Analysis from Barnsley's 2-0 home loss to Blackpool on Tuesday.
STANDS ALMOST EMPTY AT END, AND UNDERSTANDABLY
It was 25 years to the day since Barnsley’s promotion to the Premier League and, once again, the Oakwell stands were nearly empty at full-time.
But instead of surging onto the pitch to celebrate the club’s greatest achievement in living memory, this time the vast majority of the Reds faithful had already left, or not gone at all to this meaningless midweek fixture following the club’s fourth relegation to the third tier since they reached the first a quarter of a century ago.
The official attendance was announced at more than 12,000, as the roughly 10,500 season tickets holders are always counted regardless of whether they turn up, but the actual number of home fans was more like 5,000. Many of them left well before the end of this dire Barnsley performance so, by the final whistle, there were about as many in the raucous away end as smattered thinly over the home stands which resembled the attendance for under 23s matches or the Papa John’s Trophy.
It is impossible to blame any fan for staying away, after this awful season, and they will be glad they did. The Reds looked toothless in attack, were dominated in midfield and exposed regularly at the back by long passes and set pieces.
AGGRESSIVE FRONT FOOT FOOTBALL NOT THERE
Caretaker Martin Devaney had promised an intense, high-energy pressing style which never materialised, neither did the lift in spirits the club was hoping for after handing the reins to a popular former player.
Not that Devaney deserves much blame – he had had two days to put his ideas across to a side who are totally demoralised.
Loan players Amine Bassi, Domingos Quina and Claudio Gomes returned to their parent clubs – after walking around the ground to say goodbye – so others were given a chance as the club looks towards next season.
But regardless of personnel, the Reds are a broken side, devoid of confidence, discipline and drive, who look like they want this season to end.
Carlton Morris and Cauley Woodrow started up front in a two for the first time, but, for the most part, could not get into the game. Woodrow and Morris completed 12 and 13 passes between them, with just 51 touches between them. Woodrow is still returning to fitness after an operation while Morris particularly has looked a frustrated figure in the last few weeks after being the only regular goal threat.
They were the two oldest home players and among the most experienced and talented, but they could not lead from the front with pressing and energy which set the flat tone of Barnsley’s terrible performance.
MANSFORD’S BLACKPOOL SHOW WHAT CAN BE DONE ON LOW BUDGET
For the second successive home game, following last week’s horrific loss to Peterborough, Barnsley were beaten 2-0 by one of the few teams with a similarly small budget in the Championship.
The Seasiders – with the help of former Barnsley chief executive Ben Mansford who was in the directors’ box eight years to the day since watching the Reds go down at Middlesbrough – have adapted very well to the Championship since winning the play-offs last May.
The majority of mid-table Blackpool’s players are in their mid-20s and have been signed for free, with a couple of loans or small fees, having spent much of their careers in League One or League Two. They have been brought in from clubs like Wealdstone, Swindon, Leyton Orient, Rochdale and Mansfield.
While Blackpool were slightly older than their hosts, they – very unusually – had significantly less experience in the Championship, with five of their starting 11 having played fewer than 15 matches at that level.
Experienced players such as Richard Keogh and Gary Madine dropped out of the squad for this game but have been important in providing leadership the Reds have badly lacked.
EX-RED DOUGALL BEST PLAYER ON PITCH
Kenny Dougall, the former Barnsley midfielder, was the best player on the pitch, playing a part in both goals and impressing with his passing and set pieces.
It would be too much to say the Reds should not have released Dougall in 2020 – he had struggled with injuries and form while they have achieved the ‘great escape’ and a fifth-placed finish without him. But certainly this season, when the young midfield has been a major problem, the 28-year-old Australian international with a big personality and the ability to dictate games would have helped a lot.
Barnsley’s central midfield three of Matty Wolfe, Callum Styles – who was back in the starting 11 – and Isaac Christie-Davies, on his first start in the English leagues, could not gain much control and all lost the ball throughout with clumsy touches.
Christie-Davies was involved in some of Barnsley’s better moves but looked rusty and unused to the pace of first team football. So did Will Hondermarck who came on – for his first league action in five months – and found it hard to control the ball at right wing-back, instead of his usual central midfield where Callum Brittain finished.
ONE MORE HOME GAME
Last time Blackpool were at Oakwell, almost exactly three years earlier, the Reds won 2-1 which secured promotion to the Championship – a few days later after their rivals slipped up – and completed the first unbeaten home season in more than half a century.
That started a spell in the second tier which has ended this week, with memories of those celebrations, and those of 1997, very hard to recall on a grim night like this.
This time they have won just five of 22 home games while they are highly likely to break a club record for the fewest home goals unless they put five past Preston on Saturday in what could be another grim occasion.