With Barnsley 5 points from safety with 8 games to play, we look look at what they need to do to pull off a footballing miracle and survive
BE THE LEAGUE’S FORM TEAM, WITH 5 WINS FROM 8 PROBABLY NEEDED
BARNSLEY have one foot in League One, after a disastrous weekend in which all the results went against them, and can only save themselves by being one of the best teams in the Championship across the final eight games.
The maximum points the Reds can now finish with is 52, two thirds of last season’s tally.
They are unlikely to need them all but, with fourth-bottom Reading on 33 with eight games left, only a very poor end to the season from the Berkshire club will stop them getting into the 40s.
No team has ever stayed in the second tier with fewer than 40 points since 46-game seasons began.
Five wins, including against the Royals in their next game, seems the total the Reds will need for survival. Four might do it if they are lucky.
Their name needs to be very high in the ‘form table’ for the final eight matches of the season if they are to have any chance of being in the Championship next season.
It is not impossible, since they recently won four out of eight in an arguably harder schedule than the one that now sees them play Reading and Peterborough at home as well as several games against sides with very little to play for. But it is a monumental task with very little margin for error.
A roadmap to staying in contention by the time they visit West Brom on the final day would probably read something like this:
– Win their next two home games against their fellow strugglers.
– In-between those two, win at least one of the long trips to Millwall and Swansea.
– Win at least one of their last two home games against Blackpool and Preston in the final few days of April.
That is a lot to get right but they must focus on beating Reading then take it from there.
FIND A WAY TO MANAGE UNBALANCED AND FLAWED SQUAD CAUSED BY SUMMER RECRUITMENT WHICH HAS CRIPPLED THEM ALL SEASON
Barnsley have been crippled all season by decisions made last summer.
Losing a head coach and chief executive within a few weeks would destabilise any club, let alone a pair like Valerien Ismael and Dane Murphy who had masterminded last season’s fifth-placed and each took other staff with them – beginning an exodus which saw almost a complete change in the backroom personnel. But there is no excuse for the poor decisions that followed during the acting CEO stint of owner Paul Conway, who was at Bramall Lane on Saturday.
He appointed Markus Schopp, who proved to be a disaster as head coach, and presided over a window of very poor recruitment as he is understood to have veered away, at least for some decisions, from the club’s diligent data-led approach.
Of the four players signed permanently in that window – Obbi Oulare has been loaned out without starting, Josh Benson can no longer get in the matchday squad and both Devante Cole and Aaron Leya Iseka have been substitutes recently.
None of them have started any of the last eight matches, although Iseka was injured for some.
The loan players brought in after the arrival of new CEO Khaled El-Ahmad – Claudio Gomes and Remy Vita on deadline day then Domingos Quina and Amine Bassi in January – have been much better and all start regularly.
But the Reds missed out on an experienced central midfielder which, despite the emergence of Matty Wolfe, has been a huge issue all season.
They decided that Romal Palmer and Benson could be midfield leaders despite being under 23 with fewer than 50 senior games each.
It has been harrowing to watch both of them fade badly under that pressure with no experience around them.
They made an error for Fulham’s leveller last week off the bench after another substitute Cole gifted Stoke an injury-time equaliser four days earlier.
Asbaghi has been heavily criticised for his changes and he has made mistakes but the blame must lie with the players who gave away those goals as well as those who recruited such a thin squad.
The first 11 is comparatively strong but the bench very weak, with any injury now to a regular starter likely to be devastating.
Previous injuries to captain Cauley Woodrow as well as Jordan Williams and Victor Adeboyejo have not helped, although the two strikers may return in the coming weeks.
The squad will need to be managed extremely well as Asbaghi must work out which players he can trust from a shallow pool of options.
STOP FALLING APART AFTER GOING BEHIND IN MATCHES
The Reds have fallen behind in 26 of their 38 league games this season, resulting in 22 defeats.
The only six points they collected from losing positions came in the win over Derby County under caretaker Jo Laumann in November as well as the draws at Cardiff City and Stoke City under Markus Schopp early in the season then the home draw with Huddersfield Town in December.
That latter result is the only time they have done so under Poya Asbaghi, who has lost all the next 11 games in which his side conceded first.
Ideally they will take the lead in every game but realistically there will be setbacks in the upcoming eight matches. This young team must react to them far better than they did on Saturday when they capitulated after Sheffield United – admittedly one of the best teams they could face – took the lead against the run of play.
IMPROVE AWAY RECORD, AS FOUR HOME WINS MAY NOT BE ENOUGH
Peterborough’s shock 3-1 win at QPR on Sunday means Barnsley now have the worst away record in the Championship.
They have just one win from 19 matches on the road this season while only Premier League strugglers Everton have fewer away points than Barnsley’s seven on their travels in English professional football. They have lost 14 of their last 16 away games, with the only exceptions being a 0-0 draw at Peterborough in November and a 2-0 win at a very poor Hull City side last month.
They next make the long trips to play-off hopefuls Millwall – where they have a good record – and mid-table Swansea City who they have not beaten in 15 meetings.
They then travel to Huddersfield, who are in the play-off places, and West Brom who are likely to have nothing to play for on the final day.
Captain Mads Andersen suggested after Saturday’s loss that the Reds would stay up if they won their four remaining games at Oakwell, where they are unbeaten in five with three wins. But that would only give them 40 points which may not be enough and they cannot rely on definitely beating Reading, Peterborough, Preston and Blackpool at home.
If they are to survive, they will surely need at least one away victory with probably a couple of helpful draws.
BEAT READING AND POSH IN NEXT TWO HOME MATCHES
The rest of this article will quickly become irrelevant if the Reds lose at home to fourth-bottom Reading in their next match on April 2.
Even a draw would leave them in huge trouble, five points off safety with seven games left.
But, if they win, the gap is down to two points and the race very much back on.
Barnsley then host Peterborough on Easter Monday, April 18, in another match in which victory feels like a non-negotiable.
Peterborough have conceded the most goals in the division with 76, while Reading’s 73 is the second most.
The Reds will hopefully be backed by a large crowd in both fixtures, after thousands of season ticket holders have stayed away in recent months.
Oakwell needs to be a very unpleasant place for the Royals and the Posh to visit.
Six points from those games won’t be enough on their own but will keep Barnsley in the fight heading into the last four fixtures, while anything less is likely to mean League One next season.
None of the other bottom three sides play each other this season, which is a big advantage for Poya Asbaghi’s team.