Analysis of Barnsley’s 2-0 win at Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday.
BARNSLEY SIMPLY EXCELLENT
This was Barnsley’s shortest trip of the League One season, the only one within 50 miles in this mainly southern League One, but the Reds fans who travel the length and breadth of the country are unlikely to see as good a performance and result as this fantastic derby victory.
Sometimes we can get caught up in over-analysis, but this is simple - Barnsley were absolutely magnificent to a man and thoroughly deserved a first away league win of the season which very few expected them to collect.
They were very well-organised at the back, tremendous with their pressing and clinical at key moments - as they carried out Michael Duff’s shrewd gameplan perfectly.
They had competed well in away games at other favoured sides Derby and Ipswich but this was easily their best away performance of the season - and arguably the most complete display on the road in years. It was certainly the best since they won at Brentford under Valerien Ismael.
The first half was the perfect on-pitch manifestation of Barnsley’s philosophy of recruiting young energetic players and using a high-pressing style which can overwhelm sides put together on much bigger budgets and with far more experience.
Wednesday’s 11 averaged 29 in age - compared to Barnsley’s 23 - while the hosts' squad could boast more than 2,000 Championship appearances. There is likely to be a similar gulf in the two wagebills.
But - in this game, especially the first half - the Owls looked like a jaded group of players on their way down the divisions compared to the hungry, ambitious visitors whose desire and energy was simply greater.
STRIKERS STEP UP
It had been a hectic end to last week, with Michal Helik and Callum Styles the latest players to leave, but no strikers joining despite Michael Duff’s request for more firepower.
There were major questions over the strikers department but they were at least partly answered by the excellent Devante Cole, who opened the scoring, then James Norwood who netted within seconds of coming off the bench. The goals need to flow regularly now but this is a very solid start.
Cole made it two goals from three shots on target this season with a cool finish for the opener. He held the ball up, played clever passes with quick thinking and forced the rattled defenders into errors with tireless running.
Norwood’s header, with his first touch, was marvellous and a special moment for the striker who was rightly criticised in midweek for his reckless EFL Trophy red card after being brought in for experience and professionalism as well as goals. Duff said the goal was the best possible apology.
It could be a turning point in a Reds career which got off to a poor start.
Whoever has decided that Trophy suspensions do not count in the league has done the Reds a big favour.
CUNDY A COLOSSUS
All Barnsley players were very good but Robbie Cundy in particular caught the eye.
It was an outstanding performance by the centre-back who was dominant in the air but also proactive with a series of perfectly-timed interceptions which ended Wednesday attacks and sometimes started them for the Reds. It was his best performance so far by far.
Next to him, Mads Andersen made seven interceptions and 11 clearances, as he was on the end of countless Wednesday attempted crosses and passes.
In the aftermath of the five departures this summer, it should not be overlooked that the Danish defender is still at Barnsley and playing in a division he looks too good for.
Conor McCarthy, Jordan Williams and makeshift left wing-back Liam Kitching made up a strong back five, while Brad Collins produced a few key saves when needed.
Luca Connell gained his third assist in two matches and Luke Thomas led the pressing with a tireless performance that saw him win the ball on numerous occasions.
FIRST BACK TO BACK WINS AT HILLSBOROUGH SINCE WW2
The last time Barnsley won back-to-back games at Hillsborough was either side of World War Two.
They followed up the behind-closed-doors victory in December 2020 with an even more impressive performance which may stay longer in the memory especially of the 2,533 away fans who backed their team and were certainly rewarded.
Only captain fantastic Mads Andersen started both games - in an indication of how much change and turmoil there has been since last year.
But there were major signs of progress here and, although it is only one match in a very inconsistent start to the season, the Reds will join Wednesday as promotion contenders if they play that level every week.
Wednesday were third in the table, unbeaten in 14 home games and had not conceded in four, only losing to another South Yorkshire club Rotherham at Hillsborough in 2022. Barnsley had lost 16 of their last 20 league games on the road.
REDS DOMINATE FIRST HALF THEN DIG IN IN SECOND
In the first half when they barely attacked, the Owls continued to try to pass out before the break despite nearly every attempt ending in a blue and white shirt being surrounded by Reds who tackled him or forced a wayward pass.
The second half was more even, with a more direct and alert Wednesday showing their quality to force a few openings, but the Reds continued to create chances and could easily have had four or five.
Other than the goals, one of the best moments - for those who enjoy the dark arts of football - was when Matty Wolfe took a yellow card for cynically pulling a Wednesday man’s shirt to stop him running into space after losing the ball. Norwood was cautioned seconds later for a deliberate handball. It was not the purest behaviour but the kind of dirty work and game management the Reds have lacked previously. This was a meeting of the two sides who had made the most fouls this season in the third tier. But it was not an ugly match, in fact it was rather beautiful for Barnsley.