Analysis of Barnsley's 3-0 loss at Derby County in the FA Cup on Sunday.
ONE OF WORST PERFORMANCES OF GOOD SEASON
WHEN things have gone wrong for Barnsley in this generally positive season, they have tended to go quite spectacularly wrong.
That was the case in this Sunday lunchtime game at Pride Park when they produced one of their worst performances under Michael Duff on their way out of the FA Cup at the third round stage.
Duff’s tenure has generally been extremely encouraging and impressive but this was a fourth 3-0 loss and his young team must be much better at dealing with adversity if they want to stay in League One’s top six.
The Reds have lost almost every game this season in which they have fallen behind, only salvaging a draw at Ipswich in August.
In this game they were unfortunate with Tom Edwards’ injury while waiting to defend the corner which led to the disputed penalty which opened the scoring.
But their performance after that was abysmal and it was unsurprising that the majority of the 1,200 away fans left before the end.
It is obviously not ideal to start 2023 with 3-0 defeats to two of their promotion rivals in League One.
But the early red card handed Bolton Wanderers the win last Monday while this Derby defeat was in the FA Cup which, for all its potential glories and riches in future rounds, was always the secondary aim behind promotion this season.
Good results in the next couple of league matches will make the last week look like a small blip in a generally excellent season, but this cannot be allowed to become an extended bad run. Duff suggested it was a one-off bad day and it must be hoped he is right.
BARNSLEY’S PENALTY WOE CONTINUES
Barnsley conceded a fourth penalty in as many games when Matty Wolfe was judged to have handled in his box just before half-time.
The run of penalties is almost unheard-of but, after the bizarre handball decision against Liam Kitching at Accrington on Boxing Day, you can understand why the last three have all been given – even though Mads Andersen’s red card against Bolton was harsh.
Barnsley’s frustration with referees regularly giving spot-kicks against them is compounded by the lack of penalties for them.
The Reds are on their longest wait since the start of a season for a penalty in the league, of 23 games, since 1994/95 when they waited 25 matches.
REDS FALL APART AFTER GOOD START
Barnsley started very well and, for the first 15 minutes, were first to every ball against their rattled hosts and passed the ball impressively - especially down the left wing where they were dominant.
But Barnsley missed chances and the hosts gradually grew into the game, hitting the bar through Lewis Dobbin’s header. It was an even, scrappy contest by the time the Rams took the lead just before half-time.
The last time the Reds visited Derby in the FA Cup, it was 1897 and Victorian England was about to be gripped by Bram Stoker’s Dracula which was published that year. The second half was a footballing horror-story from Barnsley’s point of view while, although they did not lose 8-1 again, it felt like a thrashing by the end.
Duff admitted they were ‘outrun and outfought’ while Herbie Kane said the display was ‘unacceptable.’
The Reds lost the ball deep in their half for the second and third goals, while they looked extremely easy to play through at the back, had very little energy in midfield and no threat up front.
Derby were in total control and the match resembled a training exercise for much of the second half.
It was always going to be tough game. The Rams are unbeaten in 16 games in all competitions since October 21, other than a penalty shoot-out loss to Premier League Liverpool in the EFL Cup and had just gone above the Reds into fourth in League One.
The third tier’s best defence kept a fifth successive clean sheet and still have not let in a goal at Pride Park since October.
Their starting 11 had played more than 900 Championship games between them and the bench had the same again. They had six players in their 30s and eight under 23s.
Both sides made two changes but the Rams were far superior.
TOUGH DAYS FOR WOLFE AND WALTON
Wolfe had a particularly poor game, holding his hand up in the box to concede the penalty for handball which broke the deadlock, then losing the ball for the second goal. He often looked off the pace and struggled to keep hold of the ball.
It was not a performance that will help him keep a place in the midfield, with Adam Phillips and Josh Benson now back from injury. But Wolfe has only just returned from one of several injuries which have blighted his career and, on Sunday, his fellow midfielders Luca Connell and Herbie Kane were also not at their best.
Former Barnsley captain Conor Hourihane and his fellow Derby midfielders, after a tough start, could canter through the rest of the match with ease.
Jack Walton continued his cup goalkeeper role, with Brad Collins dropping to the bench, and gifted the hosts the third goal.
Walton also made a major error against Lincoln in the EFL Trophy earlier in the season and – although it cannot be easy to come in cold after months of sitting on the league bench – he must be frustrated with those mistakes with his contract up in the summer.
While Jordan Williams, Robbie Cundy and Nicky Cadden all played reasonably well, Kitching ended the game looking more like the error-prone defender who struggled in the same round against Barrow last season than the reliable performer of this campaign.
Strikers James Norwood and Devante Cole struggled to make an impact on the defence or hold the ball up to get the Reds in good positions. With Max Watters not ready to play, there were no natural strikers to bring off the bench to make a difference.
EDWARDS INJURY A CONCERN
Tom Edwards’ return from five weeks out with a knee problem lasted just 40 minutes as he went down in the Barnsley box with an injury and – after several minutes of treatment – hobbled off.
There was nothing in the match at that stage but the hosts took the lead from the following corner and controlled the rest of the game against a totally disjointed Barnsley, who could also be troubled by the injury in the long-term.
Although Andersen can replace Edwards after his one-game suspension – that leaves the Reds with only three fit centre-backs. They do not seem to want to play Jasper Moon, who was stripped off ready to come on when Edwards went down before they decided to bring on midfield Josh Benson at right wing-back and move Jordan Williams into the centre.
They are already looking for a right wing-back in the transfer window and many have to also bring in a centre-back if Edwards is out long-term.