Analysis of Barnsley's 3-1 victory at Port Vale on Tuesday. After Luca Connell's first minute strike was cancelled out, Liam Kitching and Adam Phillips secured the win.
IMPRESSIVE REDS BEAT PITCH AND VALE
The last time Barnsley played on Valentine’s Day, they won 2-0 at Brentford under Valerien Ismael in 2021 to start a seven-match winning run in the Championship.
The Reds’ style on Tuesday was reminiscent of ‘Val ball’ as they had to go more direct than usual on a ridiculously poor pitch which cut up early on and made passing accurately almost impossible.
That earned Michael Duff’s side a valuable victory – a fourth from five games and tenth out of the last 14 – and kept them three points clear in the top six with the chance to catch those above them in the coming weeks.
The occasion was dubbed ‘Vale n Tarn’s Day’ by some fans in the build-up, but it was definitely the visitors’ day as the romance between the Reds and their supporters continued to blossom. When the almost 650 in the away end clapped their heroes off at the end, it felt like a club with real momentum who are potentially set to achieve something special in the coming months.
The feeling has not been this positive since Ismael’s time which of course was at a higher level but with a very different atmosphere due to behind-closed-doors football.
This was Barnsley’s tenth away win of the season in all competitions while their 25 away points is the most they have accrued after 15 games in a league campaign since before the Second World War.
They now visit another struggling side in Cheltenham which – although complicated as Duff returns to his former club – is a good chance for three more points going into a brutal run of games against almost all their promotion rivals.
REDS SHOW RESILIENCE AND CLINICAL FINISHING
Having been held to a draw at Oakwell in the league then knocked out of the EFL Trophy by Vale, Barnsley got the better of the Staffordshire outfit at the third time of asking this season.
The home fans belted out their anthem – Elvis Presley’s Wonder of You – as the game got underway but, 25 seconds in, they were left all shook up by Luca Connell’s spectacular strike.
The hosts were then well on top for the next 20 minutes, during which they levelled, but Barnsley showed resilience and clinical finishing to get back in front from their second real attack.
The Reds were then much more comfortable and seemed to adapt to the pitch as they gained a fairly routine victory, capped by a third goal from a third shot on target in the second half.
Vale had 62 per cent of possession, more than 150 more of both passes and touches, 15 of the 22 shots and ten of the 13 corners. But they had no clear chances other than their goal, and it was the Reds who had the extra quality.
Vale have now taken just two points from seven games since January 1 and are plummeting down the division. There was plenty of frustration in the stands with pressure apparently on manager Darrell Clarke – who has one point from six league meetings with Duff – and director of football David Flitcroft, the former Barnsley manager.
CONNELL A STAR IN MIDFIELD
Connell has everything you want from a holding midfielder – he is a good tackler, accomplished passer, can drive forward when required and has now scored two stunning long-range goals this season. He provided a goal and assist at Vale Park and is just 21 so looks to have a fine career ahead of him.
The Reds’ recruitment department deserve major credit for spotting him at Queen’s Park in the Scottish third division last season before the club snapped him up for free on a long-term contract.
The last player to open the scoring for Barnsley at Port Vale was Conor Hourihane and Connell – although a different type of midfielder – could become a similar talisman for the Reds while dreaming of also reaching the Premier League and playing for the Republic of Ireland.
Herbie Kane was also impressive in midfield, as he often has been this season – defending well with tackles and blocks and also displaying fine skill and footwork to help Barnsley hold onto the ball.
It was not all plain sailing for the Reds’ midfield. They struggled to get to grips with the pitch early on and switched between two defensive midfielders and their usual one with two going forward.
Jon Russell made his full debut – in place of Adam Phillips – and, although showed glimpses of his immense talent, he ‘dilly dallied’ in Duff’s words on the ball when simple direct play was required. It was the January signing’s first start in four and a half months, having been frozen out at Huddersfield. He improved as the first half went on but was taken off at the break for Phillips as the Reds returned to their usual central three. Phillips scored soon after while Duff praised Russell’s reaction to being hooked.
Duff has challenged Phillips to improve the defensive side of his game and he added more balance to the midfield, as well as his goal.
With Josh Benson also to come back, the Reds have a host of good options in midfield going into the final portion of the season.
TEDIC NOW A ‘DIFFERENT ANIMAL’
When Barnsley changed their strikers with 15 minutes left, this reporter could recognise one player waiting to come on as Oli Shaw but was baffled as to who the other was.
It was revealed to be Slobodan Tedic, but with dyed blonde hair and a more muscular frame after clearly spending much of his three-month lay-off in the gym.
The Manchester City loanee held the ball up well and should add much-needed physicality to the Reds’ attacking options. Duff called him a ‘different animal’ and added: “I don’t know who Man City sent us for the first three months but they can keep that one.”
The next step is for him to get his first goal, something he tried to do in spectacular style late on but scuffed an acrobatic bicycle kick wide.
Starting strikers Devante Cole and James Norwood – in for the suspended Max Watters – did not have many chances but put in good shifts, with the latter looking particularly fired-up as he jostled and annoyed the home defence. Cole has not scored for ten games across two months but did play a part in the move for the opener.
Barnsley’s back three seemed to understand their assignment early on – nothing fancy, just stay focused and get the ball away from the goal.
At least two no-nonsense clearances zoomed over both stands at the sides of the ground, and a barrage of average crosses and long passes were repelled.
Mads Andersen was totally dominant in the middle of Barnsley’s back three – making nine clearances and winning six headers. At one point, he blasted the ball out for a throw-in right in front of Vale fans then looked straight at them with his finger to his ear while beaming his usual grin. Bobby Thomas – who won a big header in the build-up to the opener – and scorer Liam Kitching were also excellent.
Kitching’s goal was a third set piece goal in as many games – a weapon Barnsley have finally been able to add to their arsenal after plenty of work on the training ground.