Five talking points from Barnsley's 3-1 loss to Preston North End on Saturday. Aiden Marsh but them ahead but the visitors were on top and could have won by more.
HORRIFIC HOME SEASON FINALLY OVER
This season started so well at Oakwell, with fans returning in full numbers for the first time in 17 months for a 1-0 win over Coventry secured by a Dominik Frieser goal and an injury-time penalty save by Brad Collins.
But it has since turned into one of the worst painful campaigns for the supporters to endure, with just five home league wins and only 18 goals which is a new club record low by four.
There was the late loss to Millwall in October when the atmosphere turned toxic and captain Cauley Woodrow rowed with fans, followed immediately by easy victories for Yorkshire neighbours Sheffield United and Hull City. In the New Year, League Two Barrow scored four with ten men, Cardiff’s Uche Ikpeazu bulldozed through a powderpuff defence, then Stoke, Fulham and Reading netted late levellers after Barnsley took the lead but sack back too much.
A six-game unbeaten run at home ended with 2-0 losses to Peterborough and Blackpool then this defeat.
MORE POSITIVE BUT REDS NOT COMPETITIVE
This game had more positives to cling onto, such as Aiden Marsh’s goal and a better attitude in the team, than recent performances – but that is a very low bar.
There were again huge gaps in the stands – and the loudest chanting was former ex-Red Bambo Diaby who came on for Preston – but more fans stayed to clap the team off at the end than after the midweek horrowshow.
Still, this is a side nowhere competing in the Championship, with North End knowing they should have won by more.
Barnsley - low on numbers due to injuries and loanees leaving - have been inferior to Blackpool and Preston, sides in lower mid-table, who have joined Bournemouth, Nottingham Forest, Luton Town, Sheffield United and Millwall in doing the double over the Reds this season.
Preston had lost their last three away games and not scored in four while only Derby and Barnsley had netted fewer than the Lilywhites’ 16 away goals this season.
Preston boss Ryan Lowe said ‘you can only play what’s in front of you’ and added: “When you see team that is down and out, and smell blood, there’s no favours – you want to score as many as you can.”
The first half was reasonably even – although Preston did look more dangerous overall – but Barnsley once again faded after the interval, as has been a major issue all season.
Their first half goal difference is minus six, but in the second half it is minus 30. They have not scored in the second halves of their last six home games.
MARSH DREAMS COME TRUE
The main positive was Marsh who scored 16 minutes into his first league start, a wonderful moment for the 18-year-old from Monk Bretton who watched the Reds from the East Stand from the age of four.
It has been a real journey for him since then, being released by the Reds then by Sheffield United, who turned him into a left-back, and returning to Barnsley for whom he was on the first team bench aged 16 before major injury problems.
It took him about five minutes to get back to the dugout after being substituted and walking around half of Oakwell with fans coming down to the front of the stands to hug or high five him.
Marsh made just four passes and had 20 touches in 66 minutes on the pitch but, at least in the first half, gave an energetic performance and pressed in a way Barnsley did not against Blackpool.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR OTHER FRINGE PLAYERS
There were other opportunities for players who have been on the fringes this season, as Barnsley – with caretaker Martin Devaney in charge – assess which players to make part of their bounce-back efforts in League One. It is also because several regular starters have injuries.
Victor Adeboyejo - on his first start since cracking his jaw in January- set up the goal with great determination but struggled for control and finesse on the ball at times, perfectly summing up the dilemma for those deciding whether to extend his contract which expires this summer.
Will Hondermarck was at right wing-back, on his second start after playing at centre-back in his first at Middlesbrough in October – despite spending most of his career as a central midfielder. He looked more composed than on Tuesday and played a part in the opener but was totally static for Preston’s second goal. He was replaced by league debutant Jordan Helliwell late on.
Barnsley’s back three was extremely inexperienced with Liam Kitching being the oldest at 22. He and Jasper Moon were reasonably solid but struggled at times with the movement of Preston’s forwards who regularly got between the wide centre-backs and wing-backs with overloads on the flanks.
19-year-old debutant Jason Sraha gifted the visitors a couple of chances before playing Emil Riis onside for the third Preston goal. He was clearly mentally and physically exhausted by that point in his first Championship game, a week after playing for loan club Guiseley against Curzon Ashton in the National League North in front of 458 fans.
Until then, the former Arsenal and Chelsea youngster looked to have the attributes to succeed in professional football with a tall frame, strength and tidy defending early on.
REDS FINISH LAST FOR FIRST TIME IN 57 YEARS
Derby’s win at Blackpool a few hours later meant the Reds are guaranteed to finish last.
It is the first time Barnsley have finished bottom of any division since 1964/65.
It is also the first time any club has gone from the second tier play-offs to last in successive seasons, other than Leeds in 2007 who finished third-bottom before accepting a ten-point penalty in May. It is a shameful descent caused by poor planning from the board and owners, two weak head coaches and a squad of players that, for the most part, has regressed this season.