Analysis of Barnsley's 3-2 Boxing Day win at Port Vale. They raced into a 3-0 half-time lead thanks to Adam Phillips' opener and a John McAtee brace, before hanging on after the hosts fought back in the second half.


The first half was probably the best performance since the opening day 7-0 rout of the same opposition.

Barnsley have mainly been grinding out results since then rather than playing scintillating football.

But they were superb early on on Tuesday, netting through individual genius or magnificent team play, and giving us a glimpse of what this team is capable of at their best.

The 15th-placed hosts had plenty of the ball in the first half, much of it in the Barnsley half, yet the Reds’ back three not only defended well but played out from the back with swagger and confidence - Jamie McCart and Mael de Gevigney both dribbling forward and playing a part in goals.

In midfield, Herbie Kane and Adam Phillips once against displayed their class while, up front, the excellent Devante Cole and John McAtee were just too much for Vale.

The Reds scored three very different but equally impressive goals in 20 minutes from their first three shots on target - a ruthless and clinical dismantling of their overwhelmed hosts.

The home fans - whose side had taken seven points from their previous three games - were furious, booing loudly while many of them left after the third goal. As for the away end, there were chants of ‘it’s happening again’ and ‘we want seven.’

At the break, the Reds were in total control and a repeat of the opening day thrashing seemed more likely than what actually happened.


After going into the interval 3-0 up, Neill Collins surely could not have imagined that, even though his side won, his post-match interview would be a flat and almost sombre affair and he would barely have any voice left after screaming regularly during a draining second half.

Collins, a former Vale player, called the second half ‘negative’ and ‘disappointing’ while Corey O’Keeffe admitted ‘we got away with one.’

Having been humiliated in the first half, Vale came out positively after the break and their fans got behind them. The Reds never truly got control of the second half, defending almost constantly - unable to turn the momentum or calm the game down.

They conceded on 72 minutes then again in injury-time, having been saved by the offside flag, poor finishing and goalkeeper Liam Roberts.

They have struggled all season to put a 90-minute performance together and certainly did not do so in this game.

Barnsley’s substitutions did not work.

Luca Connell was taken off at half-time as he had been booked, replaced by Jon Russell who was slower and flat-footed - allowing Vale to win many more loose balls in midfield and denying the Reds the solidity they enjoyed in the first half.

Sam Cosgrove and Fabio Jalo came on for Cole and McAtee on 64 minutes, but struggled to make any real impact as Barnsley could not hold the ball up and were often caught offside.

Minutes later, McCart - who had made 11 clearances - had to come off with a tight groin, depriving a young team of one of their more experienced leaders while replacement Kacper Lopata was beaten too easily for both goals.

In contrast, Vale’s changes made a big difference, especially 16-year-old Jack Shorrock who scored the second goal after causing plenty of problems.

But it was not just the substitutes who were poor.

Jordan Williams again lost the ball regularly deep in his half, including for the counter-attack which saw Connell booked, while struggled to contain the impressive Ethan Chislett in the second half along with O’Keeffe, and was once again bullied by a big centre forward. Uche Ikpeazu, who Barnsley queried if he should have been allowed on the bench as he was not named on the initial team sheet before suddenly being included, came on at half-time and played a part in both goals - beating Williams for the first and Lopata for the second.

The Reds clearly need at least one new centre-back in January who can inject a mixture of physicality and mobility.

Nicky Cadden – who replaced the benched Callum Styles at left wing-back in the only change from the weekend win over Stevenage – had a good first half but faded and was partly at fault for the second goal.


Adam Phillips netted for the second time in three games, after a 25-match scoreless run, and again looked much more like the star man from last season - when he also scored at Vale Park.

It appears as though he is getting the confidence and belief back that could allow him to score a lot more goals in the second half of the season, having been given a regular starting place in midfield ahead of unused substitute Styles.

It was not just Phillips’ goal that stood out – as he sprinted behind the defence to finish with a fine header – but also the character and leadership he showed when Barnsley were struggling after the break. He was the one trying to organise and drive the Reds forward - winning a corner deep in injury-time then celebrating in front of the away end like he’d scored. He also lingered longer than most after the game to thank the supporters.

His goal was made by a wonderful pass from Herbie Kane who has been contributing heavily in attack since being criticised for his solemn pre-Reading press conference. He scored and assisted in that game, provided another assist against Charlton, got the winner on Saturday and assisted again at Vale. That is two goals and two assists in four matches. He was unlucky not to get another assist while he should have made it 4-1 but missed a good chance.


John McAtee is emerging as a real star in this Barnsley team.

He now has nine goals in all competitions, six in the league, seven in his last seven and three in four days this week.

He is also creating his own Goal of the Season competition.

Vale goalkeeper Conor Ripley - whose father Stuart played for Barnsley - became the latest to be lobbed by McAtee this season following the Horsham and Stevenage stoppers.

This was probably the best of them all as it was from about 35 yards out and dipped viciously just under the crossbar, after some exceptional quick thinking.

It was McAtee’s second goal in five minutes, having just shown he can also produce good striker’s finishes as well - while he also played a part in the opener.

He can score all kinds of goals, link play, pass well, hold the ball up with his decent frame and has some reasonable pace - all the ingredients of a top striker.

He is now coming into top form and playing a massive part in Barnsley’s recent good run.

His opening goal was made by a superb run and pass by Devante Cole who also terrorised the home defence.


Barnsley completed their first double over Port Vale since the 1996/97 promotion season and, while they are far from the level of Danny Wilson’s history-makers, his disciple Neill Collins is putting them in an increasingly strong position to try to go up again this season.

After being outstanding in the first half in Staffordshire then clinging on in the second, the Reds have won the first two of their four games in nine days over Christmas and New Year so will go into the next two with some momentum.

They have stayed seventh, two points off the top six, for a while but have games in hand on most above them including one each on the leaders Portsmouth and second-placed Friday hosts Peterborough who are eight and four points ahead respectively.

They will rise rapidly up the table if they can continue their good recent form, while they are five points clear of eighth-placed Blackpool and nine ahead of ninth-placed Lincoln City.

They have taken ten points from the last 12 available and have lost just one of 12 league games since September, while they have seven away wins from 11 games on the road, so have the second best record on their travels.

Barnsley have played 12 games against bottom half clubs, winning ten and drawing two while scoring 31 goals and conceding six – generating 32 of their 41 points.

The trip to Peterborough will be a big step up but victory there would totally shake up the top seven picture at the halfway stage and really announce the Reds as contenders.

Whatever happens there, they will have at least 41 points from the first half of the season - an impressive total which sets them up for a real run at the Championship in 2024.