Analysis of Barnsley's 2-2 draw at Harrogate Town in their penultimate friendly of the summer.
DEVELOPMENT SIDE SHOW CHARACTER AND TAALENT
THE GAP between these two clubs is the smallest ever, with Harrogate in the fourth tier for the first time and Barnsley slipping back into the third last season.
Simon Weaver has been Harrogate boss for 12 years, during which time Barnsley have had 14 managers or head coaches.
The latest occupant of the Oakwell hotseat, Michael Duff, was pleased with what he saw from his young side on Wednesday.
This was more like an under 23s game or the ‘Reds XI’ which took on Guiseley last week – as none of the players who started against Nottingham Forest or new signing James Norwood travelled. The side was filled mainly with players on the fringes of the first team or in the under 23s squad, plus a few more senior players who needed extra minutes.
Although it frustrated some of the 600 fans who had made the journey – disrupted by bad traffic – expecting to see the first team, it made sense not to play them three times in a week with the Sheffield United match on Saturday.
But it was an entertaining match with four goals and plenty of chances, while the young visitors showed character against a League Two side and there were some impressive individual displays.
YOUNG STRIKERS IMPRESS
Barnsley played two teenagers up front in Aiden Marsh, 19, and Fabio Jalo, 16.
They were two of the better players on the pitch, especially in the first half.
With a shortage of senior strikers, there is an opportunity for young forwards to break into the first team squad this season and those two did their chances no harm – although Duff said afterwards that he wasn’t thinking about putting Jalo, who has just finished school, in a League One matchday squad yet.
Jalo – who signed a professional contract earlier in the week – produced some fine touches to bring others into play.
There was only one sighting of his highly-rated shooting ability when he lashed an effort into the side netting from a tight angle.
In the second half, he was in a real battle with the very experienced Joe Mattock, who he beat on several occasions. That suggests he has strength and physicality you would not expect due to his age and slight frame.
Marsh netted while he held the ball up well and looks to have the right temperament and work ethic.
Substitute Jack Butterfill, another teenage striker, almost won it in injury-time with a volley from Thomas’ free-kick but the goalkeeper saved well from the powerful effort.
There is definitely talent in the development squad but it is now up to them to translate that into good performances in men’s football.
Another who caught the eye at times was Joe Ackroyd, for his crunching tackles and energy as well as his assist from a corner for the second goal.
Thomas played in attacking midfield and drove the side forward with strong running, something few others in the squad can do.
His passing must sharpen up, and you would expect someone who has played several seasons of senior football to stand out in such a young team, but Thomas looks fit and focused this summer.
WILLIAMS LOOKS CUT ABOVE
Jordan Williams returned to the team after injury and played on the right of the back three before being taken off at the break.
He was a class above, regularly surging out of defence to skip past players and play intelligent passes, while he did his duties well at the back. He also helped set up Marsh’s goal.
With Callum Brittain leaving, it was very good timing for another option at right wing-back to return after knee surgery and look so good.
The complication may be that his best performances so far have been in the back three – like on Wednesday with Will Hondermarck wing-back against his former club – but the Reds could need him replace Brittain at wing-back. Wherever he plays, he looks set to have a big season for the Reds if he can stay fit after a series of injuries.
Brittain, of all the players linked with moves away this summer, was arguably the most dispensable as he had a ready-made replacement waiting while his performance levels had dropped substantially after a fine first campaign.
He is clearly talented and could thrive again in the Championship with Blackburrn if he can recover mentally from last season’s nightmare.
NICE MOMENT FOR CAPTAIN MOON
It was a memorable evening for Jasper Moon, who had some harrowing moments after being thrown into a struggling Championship team last season. The 21-year-old centre-back took on the captain’s role, leading the side out.
He also scored, stooping to head Ackroyd’s left-wing corner into the bottom right corner and make it 2-1 on 59 minutes then passionately celebrated what was clearly a confidence-boosting moment. The defence was exposed by long balls at times, and Moon’s passing was hit and miss, but on the whole it was a positive night for him.
FINALLY SOME GOALS
Barnsley’s previous two friendlies had been 0-0 draws, against League Two Crewe then Premier League Nottingham Forest – both with a far more senior side than the one that played in Harrogate.
The only goal the Reds head conceded in four friendlies was a penalty at Worksop, with a team of under 23s.
They conceded twice against a Harrogate side who mainly played long balls which was something different for the young visitors to handle.
They were exposed by that approach for both goals and several other chances.
But they also netted twice with the second a rare set piece goal for Barnsley, after Duff targeted that area for improvement this summer.