Analysis from Barnsley's first round EFL Cup exit to League Two Tranmere Rovers at Oakwell. The Reds fell behind twice but levelled through Herbie Kane then Aiden Marsh, who scored in the 98th minute to force a shoot-out which the visitors won 7-6.
SELECTION AND CHANGES SHOW PROMOTION ONLY PRIORITY
THIS is probably not the game from this week which will be remembered for years to come, but it certainly contained some memorable moments and performances.
The League Cup first round is always an odd fixture – sandwiched between league games and with squads still being constructed, so results can be skewed by how seriously each side takes the competition.
Both teams here made seven changes from their Saturday league games, when Tranmere lost 2-1 at home to Barrow in League Two while Barnsley were making history with a 7-0 win against Port Vale.
Tranmere gained their first ever win at Oakwell at their 28th attempt while Barnsley have been knocked out of the EFL Cup first round in nine of the last 16 seasons.
Reds head coach Neill Collins had to weigh up trying to field a team capable of winning and launching a potentially lucrative and exciting cup run against keeping players fresh for the more important three league games in the following 11 days.
With a series of usual starters out with injury, illness and suspension, especially in midfield, he had to choose between playing the same team as Saturday in some areas or very very young players. He generally chose the latter.
There may be debate among fans about whether he should have fielded a stronger side or made different substitutions but, even in the first week of the season, Barnsley’s entire focus is on doing everything they feel with give them the best chance to the Championship – and understandably so. There should not be serious panic about strength in depth with many of the absent players close to returning and the transfer window still open for several weeks.
Collins gave first starts to Ben Killip, Jack Shepherd, Oli Shaw, Andy Dallas and Charlie Winfield, with the latter making his debut as did substitutes Kyran Lofthouse and Vimal Yoganathan, 17, who had never played senior game before.
Collins started with some first teamers, such as Jon Russell, Herbie Kane and starting captain Jordan Williams but took them all off midway through the second half – clearly showing where this cup lies as a priority this year.
Other than goalkeeper Joe Murphy, who played international and Premier League football, Tranmere’s squad only had two substitute appearances in the Championship in terms of experience above League One.
But their starting 11 still had double the number of League One appearances of the Reds while the average age was 27 to 22.
FIRST HOME EQUALISERS SINCE 2021
Herbie Kane’s leveller on the stroke of half-time was not only one of the weirdest goals seen at Oakwell in recent years – with the goalkeeper fumbling in a scuffed shot.
But it – and Aiden Marsh’s later in the evening – were Barnsley’s first equalisers at home in more than 18 months and 40 games since Carlton Morris levelled against Huddersfield in December 2021.
They would either lose games easily or concede late equalisers on their way out of the Championship two seasons ago then, last campaign, were generally dominant, other than a few blemishes mainly early on, and also never lost once taking the lead.
Recovering from setbacks was a problem for Michael Duff’s promotion challengers, with only three points taken from losing positions – the lowest in the EFL last season.
Netting against a League Two club in the cup with a much-changed team does not mean they are cured of that affliction but it could indicate that they are getting better at bouncing back from adversity.
YOUNGSTERS SHOW CHARACTER AND SKILL
The Reds finished with ten outfielders who had only started five EFL games between them, with 21-year-old Kacper Lopata the captain while Barry Cotter, 24, was the oldest other than the ‘keeper.
The game looked to be drifting towards an away win with little action after the second Tranmere goal on 47 minutes. But, in the final stages and led by the lively Fabio Jalo, Barnsley’s kids began to win a series of set pieces and attack regularly – eventually earning a 98th-minute leveller and an epic celebration.
The young players showed plenty of character and no little skill to force the shoot-out, which was another learning experience.
They will have been disappointed afterwards, and some will now have to wait for first team action until the EFL Trophy starts next month or maybe a few will go out to loan. But, as a collective, they should be proud of their efforts during an important night in their development.
SHEPHERD HAS GOOD GAME DESPITE MISS
Although Oakwell was not packed, there were more than 4,000 fans there – some rushing back to their seats for the shoot-out after hearing of Marsh’s goal on their way out – and the penalties were taken in front of about 400 Tranmere fans.
Tranmere’s goalkeeper Joe Murphy, 41, made his debut for them in October 1999 – before 13 of Barnsley’s matchday squad was born – and started in their League Cup win over the Reds that year on their way to the 2000 final. Four of the players who scored penalties past him were two decades his junior.
It is likely to have been a wholly new experience for the young Reds who, for the most part, held their nerve from 12 yards.
Marsh went from elation to deflation by missing the Reds’ opening spot-kick, then Jack Shepherd blazed the 16th of the shoot-out high into the away end to put Tranmere through.
Shepherd looked set to take the previous penalty but was sent away by goalkeeper Killip who scored it, then Shepherd had to walk towards the spot again.
It was a difficult moment for the young defender but the former Penistone Church and Athersley Rec man should be proud of his performance in general. It has been a whirlwind summer for the 21-year-old who quit his job as a kitchen-fitter when moving from eighth-tier Pontefract Collieries to go full-time with Barnsley, making his professional debut off the bench in the league on Saturday.
SOME GOOD INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCES
It was not a vintage performance from the Reds, as you would expect given this side had been hastily thrown together with so many debutants.
They looked weak from set pieces as a young team often does, while struggling to attack fluently, but their work ethic cannot be questioned and there were some good individual performances.
Goalkeeper Killip made a smart stop with his legs after his former club-mate Harvey Saunders turned a low left-wing free-kick towards goal.
He also made an outstanding penalty save with his foot which appeared to cause an injury but he recovered to blast in a spot-kick of his own.
Charlie Winfield, from Wombwell, made his debut after recovering from a serious injury last year, with the chance to prove that Barnsley do not need to bring in any back-up left wing-backs. He had a mixed game, battling whole-heartedly with hit-and-miss crossing, but provided a fine assist for Marsh’s goal.
Barry Cotter had plenty of the ball on the right wing, regularly beating defenders, but – unlike on Saturday – lacked end product with his crosses being cleared easily.
Midfielder Jon Russell showed him how to do it with a pin-point pull-back for the first leveller.
Russell – who was booked in the opening minutes – and fellow midfielder Herbie Kane looked a cut above with their passing, calmness on the ball and skill, as they should against a League Two side given their pedigree. They were joined in a midfield three by 18-year-old Chapman who was at fault for the second goal but will have learned a lot from his first full 90 minutes, keeping his cool in the shoot-out.
Scottish strikers Oli Shaw and Andy Dallas made their first starts, with the former waiting seven months and the latter a few weeks.
Dallas was the more lively and threatening of the two with Shaw – the oldest outfield home starter – struggling to make an impact but hopefully shaking off some rust. Shaw, who came off for Marsh on 82 minutes, might have looked on ruefully from the bench as the first big chance of the night for a striker fell to his replacement and was tapped in on the line.
Marsh showed his striker’s instincts for his second Barnsley goal which may give him a claim to be included in the league matchday squads.
Jalo also impressed, especially with a magical touch to set up Marsh’s goal and his calm penalty, reminding fans that they have 17-year-old Portugal youth international with bags of potential on the fringes of the first team.