A preview of Barnsley's December fixtures.
IF BARNSLEY can end a turbulent 2022 with a second successive positive month, for the first time this season, they will be in a strong position to at least compete for the play-offs places in 2023.
By the end of the month, the Reds will go past the halfway point and will have played everyone once.
January may be the key month, with who is bought and sold in the window surely pivotal, but December will also be very important for keeping the Reds in the promotion race.
After an excellent September in which they gained four wins and a draw from five games, October – although they won right at the start and end – saw them go winless and goalless for four league matches.
They have now had a nifty November, winning twice in the league – their only fixtures compared to five this month – and twice in the FA Cup while only losing in the EFL Trophy with a much-changed team.
If they can break the pattern of good month, bad month, good month, bad month – they will start to really put some distance between themselves and the very congested middle section of the third tier.
They have settled on the 3-5-2 formation which has suddenly seen them create regular chances, after being toothless for weeks in a 3-4-3.
The squad looks a committed, focused and unified group – with Michael Duff’s mantra of ‘one half at a time’, ‘hard work pays you back’ and ‘football owes you nothing’ clearly starting to sink in.
While a lack of regular goals up front is still an issue – Devante Cole aside – midfielders such as Adam Phillips and Herbie Kane have been transformed into attacking threats in the new system while the wing-backs are on fine form with regular assists.
It will be interesting to see how they do against some of the better sides in the division in this system, and if they can react to going behind, but the Reds are an organised, balanced and determined outfit with confidence growing by the win.
The match at fellow top six side Peterborough tonight is a difficult test then the Reds face four clubs currently in the bottom half of the table.
But we have seen this season that it is very difficult to predict this league and this Barnsley team while they have often performed better against the higher-placed sides than strugglers who sit back and defend.
If they can get into double figures for points in the five December games, they will be in a very good position going into what everyone hopes will be a much better year.
PETERBOROUGH UNITED, A, TONIGHT
This is the only December league game against a side currently in the top half.
It should be a good indication of where the Reds are, having put together a collection of impressive results against lower opposition to join the Posh in the top six.
The two clubs were direct opponents in a Championship relegation fight last season, and met almost exactly a year ago when the power failed at London Road in a 0-0 draw, in which new boss Poya Asbaghi adopted an extremely defensive approach. Defeat for either side would not see the lights go out in their promotion challenge, but it would be a big statement for the Reds to win at the ground where they announced themselves to League One in 2018 with a 4-0 victory.
There will be plenty of connections on the touchline as Posh boss Grant McCann is a former Barnsley midfielder while he played with close friend Michael Duff at club and international level. With Martin Devaney and Dale Tonge on the coaching staffs, there are likely to be warm catch-ups before and after but, for 90 minutes, the focus will be on defeating a possible promotion rival.
OXFORD UNITED, A, DEC 10
Michael Duff lived in Oxfordshire as a teenager when his father was based at RAF Brize Norton, while he rates Karl Robinson’s Us as one of the better teams in League One.
Oxford have been close to the Championship for years, losing in the play-off final in 2020, then the semi-final in 2021 then they missed out on the play-offs last year with 76 points which put them eighth.
They picked up just 11 points from their first 11 games this season which left them only outside the relegation zone on goal difference.
But now they are 13th, six points behind Barnsley, and unbeaten in eight in all competitions heading into tomorrow’s match at Accrington.
Barnsley have only won twice in 12 games at Oxford, and none of the last five with the only trip in the 21st century a 2019 2-2 draw in which Daniel Stendel’s side came back from 2-0 down.
Herbie Kane was a regular for the Us last season on loan from Barnsley while Robbie Cundy is from Oxford and was released by them as a youngster.
BURTON ALBION, H, DEC 17
Barnsley’s last two home league games have been against sides in the relegation zone. This is highly likely to be another, unless third-bottom Burton can close a six-point gap to safety in their next two games. The Reds fans, who will have waited a month for league action at Oakwell, might expect a similar result to the comfortable wins over Forest Green Rovers and MK Dons.
But Burton will certainly have players who are motivated to defeat Barnsley. Victor Adeboyejo, pictured, who turned down a new deal at Oakwell in the summer after five years at the club, has ten goals for the Brewers in all competitions – one more than in 97 Reds games – and is the fifth top-scorer in the division.
Sam Winnall, Barnsley’s 2016 promotion hero, also joined Burton in the summer and has one league start and one league goal. But he struck twice on Sunday in a 6-1 home win over non-league Chippenham in the FA Cup.
Albion have scored more league goals than Barnsley and have the ninth most in the division, but they have the worst defensive record in English professional football with 40 conceded.
Bizarrely, only League One’s top two have scored more away goals this season than Burton’s 15 but they have collected the fewest points on the road with five.
They are managed by Dino Maamria, after Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was sacked in early September – having pulled out of the race to be Barnsley boss in the summer.
ACCRINGTON STANLEY, A, DEC 26
This will be the first time Barnsley fans have watched a Boxing Day game live since 2019, when Aapo Halme netted a last-gasp leveller against West Brom.
The fixture last year was cancelled due to Covid-19 in the Stoke City camp while, the previous year, they beat Huddersfield Town behind-closed-doors.
There should be a large away crowd for one of the closest trips of the season before a series of long journeys early in 2023.
Accrington had been on a terrible run of just one point from six league games before a vital 1-0 win at fellow strugglers Cambridge left them two places and six points clear of the relegation zone.
They have currently won just two of nine at home in the league this season and host Oxford then Portsmouth before welcoming Barnsley.
Stanley have competed for the most headers this season in League One and have the second lowest pass completion percentage.
The Reds won both meetings 2-0 in the 2018/19 season while they have won four of their seven games at the Lancashire club.
Barnsley midfielder Adam Phillips had a loan spell with Accrington last year.
FLEETWOOD TOWN, H, DEC 29
This Thursday night fixture will bring to a close one of the toughest years in Barnsley’s recent history. But they will hope that they have continued to put the record-breaking relegation well behind them.
Scott Brown’s Cod Army may provide obdurate opposition.
Fleetwood have lost fewer games than the Reds but only the bottom three have fewer victories than their four from 19 matches, with their ten draws the most in English professional football. They are currently 17th.
This will be the first time this season the Reds play a second league fixture against an opponent, having won 1-0 at Fleetwood on October 1 thanks to a last-minute Jack Aitchison header.
After hosting Fleetwood, Barnsley are due to start 2023 at home to Bolton Wanderers on January 2.
They will then visit Derby in the FA Cup third round.
They complete their January fixtures with a trip to Charlton before a home game with Accrington – who they face for the second time in a month – a long midweek trip to Exeter City then a local derby with Sheffield Wednesday at Oakwell.