Analysis of Barnsley's 4-1 win over fellow League One promotion challengers Derby County at Oakwell on Saturday. Devante Cole and Adam Phillips put the hosts 2-0 up then, after Derby replied, Cole made it 3-1 at the break then Luke Thomas added a late fourth.
REDS MAGNIFICENT IN UNEXPECTED THRASHING
ON THE pitch it was Rams to the slaughter and in the stands it was the silence of the Rams as Barnsley enjoyed a fantastic day in all aspects on Saturday.
Derby were turned to debris in this one-sided game with a result which may have reverberated around League One from Hillsborough to Home Park and from Buckinghamshire to Bolton.
It has to go down as the Reds’ best result of the season and the performance was impressive from the start.
Derby had lost one out of 18 and Barnsley two of 15. But, from the opening minutes, it seemed more likely that the Reds’ run would continue.
Adam Phillips won a sliding tackle after 15 seconds, Liam Kitching sent Jason Knight pirouetting with a powerful but fair first half challenge then Herbie Kane stopped a promising counter-attack with a tremendous last-ditch tackle. Those are just three examples of the whole-hearted never-say-die performance which overwhelmed Barnsley’s visitors who had 60 per cent of the ball but did little with it.
Barnsley may have benefited from some fortunate bounces and terrible Derby defending but they caused chaos with their energy and intensity which badly rattled the lumbering visitors. They now have scored 11 goals in three games, and played some fine football at times.
The first half was totally frantic with plenty of chances at both ends but Barnsley were the more clinical and better team. They then controlled the second half - with a mixture of good defending and clever professional fouls which earned bookings - and were not threatened until the final minutes.
Michael Duff and Derby boss Paul Warne are good friends and greeted each other with a big hug before kick-off. But that warmth did not last during the game as Duff’s side handed Warne a fourth loss from four league meetings with the Reds.
These two sides have made the fewest tackles in the division but the visitors were by far the more feisty, alert and fired-up - winning loose balls and dominating the midfield battle.
The bigger-budget visitors’ starting 11 combined had made about 1,500 Championship appearances and six of them were aged 29 or older.
But it was the hosts’ youthful exuberance allied with the excellent organisation instilled on the training pitch by Duff and his staff which earned this fine win.
REDS IN STRONG POSITION IN TABLE
This was the first of a run of Barnsley games against almost all their promotion rivals over the next month. It was the perfect start to such a gruelling sequence and must give them huge confidence.
The Reds have now won 12 of their last 16 league games, as well as six of their last seven.
They leapfrogged Derby into fifth while increasing the gap to seventh to six points.
They are nine points off second-placed Plymouth with two games in hand and the Devon club due to come to Oakwell on March 11.
The top two remains far away on the horizon but not yet disappearing into the sunset.
The Reds will totally believe they can gain automatic promotion while adhering to their ‘win the next half’ mentality - which has resulted in them winning eight halves in a row.
If this was a dress rehearsal for the play-offs, then it was a happy one for the Reds who thrashed their fellow top six club.
BIGGEST CROWD IN THREE YEARS MAKE DIFFERENCE
The club had put a lot of effort into marketing the game - making it a ‘scarf day’ and cutting some prices - which, along with the Reds’ excellent form, resulted in attendance of 17,145.
It was the largest for more than three years since Sheffield Wednesday visited in February 2020 - one of the last games before Covid-19 hit this country fully - and the biggest this season by almost 4,000.
It was partly swelled by the more than 4,000 away fans but the home crowd was roughly 2,000 larger than usual.
They certainly enjoyed what they saw and backed their side throughout, making plenty of noise late on to drown out a stunned away end.
After being quiet in the first half of the season, understandably after the previous campaign, the supporters now seem far more vocal in their support of the Reds.
When watching the performance on the pitch and listening to the chants from the stands, it was clear this was a club on the up which has healed many of last season’s wounds.
EXCELLENT COLE INTO DOUBLE FIGURES
Devante Cole reached double figures for goals this season, netting his team’s first and third before the break.
He ended an 11-game barren streak during which he had still helped the team with his pressing and work-rate.
He started both the moves for his goals, in different ways, and was an absolute nuisance for the visiting defence who simply could not cope with his movement, energy and desire.
The same was true of James Norwood who chased lost causes to win corners and throw-ins regularly, to the delight of the home crowd, and was involved in the first three goals.
Duff said they produced ‘complete forward performances’ and, after the strikers were arguably the weak link in the first half of the season, those two now look real assets who give League One defences major problems.
OTHER FINE PERFORMANCES THROUGHOUT
There were good performances throughout the team.
Adam Phillips netted his eighth goal of the season, with what is becoming a trademark long-range strike. The Reds want to turn him into a more rounded midfielder with better defensive qualities but it is impossible to leave him out when he provides such a goal threat.
Herbie Kane was impressive again and, although there was surprise in the dressing room when he won the supporter-voted man of the match, he showed both the dirty and beautiful sides of his game with fine tackles and superb passing.
Luca Connell was the least spectacular of the midfielders but contributed to a central three who clearly outshone former Reds captain Conor Hourihane and Spurs loanee Harvey White - both of whom the Reds tried to sign this season.
Luke Thomas came off the bench to get the final goal against his old club, a lovely moment on his first Oakwell appearance since September due to a broken leg.
Jordan Williams made seven interceptions and was involved in the second and third goals. Nicky Cadden – who returned at left wing-back in place of Ziyad Larkeche having missed the last game due to the birth of his son – defended well on the left.
The Barnsley back three was caught out a couple of times, notably for the Rams goal when Mads Andersen and Bobby Thomas left the ball for each other, but were far more solid after the break although against some very tame attacks which ended in easily defendable crosses.
Harry Isted some good saves throughout, and became the first Barnsley goalkeeper to win fist first four games.