Analysis of Barnsley's 2-0 win at Cheltenham Town. Devante Cole netted early in the second half then Max Watters secured the win late on.
HAPPY 40TH BIRTHDAY FOR COLLINS
A weekend in the Cotswolds sounds like a nice way to celebrate your 40th birthday and, although Neill Collins was working on Saturday, he was given some important footballing presents.
He recorded back-to-back wins for the first time as Barnsley boss, saw a second successive clean sheet for his young defence, another goal for his in-form striker and a much-needed first for another.
The Reds are the top-scorers in the division and unbeaten away from home with seven points from three games on their travels.
When Barnsley won 4-0 at Cheltenham in February, they were on a fantastic run that secured them in the top six. This team is not at that level yet in terms of organisation, momentum and consistency but they have two wins in a row following their 2-0 success at Wigan and now this.
Both results are difficult to judge as the first was against ten men for 70 minutes while the second game was against a side who are really struggling this season. Neither performance was totally convincing and they need to keep improving.
But they are two excellent results, showing a lot of character and no little skill, while the Reds’ points total of ten from six games is starting to look fairly healthy following a challenging summer.
Collins laughed when asked if his side was building some momentum - possibly thinking about how stop-start and disrupted his first two months have been - but then said he hoped they might be.
They now have two weeks off from league football, an unofficial international break in which they can work hard in training while working with the new signings and players returning from injury. They then face another winless side in the relegation zone when they host Burton Albion on September 16.
REDS EDGE TIGHT GAME AFTER STEPPING UP IN SECOND HALF
This was, in theory, one of the easiest games Barnsley could have played at this point but it didn’t feel like that at all for most of it as they were embroiled in a pretty even scrap.
The hosts were last in the table with one point from five games while Barnsley had never lost in four meetings, winning three including both trips to Whaddon Road.
Everton’s goals against Sheffield United at lunchtime made Cheltenham the only side in the top seven divisions yet to score this season.
For much of this game, the hosts’ general play did not reflect their poor start but their finishing did as they missed a series of big opportunities, with Liam Roberts again outstanding in goal for the Reds.
Town changed from two up front to a front three which Barnsley seemed to struggle with at first, and they were a threat from set pieces.
In the first half, Barnsley only played well in small matches as they often tried to go too long too soon when their better passing football looked the key to unlocking their hard-working but limited hosts.
In the second half, the Reds upped the tempo of their play, winning the ball far more regularly and allowing their talented attacking players to make use of it in good positions. They scored from a blistering counter-attack, but it was on the back of a period of pressure which rattled the hosts.
Cheltenham still had two big chances to level after Barnsley errors but missed them and, for the second week in a row, a substitute striker netted in injury-time to secure a 2-0 win.
ANOTHER GOAL FOR LEAGUE’S TOP-SCORER
Devante Cole now stands alone at the top of the League One scoring charts, after making it six goals in as many games this season.
It was another consummate finish by the striker who just does not seem like he will miss a chance at the moment.
Cole also showed great skill to beat players and led from the front all game.
He was harshly denied an opener in the first half by the linesman’s flag after a good move involving Adam Phillips and Jordan Williams.
His goal came after a blistering counter-attack early in the second half. It may not have happened if Roberts was allowed to catch a home corner but he was clattered by his own defender Kacper Lopata who headed it out. Herbie Kane contested another header as two Cheltenham players bumped into each other and suddenly there was one defender against four Barnsley attackers who showed total desire to sprint forward. John McAtee found Nicky Cadden who played Cole through to score.
McAtee also had a fine game up front on his first Barnsley start, a physical presence when chasing down long balls early on then showing outstanding skills and link-up play as he was involved in some of their best moves.
CRUCIAL GOAL FOR IMPACT SUB WATTERS
As well as fine performances from the starting strikers, those who came off the bench also impressed and secured the win.
Max Watters was a handful from as soon as he came on and was rewarded with a goal.
He showed some dark arts with a slight push in the back of a defender to latch onto a long ball then played in fellow replacement Aiden Marsh whose shot was saved before Watters netted the rebound from a tight angle.
It was his first goal since signing permanently this summer and an important one after struggling to make an impact previously, seeing other strikers come in then being dropped to the bench for McAtee.
With Sam Cosgrove to add to the mix, the Reds appear to have a group of strikers who can all contribute at this level.
ANOTHER CLEAN SHEET FOR YOUNG DEFENCE POST-KITCHING
A left-footed centre-back making vital tackles and blocks in his box then embarking on a marauding run down the wing past several players. Who does that remind you of?
It was not Liam Kitching, who left the club the previous night for Coventry City, but Jack Shepherd who was making his second professional league start after his life-changing move from semi-professional Pontefract Collieries.
Both those starts have brought wins and clean sheets, whereas Kitching struggled in 3-1 defeats in his last two games.
It would be too much to suggest Shepherd is completely ready to replace the outgoing captain - and he did make a few errors such as a poor header in the build-up to a big Lewis Freestone chance at 1-0 - but he has certainly taken to this level impressively overall. He was very unlucky not to score his first professional goal as his first half header bounced off the right post and into the arms of the goalkeeper who looked to be behind the line. He has been one of the big success stories of the season so far, as has fellow centre-back Kacper Lopata who continued his strong start.
Jordan Williams, although again struggling aerially against a big striker in the form of Will Goodwin, made some important interceptions and, as captain, is a crucial presence in an inexperienced backline. Williams also broke the lines with some fantastic runs out of defence which led to chances.
The lively Cadden recorded his third assist of the season, drawing him level with Barry Cotter who was again a threat on the right with some surging runs. Cotter combined well on the right wing with midfielder Adam Phillips as they gave ex-Red Ben Williams a difficult time.
Phillips and Herbie Kane showed their silky skills and ability to dictate games, especially after the break, while Jon Russell continued to anchor the midfield. The only frustration will be Kane’s yellow card for punching the ball away after a harsh free-kick against him - his fourth in six games which leaves him one away from a ban.
Roberts brilliantly kept out a Freestone header from a long throw then saved well from a Goodwin header and produced a strong left hand when Rob Street went clean through.
Barnsley legend and former England goalkeeper coach Dave Watson is now on the Cheltenham coaching staff. He must have been impressed by Roberts who has made 24 saves in six games - the most in the division. He has been superb but one of the things the Reds will work on now is protecting him more.