Analysis of Barnsley's opening day 1-0 loss at Plymouth Argyle, in Michael Duff's first match.
NO NEED TO PANIC BUT SIZE OF REBUILD JOB LAID BARE
THIS deserved and disappointing opening day defeat meant Barnsley are now on a six-game losing run in league games for the third time in the last year.
While it might be harsh to add Michael Duff’s first game to the five dismal defeats at the end of the relegation season, that shows the depth of the misery he is trying to move on from - with this game highlighting how big a job it may be.
This was the longest trip of the League One season, 300 miles there and 300 back, with an impressive 900 Reds fans travelling to Devon in the warm July weather.
That shows the loyalty they have but also the sense of excitement about this season, which will have been slightly dampened by the result and performance.
There is no need to panic after one game but it must be said that, on this limited evidence, the Reds looked a long way off being a promotion-challenger.
Barnsley may have hit the bar, been denied a blatant penalty and seen the ball cleared off Plymouth’s line in injury-time, but they were clearly second best and should have conceded a lot more. A short highlights package might suggest an unlucky defeat but no one who watched the full game would realistically come to that conclusion.
Their defence was opened up regularly, midfield anonymous at times and the lack of goal-scoring prowess exposed again.
It was difficult to discern a clear style of play, other than regular aimless long balls, with Duff was annoyed that the players did not follow the plan of finding space between the home back three and wing-backs.
TOUGH START AT DECENT SIDE
It was always going to be a tough first match.
Plymouth collected 80 points last season – surprisingly missing out on the play-offs by three – so it was, in theory, one of the harder fixtures to open up Barnsley’s season.
Allied to that was the fact that the Reds clearly hadn’t completed their summer recruitment- with goals and experience badly lacking - and many players might have still felt the after effects of last season’s disgrace.
This Plymouth team has been built over a number of years by Steven Schumacher and his former boss Ryan Lowe so it was unsurprising that they looked far further ahead in their development than the Reds.
Finn Azaz netted the winner just before half-time, firing into the top right corner from just inside the box after meeting a cross by fellow impressive debutant Bali Mumba.
Duff revealed afterwards that Barnsley missed out on Aston Villa loanee Azaz who he had at Cheltenham previously.
The Pilgrims got Mumba and Azaz in on loan relatively early in the window and have done the bulk of their business, while Barnsley are leaving it late to sprinkle similar stardust on their team.
REDS DENIED BLATANT PENALTY
Jack Aitchison went clean through at 1-0 down and was denied by one-on-one by Michael Cooper. Defender Dan Scarr clearly pushed Aitchison in the back as he shot.
It was a blatant spot-kick, but the hosts will say there was a very similar incident in the first half when Mads Andersen shoved Ryan Hardie as he shot in the box.
Aitchison made his Barnsley debut 663 days after signing, having spent the previous two seasons on loan at League Two clubs.
His movement and workrate were impressive while he was very unlucky not to score, also hitting the underside of the bar before the penalty claim.
Those were two of the nine touches he had all game.
Devante Cole also started up front and had a poor match, losing the ball on the few occasions he got it while being dominated physically, and needs to improve drastically to keep his place in the side. Debutant James Norwood replaced him off the bench and cut a frustrated figure as he barely received the ball but, when he did, passed well and was involved in some good moves.
The other substitute forward Aiden Marsh was less effective despite his willing running and some good tackles.
Barnsley’s strikers had 36 touches in total as the Reds struggled to get the control of the ball or ability on it to get their forwards quality service.
They often played long balls up to Aitchison and Cole who are just not equipped to compete for them.
HARROWING CUNDY DEBUT
Mads Andersen and Liam Kitching both generally defended well but their passing out from the back was often wayward.
Robbie Cundy started between them in the back three but was taken off at half-time after a poor performance in which he struggled to deal with simple long balls while looking stiff and clumsy in possession. It was a harrowing debut for the summer signing, on his 50th professional league appearance aged 25.
His replacement Conor McCarthy - a debutant like Cundy - was better and added more pace to the back three.
Nicky Cadden had a fine debut and was probably Barnsley’s best player.
The left wing-back created chances with excellent crosses and produced a committed and energetic display despite not having played 90 minutes in pre-season.
The other wing-back, Jordan Williams, had a much tougher afternoon as he was up against Plymouth’s excellent left wing-back Bali Mumba who beat Williams on several occasions. It is unlikely he will face such pacy and skilful opposition every week, while he is also getting up to full speed after surgery. Williams got forward well at times and had a shot blocked in the box late on after a one-two with Norwood.
MIDFIELD CAN'T GET CONTROL
The Barnsley midfielders looked flatter, less energetic and less combative than their counterparts.
Callum Styles had a couple of excellent touches but did not dominate the League One game in the way you would expect from an international footballer eyeing up a big-money move. He could not track Azaz for the goal.
Josh Benson had, earlier in that move, let Danny Mayor run off him - completing an abject first half in which he gifted the hosts a big chance and missed an even better one at the other end.
Although time will tell, his poor performance cast doubts over the idea that he is sure to thrive in League One under a manager he knows.
He was replaced by Luke Thomas who improved the attacking threat with his pace and direct running, but failed to pick out a man when in a great position on the left of the box. Matty Wolfe also impressed off the bench with some good passes.
Luca Connell had made up the starting midfield three and could not dictate the game like he did in pre-season, with Plymouth swarming all over him and giving him very little space.