 draw on Wednesday. No one has drawn fewer games in the Championship this season than the Royals with five.

What is their run-in like?

Before the international break they play a clutch of mid-table sides in Preston, Birmingham, Blackpool and Millwall before facing three promotion-chasers in a week in Nottingham Forest, Bournemouth and Blackburn.

When do they play Barnsley?

On April 2, the game after the final international break of the season, at Oakwell. It will be exactly a year to the day since the two sides met while competing for a play-off place and drew 1-1 with Lucas Joao missing an open goal. This is Reading’s only remaining match against another team in bottom four.

The Reds’ trip to Berkshire was also the first game after an international break in October, under Markus Schopp whose side played fairly well but lost 1-0.

PETERBOROUGH UNITED, 22nd, P: 30, PT: 21, GD: -37

After a goalless stalemate at home to Reading on Wednesday, Posh are two points from safety with a game in hand on the Royals.

They have been lingering near the bottom of the Championship since their promotion last summer and had taken just a point from their previous seven league matches since December 11 before their midweek contest.

Whereas Derby and Reading undoubtedly have bigger names and salaries in their squad, as well as multi-million signings, Posh are more similar to Barnsley in terms of their budget and their attempts to develop young players.

They have not scored in their last four games and are the second-lowest scorers after Barnsley. Both the Posh and the Reds have lost 19 games this season.

What do the stats say?

Posh actually have a worse away record than Barnsley, despite the Reds being the only EFL club yet to win a game on the road this season.

Both have collected only four points from 15 games on their travels but United have an inferior goal difference.

Darren Ferguson’s side have lost 13 of their 15 games on the road, winning at Hull in October and drawing 2-2 at Birmingham last month having been 2-0 up after 85 minutes.

They have failed to score in ten of their away games, netting eight in total which is the lowest total in the division.

What is their run-in like?

It is tempting to say this week is Peterborough’s season condensed to a few days as, having hosted Reading on Wednesday, they visit Derby tomorrow.

Before the international break, they make the tricky trips to promotion-chasing Fulham, Huddersfield, Bournemouth and QPR but will look to pick up points at home to Hull, Stoke and Swansea.

When do they play Barnsley?

On Easter Monday, April 18, at Oakwell.

It will be a huge game if both have kept themselves in with a chance of staying up, or a depressing ‘nothing match’ if not.

Posh are one of the few sides Poya Asbaghi will play twice this season, having earned his first point with an ultra-defensive performance for a 0-0 draw in late November – at the end of his first week in charge.

The lights at London Road went out towards the end of that match – causing a delay late on – and the same could happen metaphorically to either of these teams with defeat in the reverse fixture.

DERBY COUNTY 23RD, P: 31, PT: 18, GD: -3

The Rams are a point clear of Barnsley, despite their 21-point deduction without which they would be 16th, and 18 points clear of safety.

They were docked 12 points for entering administration in September then another nine in November after admitting to breaches of the EFL’s profitability and sustainability rules over the sale of Pride Park to former owner Mel Morris.

Despite that, and a transfer embargo, the Rams have been by far the best-performing team of the bottom four, with manager Wayne Rooney receiving plaudits and apparent interest from former club Everton which he claims to have rebuffed.

Before this week, the three other teams in the bottom four had collected just two points from their last 20 games combined, with the Rams on far better form.

Derby won the last three games of 2021 and continue to pick up a vital victory every few weeks which keeps a team in contention.

County have also shown real fight, twice coming back to draw after being 2-0 down on 86 minutes against Reading and Birmingham in January.

They had one of the best defensive records in the division before losing 4-1 at high-flying Middlesbrough on Saturday.

Derby have been in administration since September.

What do the stats say?

Derby have played the most inaccurate long passes in the division this season, with Barnsley second. As for accurate long balls, Barnsley have played the fewest and Derby the second fewest.

What is their run-in like?

There are a couple of key Saturday home games coming up as they host Peterborough tomorrow then Barnsley two weeks later.

Tomorrow’s game is the first of eight in 28 days before the international beak which could define their season.

They also host Millwall and Coventry while visiting Luton, Cardiff, Bournemouth and Blackburn.

When do they play Barnsley?

On March 5 at home. Pride Park was where the Reds were relegated in 2018, after starting the final day safe but being thrashed 4-1.

They almost certainly cannot afford another loss there if they are to stay up this season. This will be a rare chance to do a double this season as Barnsley won 2-1 at home to County on November 3 under Jo Laumann, coming from behind thanks to goals by Victor Adeboyejo and Aaron Leya Iseka.

BARNSLEY 24th, Played: 30, Points: 17, Goal difference: -26

A victory over QPR was the kickstart for Barnsley’s great escape two years ago and it must be the same this time if they are to have any chance of an even more remarkable recovery.

For the second time this season, a winless sequence ended after 13 league matches but, unlike after beating Derby in November, the Reds must now go on an epic run to safety.

Many, including this reporter, feared their chances were over after the loss at Luton last week but the weekend victory has just kept the door to safety slightly ajar, with the odds still stacked against them.

Saturday’s shock success cut the gap from eight to five points but it grew to six on Wednesday, with a 0-0 draw between Peterborough and Reading which probably suited the Reds.

If the teams in the bottom four continue at their current points-per-game ratio, a record low tally of about 35 would be required for survival. However, it is likely to be slightly higher as Derby have been on better form than that all season but have been held back by their 21-point deduction while Reading, who were docked six points, may change manager.

To get into the 40s, where they may well need to be to stay up, Barnsley would need to win half of their 16 remaining matches – or perhaps six or seven wins with a hefty helping of draws. That is a very tall order given their record of three wins from 30 so far, but they will take a lot from the QPR game going into a very important week in which they simply must get their first away win of the season – ideally two.

They may have finally found a formation in which they at look at least reasonably solid and consistent, while they have a dangerous striker in Carlton Morris and new signings Amine Bassi and Domingos Quina have brought extra flair and

creativity. The squad genuinely seem a united bunch fighting hard for the fans and head coach Poya Asbaghi who had insisted everything would change once he got his first league win.

There are still many weaknesses within the team but they have played better in recent weeks than their awful form and league record suggests, with opponents subconsciously dropping their standards and getting drawn into a tighter battle than expected.

That is not the only reason for the win against QPR – the Reds played well and deserved it – but it was clearly a factor, and one that may also go in their favour in the next few games until they prove they are a consistently competitive Championship side.

What is their run-in like?

Barnsley are the only one of the bottom four who still have to play the other three this season.

They visit Derby two weeks tomorrow before they host Reading then Peterborough in the first two games at Oakwell after the March international break.

Those games will clearly be vital but they also need to shock a few mid-table and even promotion-chasing sides like they did on Saturday.

What do the stats say?

Barnsley have already conceded the same number of shots on their goal this season, 385 after 30 games, as they did in the whole of last season, going from first to 19th in that ranking.

Last season Barnsley had the fourth most shots at the opponents’ goal in the division, but this time they have had the 22nd most.

They scored the second most set piece goals last season, but have not scored any in the league this campaign while their only headed goal was by Cauley Woodrow at Preston after Callum Brittain’s shot fell perfectly for him.

They have been dispossessed of the ball more than any other side, but they have made the second most tackles.

Michal Helik has made the most interceptions, the second most clearances and won the fourth most headers in the Championship, while Brad Collins has made the most saves.