Analysis of Barnsley's 2-0 victory at Hull City on Tuesday, which ended a 20-match wait for an away success.
RARE AWAY WIN A HUGE RELIEF
The last time Barnsley fans witnessed their team win an away game live was at Hull City on February 26, 2020 when Mike Bahre and Marcel Ritzmaier played and the first cases of Covid-19 were just being identified in the UK.
What came next was 727 days of lockdowns, watching a promotion challenge from home, then following a struggling team around the country during a 20-game winless away run, with defeats in the last seven.
But on Tuesday night, almost 900 Reds fans – excellent numbers for a last-placed side – saw their team produce their best performance of the season and become the last club in English professional football to win away in 2021/22.
On a night when every player excelled, with goals by Carlton Morris and Callum Styles, it was good to see the supporters having fun in an away end again.
They sang ‘it’s just like watching Brazil’ as the rampant Reds raced into a 2-0 first half lead followed by ‘you’re getting mauled by the Barnsley’ in mockery of the Tigers’ usual chant towards the end of a more defensive but equally satisfying and professional second half display.
After the match, fans and players clapped each other in a real show of unity which they will need repeat all season if they are to replicate the ‘great escape’ of two years ago, which that previous win at Hull helped to kick-start.
LOTS TO DO BUT SOME SIMILARITIES TO 2020 ESCAPE
Just as they were during that 2020 survival battle under Gerhard Struber, Barnsley are nine points adrift of safety with 14 games remaining.
In another odd coincidence, they beat Middlesbrough at home on February 22 two years ago then Hull away on February 26 whereas this year they won at the Tigers on the 22nd and now host Boro on the 26th.
Struber’s side won seven of the last 14 matches, and Poya Asbaghi’s team – having won two of their last three – will likely need to repeat or even better that to stay up with the magic number of points for survival likely to be in the mid-40s.
The gap to safety remained the same as Reading won for the second time this week, having changed manager in-between.
But the Reds are rightly focusing only on themselves, knowing they have a game in hand on the Royals and will play all of the other sides in the current bottom four. Had they not won, Barnsley would have been on the joint worst away run since 1909 and the gap would have been in double figures.
They have kept themselves in the fight and know that, if they win half their games or more, they may stay up.
League One is still their likely destination but Barnsley are decent defensively – the only goal conceded in three was due to an injury-time error on Saturday – and will have a chance if they show the character, attacking flair, finishing and game management they displayed in midweek on a more consistent basis.
But it is unlikely they will face such poor opponents.
REDS WILL FACE MUCH BETTER SIDES THAN HULL
Hull coughed up possession in dangerous areas for both goals, lacked Barnsley’s energy and intensity and, on the few occasions they got into good positions, were extremely short on composure and quality.
Perhaps they under-estimated Barnsley, like a few sides have done recently, in a reversal of the Oakwell fixture in November when the Reds, having just defeated Derby, were easily beaten by a Hull side who had lost their previous five.
Usually Hull’s total of 34 points from as many games would have them well in the relegation fight but, due to points deductions to Derby and Reading, as well as Barnsley and Peterborough’s poor seasons, they are 13 points clear.
The Reds, very unusually, were older than their opponents whose starting 11 included eight under 23s, with four from their academy.
Only two of Hull’s 11 had played more than 60 Championship games, whereas five of Barnsley’s had. The visitors looked the more mature and solid side.
The fifth-bottom Tigers, if they play like they did on Tuesday – especially in Peterborough on Saturday – will slide back into trouble just as they did two years ago when Barnsley swallowed up an 18-point gap to send them down.
Manager Shota Arveladze, who replaced ex-Red Grant McCann last month, has not won any of his last six matches and was outmanoeuvred by Poya Asbaghi on Tuesday.
POYA DESERVES CREDIT FOR GETTING SYSTEM AND TACTICS RIGHT
Barnsley’s Swedish head coach had plenty of criticism during his record-breakingly poor start to life at Oakwell – a lot of it justified – mainly due to his very defensive approach and surprising substitutions, as well as the poor results. But he masterminded this victory and deserves credit.
He let his forward players express themselves in the first half in a fluid 4-2-3-1, from the platform of a solid defence and frantic pressing, then changed back to the usual 3-5-1-1 after the break to sit back and defend their lead successfully. He was also far more animated on the sidelines than usual.
Asbaghi has nine points from 14 matches, compared to his predecessor Markus Schopp’s eight from 15. The performances have, in general, also improved under Asbaghi – if not by a huge margin until Tuesday.
Schopp had the advantage of a full pre-season and taking over a team still on a high after reaching the play-offs, whereas the Reds’ confidence was far lower when Asbaghi came in.
The Swede also had a Covid-19 outbreak at Oakwell to deal with, which meant he had to watch two games from home.
There is no doubt that the players enjoy working under him and respect him as a coach much more than Schopp. Some fans may start to warm to him as well after this game.
REDS MUCH MORE ATTACKING
A plant pot, a wheelie bin, Billy Casper, a large cod and ‘my mum doing her knitting’.
Those were online suggestions on Twitter from fed-up Barnsley fans for what Hull could play in goal against the shot-shy Reds when it was revealed that teenage ‘keeper Harvey Cartwright would make his full debut due to injury.
But Barnsley looked a different team to the one that failed to have a shot on target in Coventry three days earlier, peppering the home goal in the first half and getting forward with energy and flair.
This was the first time Barnsley had scored more than once under Poya in the league and a quarter of their Championship goals in 14 games under him arrived in the last 18 minutes of the first half.
In the first half Barnsley played a 4-2-3-1 out of possession with Claudio Gomes and Matty Wolfe in the middle then, from right to left, Callum Styles, Amine Bassi and Domingos Quina as an attacking three behind striker Carlton Morris.
But, when they had the ball, Wolfe stayed in front of the back four in a holding role and the other five attacking players interchanged and linked up in a very fluid system.
It was a complicated set-up clearly based on very hard work on the training pitch.
Morris is not a natural lone striker, and has looked isolated at times in that role since Cauley Woodrow’s operation. But that was not the case on Tuesday as he darted to either wing and sometimes dropped deep with one of the attacking midfielders effortlessly switching places with him, dragging the Hull defenders out of position.
Bassi – who had missed the weekend game with injury – completed all of his 19 passes in the first half, including some excellent crossfield balls and clever throughballs behind Hull’s defence which created the first goal and other chances.
Quina’s pace and trickery terrifies defenders but he also works extremely hard, making four interceptions in this match.
Gomes’ pressing was excellent as he won the ball for the opening goal but he was allowed to get forward so much because of Wolfe’s discipline in patrolling in front of the back four. It was a very mature performance for a 21-year-old academy graduate on his second Barnsley start, with no one making more clearances or winning more headers.
Jordan Williams has quietly put together a series of impressive performances recently either at right-back or in the back three.
Goalkeeper Brad Collins came up with a big save on 71 minutes, denying Tyler Smith one-on-one on one of the rare occasions that the Reds were opened up.