Analysis of Barnsley's 2-1 loss at Blackpool which saw them exit the EFL Trophy in the first knock-out round. John McAtee put the Reds in front at half-time but they were poor after the break.
A DEEPLY DISAPPOINTING GAME FOR FALTERING REDS
THIS visit to Blackpool in December provided few illuminations from a Barnsley point of view as the problems which have dogged Neill Collins’ side all season persisted.
Defensive frailties, key players underperforming and an inability to play well consistently for 90 minutes have been imprinted in the core of the Reds’ season like the words in a stick of Blackpool rock.
Having impressed in the first half, Barnsley’s midfielders and defenders resembled the waxwork figures in the nearby Madame Tussaud’s as the hosts netted two of their many chances during a terrible second half display by the visitors.
The last time Barnsley played at Bloomfield Road, they lost 1-0 in the Championship in September 2021 under Markus Schopp who was becoming extremely unpopular with the fans after poor performances and results.
The reaction, especially online, to recent losses is very similar with many fans losing patience with Neill Collins.
While the Scottish head coach has had far better results, at a lower level, than Schopp and seems to command much more respect from the players, there is sometimes a whiff of the Austrian’s ponderous football which appears to lack purpose, drive and bite. He will surely be given more time to turn this around but performances must significantly and rapidly improve.
It was another loss to top end League One opposition, albeit in the EFL Trophy, while Barnsley’s away form, one of the main positives of the early months of the season with five straight wins on the road, is now faltering with the only victory in six across two months the infamous FA Cup game at seventh-tier Horsham.
STRONG SIDE COLLAPSES AFTER BREAK
The Reds played a strong team, making just three changes to the last league game compared to Blackpool’s eight. Devante Cole and Luca Connell were rested, with Jordan Williams on the bench.
They were good in the first half, creating the better chances and playing the more attractive football while keeping their struggling hosts penned in their own half. They looked comfortable at the back, moved the ball well in midfield and had threats out wide in particular Nicky Cadden who brilliantly beat defenders on several occasions.
But, after missing chances to double their lead, losing influential goal-scorer John McAtee to injury and taking off defender Kacper Lopata who had only just returned from injury, Barnsley totally lost control of the game after the break.
They became stretched and big spaces opened up in which their improved hosts were able to create regular opportunities. Barnsley’s midfield of Adam Phillips, who came in for Connell, captain Herbie Kane and Callum Styles – a trio who should dominate in the third tier – faded very badly after the break and provided little control or protection for a backline whose weaknesses were once again exposed.
Those midfielders simply need to step up and be better.
If it had not been for good goalkeeping by Ben Killip and poor finishing by the hosts, Blackpool could have got close to Bradford’s 5-1 win over a much younger Reds team in the last trophy game.
The roughly 100 Barnsley fans who made the trip on a bitterly cold night voiced their displeasure in the second half.
MCATEE IMPRESSES, BUT WATTERS MISS CRUCIAL
McAtee netted his sixth goal of the season just before half-time.
All of them have come away from home which is the first time any Barnsley player has done that.
He was a threat on goal throughout the first half and also a key part of the many good moves Barnsley put together.
But he appeared to get injured straight after scoring and had to come off at half-time.
McAtee was replaced by Max Watters who should have made it 2-0 seconds into the second half when he robbed a defender in the box and was clean through on goal but denied by a one-on-one save from Richard O’Donnell.
That proved to be a turning point as the hosts levelled within three minutes and got the winner within 20.
Although other players missed chances and made mistakes, it was another tough moment for Watters who is clearly in desperate need of the confidence goals bring having lost his place in the last league squad to teenager Fabio Jalo.
Sam Cosgrove caused some problems with his physicality but dipped in the second half like most of them, missing a fine chance for 2-2.
THREE NATURAL CENTRE-BACKS A DIFFERENT OPTION
Barnsley started three players in the back three who are naturally centre-backs, having used full-back Jordan Williams on the right of the three for much of the campaign.
The return of Lopata from injury allowed them to do so and he dominated aerially in the first half in a way none of the other fit defenders can, before tiring after the break due to a lack of gametime and coming off.
His replacement Williams is the club captain and adds pace and more of an attacking potential. But there are also drawbacks to playing him in the back three, mainly his inability to compete with big strikers in the air which was shown once again for the winning goal – headed in easily by Jake Beesley.
A back three without Williams, with the skipper returning to the right wing-back role where he impressed last season, seems a sensible option especially in the many games at this level when the Reds face physical and direct opponents. It may not happen at Reading on Saturday as the Royals are more of a footballing and pacy attacking unit, which could suit Williams, while Lopata may not be quite match fit for a league start.
Lopata in the middle of the back three meant that Mael de Givegney moved back to the right where he had flopped on his infamous full debut against Oxford, but he excelled in the first half in midweek – brilliantly intercepting passes and starting attacks.
Jamie McCart made up the back three and struggled at times, with both goals coming down his side.
NO CUP RUNS THIS SEASON
Barnsley are now out of all three cups.
Having lost on penalties in the EFL Cup to Tranmere with a very young side in August, then being removed from the FA Cup last month for fielding an ineligible player, this time the Reds just played badly and were deservedly beaten.
Barnsley have not won a knock-out game in the EFL Trophy since winning the final at Wembley in 2016, losing to Manchester City under 21s in 2018, Port Vale last season and now Blackpool.
A cup run could have added positive slant to a stuttering season with victory taking the Reds closer to a Wembley cup final. It would have also given some extra gametime to fringe players and promising youngsters.
It is a case of ‘concentrate on the league’ for the Reds now and promotion is of course their priority. But they will be deeply disappointed with this second half performance going into a crucial run of league fixtures in December.