Analysis of Barnsley's 1-1 draw at Swansea. Claudio Gomes put the Reds in front but the hosts levelled. All the other bottom four sides won so the Reds are now last and ten points from safety with five games to play.
INEVITABLE DROP DAY EDGES CLOSER
The last time Barnsley visited the Liberty Stadium, they were two wins away from the Premier League after arguably the most unexpectedly brilliant season in their history.
This time, just 11 months later, their inevitable passage out of the division, in the other direction, was brought far closer by another failure to win a must-win game, despite a reasonable performance, and Reading’s last-gasp victory at the Reds’ local rivals Sheffield United. The gap to safety is in double figures for the first time this season. Wins for Peterborough and Derby sank the Reds to last place.
There were 863 Barnsley fans in Wales on the opening day of the season at nearby Cardiff, as they enjoyed a first away journey for 17 months due to the pandemic and were full of optimism after a fifth-placed finish last season.
Eight miserable months and 26 losses later, fewer than 300 made the slightly longer trip to Swansea to watch a side that had lost 15 of their last 17 away games – excellent backing in the circumstances.
They cheered their team off at the end, recognising the performance and effort which was much better than the capitulation at Millwall six days earlier, with many of those fans doing both journeys and clocking top almost 900 miles to watch this wretched side.
Most fans seem to have accepted for weeks that relegation will happen, it is just a question of when, with Friday’s results bringing D-Day closer and presumably convincing even the more blinkered optimistic supporters that they will be watching third tier football next season.
There was also a change in tone in the post-match media interviews, with Poya Asbaghi and goal-scorer Claudio Gomes talking about ‘giving it a shot’ rather than the usual ‘we all believe we will stay up’ rhetoric.
GOOD PERFORMANCE LET DOWN BY FINISHING
Barnsley delivered one of their best away performances of the season, arguably the best, but that is not difficult considering they have spent the campaign being mainly outclassed up and down the country with the worst away record in English football.
They changed from a 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3, dropping the underperforming Callum Styles to prioritise pace on the counter-attack.
They pressed their possession-based hosts frantically and intelligently, waiting for them to move into midfield before swarming them rather than the clueless running they often wasted energy with before Asbaghi arrived.
It was somewhat reminiscent of some of the better displays under Valerien Ismael and Gerhard Struber as Barnsley rattled their hosts, forced them into errors – including for the goal – and turned their fans against them for a while.
What they lacked was the finishing, which is unsurprising given they have scored far less than a goal per game this season.
Carlton Morris should have done better with a volley, then Liam Kitching with a header, both from Amine Bassi crosses in the first half. Matty Wolfe was guilty of the worst miss, minutes after the equaliser, when the ball broke for him 15 yards out in the box but he put it high and wide with the goal gaping. The 21-year-old has impressed in many areas since breaking into the side but finishing is not one yet, as seen by the two big misses at Bramall Lane before the international break.
The incident that perfectly summed up Barnsley’s situation, and the way things go against struggling sides, was at 1-0 when Callum Brittain’s cross hit defender Joel Latibeaudiere and then struck the inside the of left post, with the equaliser arriving about a minute later.
It must also be said that Swansea missed a host of chances themselves but Barnsley had the opportunities to take a stranglehold on the game.
The performance and result might have been acceptable in the 21st or even 31st game of the season, when it could be described as an encouraging point building towards the end total, but in the 41st game all that was required was a win.
BASSI AND GOMES IMPRESS
Amine Bassi was superb.
He registered his fifth assist of the season – the most of any Barnsley player despite only arriving in January – and should have had a couple more as he put in a series of excellent crosses and set pieces which created chances.
His eight ‘key passes’ and 90 per cent passing accuracy are impressive stats, while he had the most touches of any Barnsley player.
The Reds have improved significantly as an attacking threat since the Frenchman arrived and, if they had had him all season, they would likely still be contention to stay up.
Another French loanee got the goal as Gomes ran onto Bassi’s pass and supplied a cool finish from the right of the area. It was his first career goal and a nice moment for a 21-year-old who has shown character in a horrible season. Gomes is a raw player, and Barnsley really should have brought in a more experienced central midfielder on the final day of the summer transfer window, but he has improved in his first senior season and become a regular when others have faded.
He said after the game that he would be open to staying at Oakwell but it seems likely that both he and Bassi will have other opportunities so this may well have been one of their last games for the clubs, along with several others – either loanees or in contract.
Barnsley’s defenders also impressed.
The losses of Michal Helik and Brad Collins are big blows to Barnsley, as the two lead candidates for Player of the Year, but their replacements Liam Kitching and Jack Walton both did well.
Kitching, since replacing Helik at the heart of defence, has delivered his most consistent run of performances in a Barnsley shirt, forming a solid partnership with Mads Andersen.
Kitching made a crucial late block from close-range from a Michael Obafemi shot, although the hosts thought it should have been a penalty for handball.
That was minutes after Walton had brilliantly denied Joel Piroe from a similar distance with a superb reaction save.
Walton started a league game for the first time in 451 days, with Collins getting the nod for the previous 61. There was concern when he went down injured early in the second half, with untested teenager Daniel Jinadu warming up, but Walton continued and did not seem troubled.
The full-backs also impressed. Left-back Remy Vita, not for the first time this season, saved the Reds when he was the only defender against three attackers following a break from a Barnsley corner, by tackling the hesitant Jamie Paterson.
Right-back Callum Brittain delivered one of his better performances of a tough season as he defended well and put in a couple of wicked deliveries including one that was deflected onto the post.
It could be all over on Monday if Barnsley lose at home to Peterborough United who beat Blackburn on Friday to overtake the Reds.
It would also require Reading, after stunning the league’s best home team Sheffield United on Friday, to win at home to a Swansea side who did not look particularly impressive against Barnsley.
If they do go down that day, it will be the first time the Reds are relegated at Oakwell since a 2-0 loss to Norwich 20 years ago almost to the day.
But the Reds must focus on giving their long suffering fans at least one more win and good performance, in a season of few of each. They could make it seven home games unbeaten which, incredibly, would be the longest such run in the Championship since 2007. They are going into League One, but they can still control when that happens.