Analysis from Barnsley's 1-0 win at Shrewsbury Town which left them eighth in League One and a point off the play-offs.
PLAYERS AND FANS UNITED IN FRANTIC FINISH
Arguably the most memorable moment from this game, even above Adam Phillips’ fine early winner, will be the scenes in the final seconds when both sets of players clashed angrily in front of seething away end.
Goalkeeper Brad Collins, who did not have to make a save, was taken out while catching a 95th-minute cross then booked for his angry reaction as were home men Luke Leahy and Chey Dunkley who had challenged Collins in the air.
Collins confronted Dunkley and sparked what has become dubbed in modern football language a ‘fracas’ or ‘melee’.
It was literally inches from the foremost of the nearly 1,000-strong away end whose staunch support of their team reached a crescendo in that moment and was still simmering when they, the players and staff celebrated with each other seconds later following the final whistle.
As head coach Michael Duff said later, it is not the kind of behaviour the Reds want to engage in every week. But it showed the battling nature of a young side against a far more experienced and physical opponent, while hinting at a growing bond between this team and their supporters - certainly those who travel to away games.
There was not much action on the pitch - as the Reds deservedly edged a dull contest - but some bizarre incidents on the sidelines, with home substitute Carl Winchester emptying his water bottle onto a towel used by Tom Edwards to dry the ball before his long throws. Following similar shenanigans at Bolton last week, Barnsley’s use of those towels seem to distress and distract their opponents far more than the actual long throws. Winchester also stood very close to the Reds’ corner takers, talking to them apparently in an attempt to distract, but the visitors did not seem bothered by any of those antics, which were more comical than controversial.
DEFENCE BARELY TROUBLED AGAIN
This was a second successive league game in which the Reds did not concede a shot on target - unless you count a flick on by Dunkley which Collins caught off his line.
The Reds have conceded just seven shots on their goal in the last seven league games.
They have the joint best defensive record in the division with 14 goals conceded in 17 games.
Leyton Orient are the only side in the EFL who have conceded fewer.
Under Duff, Barnsley’s back five cover a huge distance in each game as they constantly look to ‘crunch the pitch’ and play a high line - which led on Saturday to the opponents being regularly offside or chasing poor long balls. The Reds dealt with Shrewsbury’s set piece threat and never really looked like conceding.
Just after the opener, Shrewsbury striker Ryan Bowman was inches from turning in a Taylor Moore shot which flashed just wide of the bottom left corner.
All the hosts managed in the remainder of the game was a series of wayward long-range efforts before skipper Leahy blazed well over from 15 yards after a scramble which involved a fine Liam Kitching block.
Collins was very well-protected by an impressive back three of Edwards, Mads Andersen and Kitching - then Robbie Cundy came on late on to add extra height and repel an aerial bombardment. Wing-backs Jordan Williams and Nicky Cadden were not required to bomb forward often but added solidity at the back. Cadden in particular looked stronger in defence than previously, while putting in good crosses again.
REDS ON GOOD FORM SINCE CHANGE OF SYSTEM
Barnsley have now won three games in a row since their rotten October run forced a change to 3-5-2.
After defeating strugglers Forest Green and winning in the cup at Bolton, with both sides making changes, this was probably the most impressive result of the three as Shrewsbury were tenth and could have overtaken the Reds.
The new formation has transformed their attacking threat, with two strikers backed up by runners from the three-man midfield. It has also stopped, so far, the dangerous counter-attacks that were undoing them in 3-4-3.
They will face tougher opponents, and a test will come when they fall behind, while there have already been plenty of ups and downs this season. But it is so far, so good since the system change.
Shrewsbury had made the fewest passes of any side in the division and had the second least possession. They were a physically imposing outfit with more than 1,000 League One appearances in the 11 but not much experience at a higher level.
Duff got the better of Steve Cotterill, his former mentor at Cheltenham who has not beaten the Reds in his last six meetings, as Barnsley matched the hosts’ fight and had more quality.
It was not a classic game but the Reds deserved to win and it was the type of hard-earned victory they will have to repeat to stay in touch with the top six before hopefully bringing in attacking reinforcements from the treatment room and transfer window.
PHILLIPS AGAIN THE GOAL HERO
Although it was not as eye-catching as his cup screamer a week earlier, Adam Phillips’ first league goal for Barnsley was at least as important.
He found the bottom right corner from ten yards out after Devante Cole received the ball from Herbie Kane in the box, held off a defender and saw his pass bounce off the clumsy Leahy straight to Phillips.
Both sides had been struggling to score goals, with question marks over the potency of their strike forces. But the Reds looked the more threatening - especially in the first half before very little happened in the second. They appeared to catch cold a home side who had played on Wednesday night when the Reds had a free week.
Phillips has been one of the main beneficiaries of the change to 3-5-2, thriving on the right of the central three - a role which allows him to burst into the box more which is his strength. He is improving significantly off the ball in Duff’s system.
The summer signing had replaced Josh Benson who was dropped from last league game. Benson has been one of Barnsley’s best attacking players this season, with four goals, and impressed in the most recent league fixture. But his benching shows the strength in depth Barnsley have in central midfield.
Herbie Kane, on the left of the central three, was excellent - winning several tackles and interceptions, driving his side forward as well as playing a part in the goal and other chances. Luca Connell, other than a couple of unnecessary first half fouls, was once again a solid presence in front of the defence.
MIXED FULL LEAGUE DEBUT FOR TEDIC
Slobodan Tedic’s first start in the English leagues was just a few minutes old when he hurt his ankle and received treatment. He played on for more than an hour but was eventually taken off with the injury hindering him.
The Reds must be hopeful that the Serbian, 22, does not miss any games as he and Devante Cole are currently the only fit out-and-out strikers in the first team squad.
The Manchester City loanee is clearly a raw talent and may have been rusty having barely played this season.
Occasionally his link-up play was excellent, bringing others into play deftly and holding off defenders, but it was poor at other times – such as when he chipped a simple pass into the stands over Duff who pirouetted while crying out in frustration. Tedic generally competed well against a very experienced back three, and won six headers as he helped out defending from set pieces.
He should have made it 2-0 on 34 minutes.
After Phillips headed on a Cadden cross, Cole’s header hit the bar and Tedic nodded the rebound wide from five yards out with the goal gaping. It was an awkward height for the striker who had little time to think about it, having held the ball up impressively in the build-up.
Cole had another decent game, setting up the goal and again holding the ball up well at times.