Analysis of Barnsley's 4-2 home victory over Sheffield Wednesday at Oakwell on Tuesday. Devante Cole and James Norwood put the Reds 2-0 up early then, after the visitors made it 2-2, Max Watters and Liam Kitching secured the win.
MAGICAL NIGHT AT OAKWELL
WHEN Liam Kitching’s goal hit the back of Sheffield Wednesday’s net deep in injury-time, and secured a famous South Yorkshire derby win, Oakwell was unlike it has been for years.
The Barnsley coaching staff and substitutes were a teeming mass of excitement in the dug-out as the defender went through, then exploded in pure joy when he scored.
Michael Duff, the mastermind of this remarkable season, leapt into the air while substituted Devante Cole – who had started the fun almost two hours earlier – sprinted across the pitch in his coat to join in the wild celebrations in the far corner as a wonderful atmosphere all night reached its climax.
The crowd of 18,377 was the biggest at Oakwell since a 2-0 home loss to Newcastle United in October 2016 as the Reds sold every seat available – with the away end soon emptying once Kitching netted, leaving only delighted Barnsley supporters to revel in a huge win.
This current run is comparable to the form under Valerien Ismael two years ago – with the ending of Wednesday’s 23-game unbeaten run reminiscent of the Reds doing similar to Brentford. But, although that was at a higher level in the Championship, it was behind-closed-doors so you did not quite get the lose-your-mind, lose-your-voice, hug-a-stranger chaos that erupted around Oakwell – creating memories fans will treasure for years.
Behind the dugout, chief executive Khaled El-Ahmad and various board members including Julie Anne Quay were also ecstatic – and rightly proud of the transformation they, Duff and this incredible group of staff and players have overseen in the last 12 months.
REDS BLOWING TOP TWO RACE WIDE OPEN
Barnsley have now inflicted 50 per cent of Wednesday’s league defeats this season, scored 22 per cent of the goals against them in 36 games while 30 per cent of the away goals the Owls have let in in 17 games this season came at Oakwell on Tuesday.
The Owls are still title favourites, six points clear of Barnsley and with two games in hand on Plymouth and Ipswich, but they slipped off top spot with this loss and – after looking like running away with first place – and are now embroiled in a four-way scrap for the top two.
It is possible that a points total of 95 or more will be needed for automatic promotion but, if Barnsley replicate their form over the last ten games across the final ten, which are generally easier in theory, they can achieve that and break their record points tally set by Daniel Stendel four years ago. They are currently on 72 from 36 games.
The Reds are unbeaten in 12 with ten wins, have won six successive home games for the first time since their last League One promotion charge in 2019 – and this time each by at least two goals – and have taken 51 points from their last 21 matches.
They have beaten Derby, Portsmouth, Plymouth and Sheffield Wednesday – three of the other sides in the top five – in their last four home games across the last three and a half weeks, scoring 14 goals. The best sides in the third tier have been blown away at Oakwell. No wonder Ipswich chose to call Saturday’s visit off due to international call-ups.
Barnsley also scrapped-out a 1-0 win at Wycombe on Saturday and drew 0-0 at Bristol Rovers – the worst result in the easiest game in theory which should be a warning as they face lower sides from now on. They won five and drew one of the six games in a daunting month-long period which many said would define their season.
REDS COME OUT ON RIGHT SIDE OF PROPER DERBY
This was possibly the version of this derby into which both sides arrived with the best form ever.
Wednesday were unbeaten since October 4 - with 11 wins from their last 13 - and had the best away record in the league, but were missing star midfielder George Byers and joint top-scorer Josh Windass due to injury.
A tight and tense game was expected by many between the two best defences in the division, but it was an up-and-down six-goal slugfest.
It was not as complete and controlled performance as the 2-0 win at Hillsborough in September – which is still probably the best display of the season despite the recent run – but it was against a better Sheffield Wednesday side and just as satisfying.
If you were to examine each individual performance, you would find some mistakes and areas they could do better in – the midfield lost control for a long spell, wing-backs struggled to stop crosses and centre-backs lost their men for free headers.
But, in a rough and tumble derby when they had to defend desperately at times against a good side, the Reds showed tremendous character and resilience as well as quality in the moments that really mattered.
There was Mads Andersen’s bursting run for the opening goal, Luca Connell’s incredible pressing for the second, Harry Isted magnificent save at 2-1 and, of course, the cool finishing of Cole, James Norwood, Max Watters and Kitching.
It was a first Oakwell win over Wednesday in seven attempts since 2008 when they triumphed 2-1 thanks to goals by Iain Hume and Jamal Campbell-Ryce, with Owls boss Darren Moore in the home defence.
REDS MAKE TERRIFIC START THEN SHOW GREAT RESILIENCE
The 5,000-strong away end was noisy before kick-off and in the opening nine and a half minutes but very quiet after Cole and Norwood netted within 86 seconds of each other to send the rest of Oakwell into a frenzy.
Barnsley’s 16 outfield players in their matchday squad had all scored this season – the first time that has happened since at least the 1960s – displaying their varied threat.
But it was the usual suspects who did the early damage as the two strikers both hit the target as they did at Hillsborough in September.
Cole completed just four passes in 79 minutes, and struggled defensively when put on the wing in a 3-4-3, while Norwood picked up a ninth yellow card of the season for dissent which means he could be banned for two games if booked again at Exeter on Tuesday.
But the strikers are one of the key reasons why the Reds are where they are this season and made another huge impact.
The Owls began by trying to pass out from the back which was their downfall at Hillsborough against Barnsley but has helped them remain unbeaten for half a season. Again it did not work as they conceded twice and lost the ball on several other occasions.
Wednesday then reverted to going more direct, looking for free-kicks and bombarding the Barnsley box aerially.
That tactic worked with the crosses and set pieces, mainly from Barry Bannan, creating a series of chances for their suite of six-foot plus giants, while the Reds went into ‘self preservation mode’ according to Duff.
Barnsley dealt with it better in the second half although, after conceding the equaliser, Aden Flint should have volleyed in a Bannan free-kick to complete the turnaround.
But it went well over the bar and, from that moment on, Barnsley wrestled the momentum back when they could have crumpled at 2-2, with the away end bouncing.
Wednesday’s squad – after spending their considerable budget mainly on veterans with 1,500 Championship appearances in the 11 – is the oldest in League One at 30 on average while Barnsley’s is the second youngest after Lincoln. Duff said they thought that would help them later in the game and so it proved as they found an extra gear.
WATTERS GETS VITAL GOAL
The Reds substitutes once again made a difference.
After Slobodan Tedic got the winner at Wycombe on Saturday, this time it was Max Watters who showed great composure to make it 3-2 on 83 minutes.
He now joins Jan Aage Fjortoft, Bruce Dyer, Chris Morgan and Campbell-Ryce in netting winners at Oakwell over Wednesday across the last 40 years.
The Cardiff loanee arrived at Oakwell not match-fit, then scored against Cambridge but was sent off soon after and injured during his ban, so has been mainly a substitute. He was dropped to the bench after starting at Wycombe but he and Tedic know they will be given a chance by Duff to come on and change the game – which they have taken spectacularly this week.
Luke Thomas was involved in the build-up to the third goal, and set up Kitching’s for his second assist of the week despite coming off the bench in both games.
Barnsley’s substitutes are a huge weapon for Duff to use, adding real quality and impetus against flagging opponents.
They also now have the option to bring on fit-again Robbie Cundy to shore up the defence late on and, although he headed a long ball straight to Wednesday replacement Fisayo Dele-Bashiru at 3-2, he did well to block the shot.