Analysis of Barnsley's 2-0 home win over Burton Albion on Saturday.
REDS FANS GET CHRISTMAS GIFT FROM FINAL SATURDAY MATCH OF YEAR
Barnsley fans have had far too many miserable Saturday afternoons in 2022 but the last game in that time slot of the year provided a perfect Christmas present of three points.
A Devante Cole brace secured a fifth straight league win, a seventh in eight in all competitions and gave them a four-point cushion inside the play-offs with the most points after 20 games for 42 years.
This is a likeable team with character and talent who, along with their coaching staff, have changed the mood at the club in the last six months and could potentially achieve something special in 2023.
It was not a classic game but the Reds were in control throughout and thoroughly deserved the win.
These two sides had scored the most headed goals in League One this season, but it was with slick passing and movement on the ground with which Barnsley opened their visitors up with two very well-crafted goals.
The plan was to get runners down the side of the penalty area between the Burton centre-backs and full-backs which worked perfectly with clinical crosses and finishes.
It is clear to see that the work they are doing on the training pitch is paying off and there is a good connection between the players.
HOME FORM IMPROVING RAPIDLY
It was a fourth straight home win after not playing at Oakwell in League One for a month.
Barnsley have beaten bottom four sides Forest Green, MK Dons and Burton Albion as well as League Two Crewe in the FA Cup, scoring ten goals and letting in one.
That is not a high standard of opponents but, after some poor results at Oakwell earlier in the season following relegation, it has been a good way to kick-start their home form ahead of far tougher tests and is a reward for their loyal fans.
The Reds had come unstuck against lower opponents earlier in the season, with Michael Duff criticising their attitude and approach.
But now they have clinically dispatched a series of inferior visitors, including the lowly Brewers who had the worst defensive record in English professional football.
REDS WIN EASILY DESPITE ILLNESS
Barnsley were missing Tom Edwards and Adam Phillips who had been key factors in the recent good run, while several others had been ill in the build-up.
Duff said the players were ‘barking like a pack of dogs’ in the dressing room which he compared to a doctor’s waiting room earlier in the week.
He also hailed a ‘shift in mentality’ which saw them put all their problems and potential excuses to one side and get the job done.
COLE CONTINUES FINE SEASON
Cole was one of the players who had been particularly ill – missing training on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday – but he netted his seventh and eighth goals of the season.
Cole’s double came from a combined distance of less than ten yards but he showed good movement and awareness to get in the right position, with Duff saying ‘he doesn’t score enough tap-ins.’
He is now Barnsley’s top-scorer in 2022 with nine, moving clear of Carlton Morris, while he netted as many goals in this game as in 16 on loan to Burton in 2018/19.
In a season when the Reds have struggled for regular scorers, Cole has stepped up and delivered, in general, good performances in terms of goal threat, hold-up play and pressing. He has blocked the third most passes in League One.
He will mainly be judged on goals but, with eight before halfway, could realistically target 20 if he stays fit and firing all season.
RETURNING WOLFE IMPRESSES IN ATTACKING ROLE
Matty Wolfe – in for Phillips – got the assist for the opener, to cap an impressive overall performance after more than three months out with injury.
The academy product, 22, has often played in holding midfield previously but this time was used on the right of a central three in a more attacking role. Duff said that is where he is best-suited to playing.
He looked very good driving with the ball, something Barnsley haven't had lot of since Luke Thomas got injured in October.
Luca Connell and Herbie Kane also performed well in a midfield which dominated and dictated the game.