Analysis from Barnsley's 3-0 home loss to Wycombe Wanderers on Saturday.
REDS RESEMBLE LAST SEASON
Michael Duff was given a chastening reminder of how hard this rebuilding task will be.
Although this was a bigger home loss than they suffered all last season in the Championship, it was reminiscent of many of the performances in that pathetic campaign.
The Reds started well but totally lost their way after conceding with huge gaps appearing the stands which were like those seen throughout the early months of 2022.
They ran out of ideas and, more worryingly, fight as Duff admitted Wycombe - despite being the older team - outran Barnsley who ‘didn’t work hard enough’ while Mads Andersen suggested some team mates gave only ‘80 or 90 per cent.’
It is worrying that, despite good form over the previous two weeks and playing under a highly-rated manager whose ideas they seem to have bought into, the Reds so quickly resembled last season’s whipping boys as soon as they faced adversity.
Despite talk of last season being ‘gone’ and Barnsley only thinking of the future, it is clearly a spectre lurking over their shoulders and ready to swoop down and sap confidence whenever something goes wrong.
Duff had spoken about ‘building back trust’ with supporters but this match showed how much work must be done to heal last season’s deep wounds. Clearly new signings are needed but the existing squad can do better than this.
It was expected that a new and young team, trying to move on from a cataclysmic relegation season, would have ups and downs early in the campaign.
But even so this was an incredible contrast to the win by the same scoreline the previous Tuesday over Bristol Rovers, in which they were excellent.
After the Bristol Rovers win then this major disappointment, it is impossible to judge how Barnsley may fare this season - and neither should lead to kneejerk reactions. But they must make sure they are much closer to the former than the latter.
FIRST HOME LEAGUE 1 LOSS FOR 6 YEARS
The last time Barnsley lost at home in a League One fixture, it was April 2016 and Danny Wilson’s Chesterfield triumphed 2-1.
In the six years since then, the Reds have seen the end of the Patrick Cryne years, the divisive Paul Conway era, an unbeaten home season on the way to promotion in 2018/19, and five Championship seasons which ended with a run at the Premier League followed by a collapse into the third tier.
They have had more than 100 players, five chief executives and 12 different head and coaches, including caretakers.
It is almost unbelievable that, the last time these clubs met in March last year, the Reds were fifth in the Championship and genuine contenders to reach the top flight.
It was the heaviest home third tier loss since Swindon Town won 3-0 at Oakwell in 2014.
EX-REDS IMPRESS AND WYCOMBE NET THREE FINE GOALS
Wycombe deserve credit for scoring three wonderful goals and plenty of good individual performances including 2016 Barnsley promotion heroes Alfie Mawson, who was a vocal and dominant leader, and Josh Scowen who provided the midfield bite and energy the hosts often lacked.
Most of last year’s play-off finalists Wycombe’s starting 11 were in their late 20s or 30s and had played in the Championship.
But their squad also contained players signed from Loughborough, Woodford Town, Hemel Hempstead and Biggleswade.
They had never won at Oakwell while they had lost their previous three games, including a 3-1 beating at Exeter City on Tuesday.
For 35 minutes, Barnsley looked like continuing their momentum from three wins out of their last four games, if lacking the vigour of their performance against a far less awkward opponent four days earlier.
But Barnsley missed chances and found it hard to press a side who wanted to play long balls, a tactic they found themselves replicating as the good start faded and they abandoned their early good passing football.
Wycombe scored with their first real chance, after 37 minutes.
Jack Aitchison could have levelled within seconds but, soon after, Barnsley folded.
SECOND HALF TOUGH TO WATCH
The Reds changed in the second half from 3-4-1-2 to a flat back four with three central midfielders then Luke Thomas in theory behind the strikers but encouraged by Duff to play on the right wing.
Duff’s thinking was to win the loose balls in the middle but it was a confused mess which led to no clear second half chances as Wycombe dominated.
The hosts were sluggish, frustrated with each other and the referee, lacking any sort of plan going forward and often open at the back.
The Reds were already comfortably second best by the time Dominic Gape - who had scored two career goals and none in 104 across almost four years - saw Brad Collins off his line and lobbed him with an extraordinary 40-yard shot.
Even before substitute Nick Freeman curled into the top left corner 25 yards out after a wonderful move by the swaggering visitors, Barnsley looked broken and the stands were emptying.
The quality of the goals exaggerated the scoreline but it was not exactly harsh on the Reds based on their second half display.
As well as their goals, Wycombe served up one of the most extraordinary missed Oakwell has seen in recent years at 1-0 when Garath McCleary’s shot from the left hit the inside of the right post then Mehmeti somehow flicked the ball onto the bar from on the line.
HARD GAMES TO COME
The fixture list is unlikely to provide any respite for Barnsley, both in terms of the frequency of the games and quality of opposition.
The Reds now face an EFL Cup tie at Premier League neighbours Leeds United - an exciting game which will help to immediately take minds off the Wycombe debacle.
After that, they have three days to prepare for the long trip to Ipswich Town who are currently top of the league and one of the favourites for promotion.
The following two Saturdays, at the start of September, see Barnsley visit Sheffield Wednesday then host Portsmouth - both of whom are in the top four in the very early table and expected to stay near the top.
Those matches will be a test of where Barnsley currently are and they will have to play significantly better than in this match to pick up even one point.