Analysis of Barnsley's 3-1 win over Manchester City under 21s which put them in the knock-out stages of the EFL Trophy. The hosts went 2-0 up before City replied late in the first half, then the Reds secured the win late on.
SENIOR PLAYERS AND YOUTH COMBINE TO PUT REDS THROUGH
Two games, two comfortable wins, five goals all by different scorers and passage into the knock-out stages before they visit Bradford City on November 14. The EFL Trophy has gone well for Barnsley so far this season.
Obviously promotion is the priority but it makes sense for the Reds to take this competition seriously – with a deep squad of senior players who all want first team football, and some talented youngsters.
This victory meant Barnsley have won six out of seven games in all competitions and, although there are some issues to iron out before they can be seen as definite promotion candidates, they are building good momentum.
Once again they made 11 changes from the last league game but, unlike in the first game against Grimsby when they had ten free days afterwards, they did not play senior wing-backs and instead fielded under 21s in Danny Benson and full debutant Hayden Pickard.
City’s academy contains some of the best teenage footballers from around Europe. Last time they visited Oakwell in 2018, and won, their team included Eric García who has since won 19 caps for Spain as well as the Premier League and La Liga with City and Barcelona respectively.
City’s oldest starter this time was 18 and none had played a professional league game but they were all youth internationals while left-back Tomas Galvez has a cap for Finland’s first team.
Their starting line-up included the sons of former England footballer Emile Heskey, former England cricketer Mark Alleyne and ex Premier League regular JLloyd Samuel.
But, although they played some good football at times and their pacy wingers were dangerous, they only created one real chance for their goal as they generally found Barnsley too strong and organised.
It was a combination of senior players and youngsters that won it for the Reds. Conor McCarthy and Jon Russell headed in from set pieces, an area you would expect a senior team to dominate against teenagers, midway through the first half before Emmaisa Nzondo got the third.
FANTASTIC MOMENT FOR NZONDO
Probably the highlight of the night was when 17-year-old substitute Nzondo sent a looping header over the City goalkeeper and into the net to secure the victory late on.
The striker is still a second year scholar with the under 18s, who he helped to the double last season, having been released by his hometown club Leeds United.
It was a fantastic moment for him which capped a fine night for the Oakwell youth system.
As well as Nzondo, Jonathan Bland, 17, and Mylan Benjamin, 18, also made their debuts off the bench.
Pickard and Theo Chapman, both 18, started the game and impressed - registering assists.
There was more experience for Danny Benson, who started at right wing-back, and Vimal Yoganathan who again caught the eye with some good passing after coming off the bench.
AUDITION FOR CENTRE-BACKS TO REPLACE LOPATA
Kacper Lopata, who has impressed in the centre of Barnsley’s back three in league games, had his arm in a sling on the sidelines after suffering a shoulder injury on Saturday. He is expected to be out for at least the next few weeks, potentially much longer.
That meant that this game – as well as training – was essentially an audition for his replacement, with starting centre-backs Conor McCarthy, Mael de Givegney and Jack Shepherd all hoping for selection against Blackpool on Saturday. All three of them had decent nights.
Shepherd may have started as the favourite to play at the weekend, despite being the youngest and least experienced, because he impressed in two league starts before being replaced by Jamie McCart – who could move to the centre of the back three with Shepherd on the left. He impressed again but was taken off at half-time after receiving a yellow card, with Collins worried about a ban, and replaced by teenager Nathan James who the head coach said is also in contention to replace Lopata.
Another option would be to put Mael de Gevigney in the centre of defence. The Frenchman, who had played on the right of the back three previously, made a series of good blocks, tackles and interceptions – although he was left in no man’s land for the City goal which the Reds defended poorly.
The Oakwell recruitment department obviously did not spend months tracking de Gevigney and the club did not commit significant finances to bring him over just to play against teenagers in the EFL Trophy.
But it might be a big call to throw him back into the league action against the likes of Jordan Rhodes on Saturday, after a horror debut against Oxford last month which remains his only league start.
MCCARTHY NETS A YEAR ON FROM ACL INJURY
A year ago this week, Conor McCarthy suffered the ACL injury that would rule him out for the majority of last season.
Almost exactly a year to the day since, as he recalls, crying in his car for two hours after receiving the final diagnosis, he headed home his first goal for Barnsley to open the scoring.
The Irish centre-back, who has captained the Reds in both EFL Trophy games this season, was clearly delighted with that moment but will now want to build on it by breaking into the league side.
McCarthy’s goal came from a corner by Josh Benson who is in a similar situation as he struggles to break into the league team following injury. He could not oust Adam Phillips and Herbie Kane from the midfield last season and now Callum Styles appears to have overtaken him as well. He has started two league games since October last year.
Benson was one of the best players on Tuesday as he looked fired-up, appeared all over the field to do good attacking and defensive work and could have had more than one assist.
He couldn’t have done much more to stake a claim, and Collins said he had been left out of the last two league squads due to injury.
Both Benson and McCarthy are in their mid-20s and, if they do not break into the league matchday squad in the next few months, a loan in January may become a possibility.
JALO AND WATTERS COMPETING FOR FOURTH STRIKER SPOT?
As well as the competition at centre-back, the two strikers who started for Barnsley on Tuesday might be fighting for the fourth forward spot in the matchday squad for league games.
Max Watters, who has netted once in 11 games this season in all competitions, is currently a regular on the bench but 17-year-old Fabio Jalo is also in the frame for league action according to Collins.
They started together up front and linked up fairly well throughout, with both missing decent chances.
Jalo, albeit against players his age rather than the stronger men he would be taking on in the EFL, looked more physical than last season as he won several headers and competed well. He brilliantly turned a defender in the box but shot wide after receiving a Benson pass.
Watters came close to a couple of goals but, other than his impressive cameo at Cheltenham a month ago, is yet to find form this season. If he does not make an impact soon, he could be overtaken by Jalo.