Analysis from Barnsley's 4-0 win at Cambridge United. Nicky Cadden and Mael de Givegney scored in the first half then Max Watters and Jon Russell netted after the break.
REDS CONTINUE TREMENDOUS AWAY FORM
Barnsley’s record on the road so far this season is tremendous.
They have taken 13 points from a possible 15 away from home , scoring 11 goals and conceding two – with only Arsenal letting in fewer on the road in the top four English leagues.
After a fortunate draw at Bristol Rovers they have won at Wigan, Cheltenham, Northampton and now Cambridge – all deservedly so, even if not at their best in any of them.
Considering that Wigan had a man sent off after 20 minutes, it is not the most daunting list of away trips, with tougher to come, but four consecutive away wins at any level is a fine achievement.
Should they win their next two games at Exeter then Leyton Orient – by no means straightforward assignments – they will equal the club record of six consecutive away wins set by Valerien Ismael’s side in the Championship in 2021.
The last time Barnsley beat Cambridge, 2-0 at home in February despite playing most of the game with ten men, it was the day the majority of fans fully and vocally got behind Michael Duff’s promotion-chasers.
There are still some who remain unconvinced by Neill Collins’ outfit – who have suffered poor defeats at home against four of the expected promotion rivals, while their much-changed defence and especially goalkeeper are having to do more work than the head coach would like.
But, a quarter of the way through the season, the Reds are fourth in the table, and the top-scorers in the division with 24.
There are areas to improve but, with key players still to return from illness and two valuable weeks on the training pitch after the trip to Exeter, there is an opportunity to make vital tweaks.
SUPERB SCORELINE SLIGHTLY FLATTERS REDS
This will go down in history as a one-sided away win for a promotion candidate against one of the sides tipped to struggle this year – a fifth successive victory for the Reds over the Us.
But it was not a typical 4-0 game.
The Reds had to rely on some inspired goalkeeping from Liam Roberts and poor finishing from their hosts to collect a sixth clean sheet of the season, while there was an element of fortune about their second and third goals.
But the first and fourth – as well as the build-up to the crucial third which killed Cambridge off after a spell of pressure – were the sort of high-quality football with which this Reds side should be able to dismiss a lot of third tier outfits.
Barnsley will have to play better overall than this consistently to get promoted, but a 4-0 win away from home is a superb result and a big confidence boost following the disappointment on Saturday against Blackpool.
Cambridge, who narrowly avoided relegation last season, had made a decent start to the season and were in mid-table.
They had taken ten points from five home games and drew 0-0 at Derby County on Saturday. They had one of the best defensive records on their own turf with three goals conceded in five games, but Barnsley netted four in one enjoyable night.
THREE PLAYERS BROUGHT IN ALL NET
It must have been satisfying for Neill Collins that all three of the players he brought into the starting line-up found the back of the net.
Jon Russell, Nicky Cadden and Max Watters came in for Theo Chapman, Owen Dodgson and John McAtee.
There needed to be changes after the poor loss at the weekend but it was also an injection of experience against one of the oldest and most wily teams in the division.
Only Derby have a higher average of any League One team this season than Cambridge, while only Peterborough have a younger side than Barnsley.
Centre-backs Ryan Bennett, 33, and Michael Morrison, 35, had played hundreds of games in the Championship and Premier League between them.
The idea was they might struggle against the pace of Watters and Devante Cole which eventually came to fruition when Watters and Callum Styles opened them up for the third goal.
Russell returned to midfield alongside Herbie Kane, who had been sitting in front of the defence in previous games.
They played as a pair, with Styles in the number ten role behind the strikers where he was involved in the first goal and assisted the third.
Once the Reds went 3-0 up, Collins was able to gift valuable minutes to the likes of Jack Shepherd and Josh Benson, who also got an assist.
IMPORTANT GOAL BOOSTS FOR SCORERS
There were some nice stories behind the goals.
Cadden had been left out of the team for the previous two games, with the taller Dodgson preferred, according to Collins, for his defensive qualities.
But Cadden netted a fine goal seven minutes in to put Barnsley on their way, then was involved in the second and fourth.
Since opening his account in February, Cadden has eight goals in 29 starts – fine form for a wing-back, and he is very dangerous if left in space to shoot with his left foot.
The cross for his goal came from right wing-back O’Keeffe who bounced back from conceding a penalty on Saturday to join Cadden and Barry Cotter on three assists for the season.
Whereas Cadden is a fairly regular scorer, Mael de Givegney’s goal is – according to all available records – the first of his senior career. It was lucky, with a defender heading against him and the ball looping in, but a pleasing moment for the Frenchman who has had a tough start to life at Barnsley but has performed well in both games this week. His team-mates were clearly delighted for him.
The third goal also had an element of fortune as, nine times out of ten, Will Mannion would not let Max Watters’ tame effort squirm under him. It was the finish of a striker low on confidence but the goalkeeping mistake should give him a boost and Watters deserved some luck for fine play in the build-up. It was his second goal of the year against Cambridge, having netted then been sent off at Oakwell last season.
It also followed a spell of intense Cambridge pressure and seconds after the referee did not give a penalty for an alleged trip by Styles on John-Kymani Gordon, to the fury of the home crowd.
Russell’s goal was unstoppable and, following on from his header on the opening day, another glimpse at what he is capable of as a six foot four midfielder with real technical skill. Like many of Barnsley’s players, he now just needs to show it more consistently.
ANOTHER ROBERTS MASTERCLASS
Cambridge had eight shots on target to Barnsley’s seven but, although four of the visitors’ found the net, all of the hosts’ efforts were repelled by the excellent Roberts.
The current Barnsley number one has now made 44 saves in 11 matches this season – the most in League One and also more than Brad Collins made when he started Barnsley’s first 26 games of last season, which was 37.
It is simultaneously impressive – especially considering many of those stops have been outstanding – but also worrying that the Reds are being opened up so much more than last season.
You don’t finish top of the league for conceding the fewest shots, and Plymouth’s goalkeepers were among the busier last season when they won the title. But it is clearly an area Neill Collins wants his side to improve, as mentioned post-match in Cambridge. Losing all of last season’s back three and having defensive screen Luca Connell out all campaign has not helped.
Many of the home chances came through good individual runs, mostly by the lively Jed Brophy who gave Jordan Williams and Corey O’Keeffe a tough time, or set pieces which the Reds struggled to clear.
Two of the saves were superb but, on several other occasions, it was as though Roberts had a ball-magnet concealed under his florescent pink kit as Cambridge attackers shot straight at him with the goal gaping.
A more clinical side would have netted at least a couple of goals in the first hour and had a chance of winning.