Analysis of Barnsley's 2-1 win at Oxford United on Wednesday evening.
REDS NOT AT BEST BUT GET EXCELLENT RESULT
Barnsley gained their first ever win at the Kassam Stadium on what they will hope is their final ever visit there.
Oxford are currently expected to leave when their lease expires in 2026, by which time the Reds will hope to be well-established back in the Championship.
They are closer to doing so after a midweek victory in which they scored two fine goals - with Bobby Thomas and Nicky Cadden netting their first for the club.
They then conceded and just about hung on to the lead under probably the most intense period of pressure they have faced all season.
That they survived was due to a combination of luck, poor Oxford finishing as well as good character and game management.
They gained a first win at Oxford since a 1-0 success at the Manor Ground in 1991, about three years before a teenaged Michael Duff moved to Oxfordshire when his father was stationed at RAF Brize Norton.
While it was not Duff’s side’s best performance, it was an excellent result in a game in hand on the teams around them which extends their buffer in the top six to a healthy five points.
The 482 away fans appeared to be having a good night, with cheerful chanting throughout, as they witnessed a ninth victory on the road this season.
The Reds will have to put in better all-round displays than this consistently but they are on course to make sure that, when the Us visit Oakwell on April 22, they are well in the promotion hunt.
Oxford were among the chasing pack hoping to reel their visitors in but now look marooned in mid-table, with Barnsley now hoping to deal a similar blow to Saturday hosts Portsmouth.
The home fans chanted for the removal of manager Karl Robinson who, after taking them into the play-offs twice then eighth last season, could be coming to the end of one of the longest current stints of any EFL boss.
REDS MORE OPEN AT BACK THAN USUAL
It was a strange match which seemed extremely open at times, both sides getting in behind the other’s back line regularly.
Barnsley’s defence was exposed far more than usual, with long balls over the top regularly catching them out and putting Oxford attackers in the clear.
The Us are known for playing good football but resorted to hitting it long and focusing on set pieces including long throws – these tactics worked but they could not find the leveller.
After Barnsley missed a big chance for 3-0, the hosts made a double substitution, going to two up front, and dominated the next 20 minutes while penning the rattled Reds in their own half. Oxford hit the crossbar at 2-1, missed a glorious one-on-one and had several other scrambles in the box.
Barnsley finished in a 4-5-1 to combat the direct approach and because new signings such as Max Watters are not used to the 3-4-3 system they would usually use. They were more solid towards the very end and saw out almost ten minutes of added time fairly comfortably, using the dark arts of game management while taking the ball regularly in the corner to pass precious seconds.
DEFENDER THOMAS MAKING IMPACT
This match was originally called off on December 10, when Bobby Thomas started for Bristol Rovers in a 1-0 home win over Port Vale.
Now he is a Barnsley player and added a first goal for the club to an assist on his debut. In both games he has looked a solid defender - winning eight headers at Oxford - as well an attacking threat, while he was also a vocal leader on Wednesday when the Reds were under pressure.
Unlike all the other new signings, he has been playing regularly this season so has made an instant impact.
Liam Kitching, the other wide centre-back, was superb going forward for the first hour, surging confidently out of defence and setting up chances early in each half.
Mads Andersen, unusually, was the least impressive of the back three, often watching long passes go over his head to onrushing attackers. As a unit they will look to be much more solid in the future.
The Reds will be disappointed with the Oxford goal as they left the huge Elliott Moore unmarked from a corner.
NICE MOMENT FOR SOON-TO-BE DAD CADDEN
When Nicky Cadden made it 2-0, he joined Ian Banks and Neil Redfearn on the short list of Barnsley players to score winners at Oxford - illustrious company.
He also became the first player wearing number seven to net for Barnsley in 111 games since Jacob Brown against Blackburn in July 2020.
Callum Brittain could not score in two seasons, despite a series of big chances, and Cadden’s wait for a first Barnsley goal lasted 24 games.
It was a great moment for the Scottish left wing-back who is set to experience another first soon as his girlfriend is expecting a baby in the coming days.
All of Barnsley’s regular scorers have now scored goals this season, in which they need everyone to chip in with goals rather than rely on one or two prolific strikers.
MIXED PERFORMANCES THROUGHOUT
James Norwood and Devante Cole - back into the side for the departed Jack Aitchison - put in good shifts up front and were each vital in the second goal.
The first came from a wonderful cross by Adam Phillips who registered a second assist in as many games.
Former Oxford man Herbie Kane assisted the second goal, drawing him level on four for the season with Luca Connell - who made the most tackles and interceptions in Oxford - and Jordan Williams, who was not as adventurous as usual in attack.
Barnsley’s midfield were involved in some fine moves and battled hard as usual but were bypassed for a long period in the second half by their direct hosts.
Goalkeeper Brad Collins looked nervous from crosses at times then aggravated a quad injury late on, with home fans accusing him of time-wasting.