Analysis of Barnsley's 3-0 home loss to Lincoln City in the EFL Trophy on Tuesday evening. The Reds went 2-0 down early then had striker James Norwood sent off.
NORWOOD DOES OPPOSITE OF WHAT HE WAS BROUGHT IN FOR
James Norwood’s decision to thrust his forearm violently into the face of Lincoln’s Jay Benn in the 23rd minute was ridiculous in any circumstances – but becomes even more inexplicable in the context of who was watching and why he was signed by Barnsley this summer.
The striker was just a few metres from six substitutes aged 20 or younger who had been put on the bench to gain experience, while the team was littered with other youngsters for this first of three EFL Trophy group games.
Norwood was signed to score goals but also to show the Reds’ very young squad ‘what elite looks like’ while adding experience, leadership and knowhow as a seasoned professional. He has so far not looked close to doing the goals part – here missing a fine chance very early on when Clarke Oduor was gifted the ball and found Norwood in the box but his terrible first touch was cleared.
And he certainly did not provide a good example with that red card, which boss Michael Duff called ‘idiotic’ and ‘unacceptable’ while saying Norwood let his team-mates down.
One of the reasons Barnsley have not signed many experienced players previously, is that the ‘wrong ones’ can be a disruptive and cynical influence for youngsters.
There is no evidence that is the case with Norwood and it is too early to completely write him off as a failed experiment, while his lack of impact on the pitch might be partly explained by missing weeks of pre-season after signing late. But his Barnsley career has had a very poor start and, on Tuesday especially, he did the exact opposite of what he was brought in for.
It must be said that it was already 2-0 to Lincoln when he was sent off – after a two-minute double by his former Ipswich colleague Teddy Bishop – but the dismissal left his young team with no realistic chance of replying or even of developing their game. It then became a test of character for ten men – or boys – across 70 minutes or, as Duff said, ‘trying not to get thrashed.’
DUFF CAN ‘HANDLE’ WALTON’S ‘HONEST MISTAKE’
Whereas Norwood’s moment of madness was inexplicable and violent, Jack Walton’s error for the second goal was deemed ‘an honest mistake which I can handle’ by Duff. But it was still a horrible moment for the goalkeeper who had been made captain for the night.
Walton has shown he is a good shot-stopper, and saved the club from relegation in 2020, but number one Brad Collins is clearly better at the moment in playing the ’sweeper ‘keeper’ role the high-pressing Reds require of their goalies.
Unlike Norwood, Walton stayed on the pitch and did his best to atone.
He tipped over a 15-yard shot by Charles Vernam then rushed out to make a fine block and deny Bishop a hat-trick, when he was left in metres of space in the box, then made fantastic point blank save from a volley by substitute Anthony Scully.
LINCOLN DOMINATE ON BAD NIGHT FOR REDS
Although the away fans enjoyed their first visit to Oakwell since 1999, it was a dismal night for the roughly 3,000 home supporters.
After the league loss to Wycombe by the same score, the Reds have lost back-to-back home games by three goals for the first time since 1971.
This was a game in a secondary competition, always a small part of a massive week for the club with more important league games at high-flying Ipswich and Sheffield Wednesday as well as the transfer deadline.
But Duff had spoken about ‘building a culture’ and demanding the same standards from the players no matter what the competition or who was involved.
He can take some comfort from how hard the ten men worked but, overall, the standards substantially dropped.
Barnsley did not have a shot on target, and only a handful of what could realistically be called ‘attacks’ while their visitors dominated the ball all evening and should have won by more.
CHANGED 11 DO NOT MAKE STRONG CASE
Duff made 11 changes from the last league game, compared to six for Lincoln, and eight had not started in League One this season, but all the starters were members of the first team squad – many of them relatively experienced.
Although a terrible seven minutes, with two goals and a red card, put the team in a very difficult situation – none of the starters gave the type of performance that will boost their claims for a league start.
The back three of Jasper Moon, Robbie Cundy and Conor McCarthy left too much space at times for Lincoln’s attackers and were vulnerable to the many crosses put into the box by the visitors who had great success by switching play with crossfield balls to stretch the Reds.
Left wing-back Clarke Oduor put some dangerous crosses into the box early on but also struggled to contain right winger Vernam, gifting him the ball for his first half chance.
Right wing-back Will Hondermarck could have tracked runners better for the first and third goals but at least caught the eye with a whole-hearted performance and some big tackles.
Matty Wolfe could not stamp his authority on the game, and the only time Duff was heard was when he shouted at the young midfielder for not closing down quickly enough, yelling ‘get out to him, Wolfie’.
KANE RETURN AND TEEN DEBUTS ONLY POSITIVES
Herbie Kane, returning from injury, came off after half an hour as planned.
He did not make much of an impact in a tough start to the game, but is edging back to full fitness and could bolster the Reds midfield.
The last time Kane started at Oakwell was a rather different occasion, as the visitors were Premier League giants Chelsea in the FA Cup last year.
He was replaced by Joe Ackroyd who gave an energetic and committed performance.
Another positive was that Duff gave debuts off the bench to teenagers Harrison Nejman, Hayden Pickard and Danny Benson, while handing a second opportunity to 16-year-old Fabio Jalo who provided probably the highlight of the night with a brilliant run past five defenders before being brought down.
Duff praised the young players for ‘sticking together’ after being ’thrown in to the mire’ – supported throughout from the dugout by vocal coaches Martin Paterson and Martin Devaney.
Another plus is that it was not a league game and that, hopefully, Barnsley will give a much better performance when Lincoln return in the third tier in October.