Analysis of Barnsley's 1-0 win at Wycombe Wanderers. Slobodan Tedic scored in the 85th minute.
REDS 'POOR' BUT GROUND OUT WIN
Barnsley had pulverised a series of promotion rivals at Oakwell before this game but gained a very different if no less important win at Adams Park on Saturday.
The Reds were nowhere near their best but somehow ground out an epic late victory to extend their unbeaten run to 11 games with nine wins.
They can outplay teams and also pinch wins on off-days, which is exactly what they need in this run-in.
It was a damaging defeat for Wycombe whose play-off hopes now look slender while Barnsley increased the gap between them and the sides outside the top six to nine points so only a capitulation would stop them finishing in the top six.
Reds head coach Michael Duff - who drew 5-5 at Wycombe last season as Cheltenham manager - witnessed a far less entertaining match this time.
He admitted his team were ‘poor’ as they had less possession and fewer touches and passes than their traditionally route one hosts.
Barnsley played too many long balls which did not work against a big, tough home defence while they lacked quality on most of the few occasions they got the ball in good areas. They could not press their direct hosts and win the ball high up the pitch in their usual way.
Their normally impressive midfield was often bypassed and their wing-backs spent far more time pinned back defending than providing attacking width.
But they were slightly better in the second half as their substitutes made an impact while they never lost their togetherness and spirit.
When Barnsley lost 3-0 at home to Wycombe in August, Duff admitted the Chairboys outran his side who ‘didn’t work hard enough’ while Mads Andersen suggested some team-mates gave only ‘80 or 90 per cent.’
They were still haunted by last season and yet to fully understanding the tactics and demands of Duff and his staff, while the distracting summer transfer window was still open.
But they have come a long way in the last seven months both tactically and mentally - which showed on Saturday as they kept fighting and believing.
TEDIC GETS VITAL FIRST GOAL
The last time Slobodan Tedic scored was for Zwolle at Sparta Rotterdam in the Dutch top flight on April 3, 2021.
Almost two years later, he ended a 43-game goal drought with a deft header into the top left corner from seven yards out.
It was the Manchester City loanee’s 16th appearance of a Barnsley spell which saw him sometimes look lost and miss simple chances including a penalty at Doncaster in the EFL Trophy.
Duff admitted there were some ‘stern talks’ early on but he has been impressed by the Serb since he returned from a four-month injury lay-off which he mainly spent in the gym so he could cope with the demands of League One.
The goal was a reward for the tall striker’s hard work but he will be hoping it is just the start of a successful final section of the season.
The assist came from fellow substitute Luke Thomas who beat a man and crossed superbly, after a good touch by another replacement Devante Cole following Liam Kitching’s quick throw-in.
Those substitutes, as well as the lively Josh Benson, helped create a spell of pressure towards the end which culminated in the winner - exploiting gaps which began to appear in the tired home defence.
Unlike in the last away game, a 0-0 draw at Bristol Rovers, Duff made changes early and they made an impact - showing the strength of his squad which has been bolstered by the January window and a reduced injury list.
ANDERSEN BACK TO BEST
Barnsley’s back three were solid, especially Andersen who had his best game for a number of weeks as he dominated aerially and was constantly in the right position to stop Wycombe attacks.
The Reds survived an aerial bombardment between roughly 50 and 75 minutes as Wycombe - who had 12 of the 13 corners - pumped regular set pieces and crosses into the box. But the only chance they created was when Brandon Hanlan appeared to push Andersen before heading wide.
Wycombe played to the strengths of Barnsley’s tall back three who are competent at heading away crosses and long balls.
Wycombe forwards Tjay De Barr and Chem Campbell - who gave Jordan Williams issues including nutmegging him in the box before putting in a dangerous cross - caused problems early on when the ball was on the floor, but were bypassed after the break.
Wycombe went ‘too Wycombe’ and it helped Barnsley.
Harry Isted – who stayed in goal despite the return to fitness of Brad Collins who was on the bench – gained a seventh win and fifth clean sheet in eight Barnsley appearances.
Max Watters came in for Devante Cole up front and missed two good chances.
That probably showed a lack of sharpness for the striker who had not started since his three-game ban last month. James Norwood had some good moments but did not get the service he needed.
In Barnsley’s midfield, Luca Connell could barely get on the ball early on before improving, Herbie Kane was not his usual self and Phillips did not have any of his trademark long-range shots until blazing well over in the 74th minute.
FANS LOUD THROUGHOUT BEFORE EPIC END
The 1,020 away fans were noisy throughout the match, despite having little to cheer for 85 minutes, often singing Michael Duff’s name.
Then they went wild after the late winner and the atmosphere was extremely raucous.
Their support was a key factor in the Reds keeping going and winning.
Barnsley are unbeaten in six away games, keeping clean sheets in the last three.
They now have 12 away wins in all competitions this season, with twb in the league.
This was, in theory, Barnsley’s most difficult away game left - with the remaining host clubs either in mid-table or the relegation fight.
They know they will get excellent support for all of them and hope to secure more comfortable victories at Exeter, Burton, Forest Green, Lincoln and MK Dons.
BIG DERBY UP NEXT
‘Sheffield Wednesday, we’re coming for you’ was the chant before, during and after this victory.
The Reds are due to host the first-placed Owls on Tuesday in front of potentially the biggest crowd at Oakwell for more than a decade.
It should be a fantastic atmosphere and great contest between two sides in superb form.
Wednesday are unbeaten in 23 and their 1-1 home draw with Bolton on Friday left them nine points clear of the Reds who will look to make it six in midweek.
A draw would not be a disaster for Barnsley but they will feel they can beat anyone if they repeat recent home performances - while Wednesday are certainly not just anyone for the Reds.
A home victory would help create a thrilling four-team race for the top two and complete a double after an excellent win at Hillsborough in September.