Analysis from Barnsley's 2-0 home defeat to Exeter City on Saturday.


BARNSLEY were ‘lifeless and limp’ with: ‘no hunger, no energy, no quality.’

Those were the words of Michael Duff last season when his side‘s good run was unexpectedly ended by a home defeat to Exeter.

‘Devoid of energy, enthusiasm and quality’ and ‘off it in every aspect of the game’ was how Neill Collins described his team’s first half display as again the Grecians triumphed at Oakwell on Saturday.

The Devon club seem to be a bogey side for the Reds, having beaten them in three of the last four meetings.

But, good as Exeter were early on, this was a self-inflicted defeat for the hosts who found themselves 2-0 down at half-time.

Barnsley were abject before the break, extremely lacklustre and disjointed as they barely mustered an attack.

They made regular errors at the back as Exeter found it very easy to break into the box from short corners, long throws and general play.

The Reds were much better in the second half and had enough chances to come back from 4-0 down to win, but were wasteful, denied by a very tight offside call, then scored too late in the 88th minute.

Barnsley were without several key players but that is no excuse - the team they put out should be capable of far more.

Exeter arrived 19th in the table while they had won just three of the last 20 league games, were the second lowest-scorers in the EFL and had conceded the most away goals in League One. But they had started to pick up after a nightmare autumn run and won 1-0 at Bristol Rovers on Tuesday.

The Reds - who had won their last three - did not build at all on the character-filled victory at Oxford in midweek and instead repeated the woeful first half against Carlisle in the previous home game but did not get away with it this time.

Those two terrible first halves are troubling, with Barnsley still unable to put in good 90-minute performances.

They have previously relied on guts and character to find a way to win but left themselves too much to do this time.


The result ended Barnsley’s 11-game unbeaten run in the league since Derby away in November, their nine-match sequence without defeat at home since Blackpool visited in September, and was a first loss in 19 matches this season against teams outside the top eight.

Although it was a terrible first half performance and deeply disappointing result, it was only a second defeat in 17 games across the last four months while they remain firmly inside the top six with the top two not out of sight.

It is far from a catastrophe.

After loud boos at half-time, which Collins said were justified, many fans stayed to applaud their team at the end.

But the head coach admitted the Reds might ‘regret’ the dropped points at the end of the season.

They missed out on equalling the 12-game unbeaten run achieved last season and they are still yet to turn into the ultra-consistent bulldozer that Duff’s side became about this time.

But that could still come once they get key players back and hopefully avoid these extremely poor halves which seem to come out of nowhere.

A win at Bolton on Saturday would certainly put them back in contention for the top two and restore plenty of belief and momentum.


While many first choice players were also not at their best, several stand-ins for key men had poor games - exposing what, at times, can be a soft underbelly of this Barnsley squad.

Starting without reliable defender Jamie McCart, new signing Donovan Pines, and midfield regulars Herbie Kane and Luca Connell was always going to be a challenge.

But those who were given a chance, having been back-ups for most of the season, did not take it.

Max Watters started up front, with John McAtee dropping into attacking midfield, and made his first start in the league since Derby away in November - the last time Barnsley lost in the league.

The striker made six touches and completed one of his three passes before being taken off at half-time.

Watters lacked service and was by no means the only poor performer in the first half, but he wasted a rare opportunity to make an impression with his replacement Sam Cosgrove instantly having much more of an impact.

Also coming off at half-time was Corey O’Keeffe, hooked at the break for the second successive home game.

The right wing-back has had some good matches for the Reds but too many when he is regularly caught out of possession, caught in possession or beaten too easily. With Pines expected to come into the back three soon, Mael de Gevigney and Jordan Williams could be pushed along one position with O’Keeffe then competing with Barry Cotter for a seat on the bench.

After those two half-time changes, Connell - who could only play 20 minutes having just recovered from illness - replaced Jon Russell in midfield to loud applause both for the ‘on’ and the ‘off’.

Russell was at fault for the first goal and, after a good performance at Oxford, resembled his lumbering display against Carlisle. He wore binbags on his feet after the last Exeter game when the bus caught fire on the way home and he made a quick escape onto the M5’s hard shoulder without his shoes. Even in the appropriate footwear, he lacked the agility and awareness needed to sweep up loose balls in defensive midfield. He was very lucky not to gift Exeter a third goal after again losing the ball deep in his half.

At the moment the gap in consistent standards between him and Connell seems far too wide, which may be part of the reason the Reds are looking for another midfielder in the transfer window.

Russell’s error for the opener came after a poor clearance by Jack Shepherd, who has made at least one serious mistake in each of the last three games. He seems to have the attributes to make it at this level, passing well at times in this game and winning nine headers, including an assist. But he often displays the rawness you would expect from someone who was semi-professional last season and was making his sixth EFL start - the other five being wins. He does not look quite ready to play week in, week out in a promotion push.

Collins must take some blame as well, particularly with the selection of Watters. But all managers make mistakes and he admitted he would analyse his selection and tactics to learn for the future. He has to expect better from his squad players.


There were some decent performances.

De Givegney was easily Barnsley’s man of the match - even before he gave them hope with his first goal at Oakwell.

The French centre-back was a small island of competence in a sea of calamity in the first half, without whom the scoreline could have been far worse.

His goal saw him nod into the bottom left corner from close range after Shepherd headed a Nicky Cadden cross back across goal.

Goalkeeper Liam Roberts, although he perhaps could have kept out the opener after worse mistakes by others, made some vital first half saves including a one-on-one block to keep a second half comeback realistic.

Barnsley’s substitutes also made an impact.

Cosgrove won seven headers, setting up chances with his aerial dominance, and troubled an Exeter defence who barely broke a sweat before the break.

He missed two huge opportunities and has one goal in 21 Reds appearances, although just three starts in League One in which he has played 549 minutes - about six games. But he suggested that he can make an impact in the promotion run-in, especially if he finds more confidence in front of goal.

Cotter also improved the side with his powerful running and trickery at right wing-back so, if Williams takes over there when Pines can play, the Irishman probably makes more sense as an impact sub than O’Keeffe.

Connell was excellent, winning the ball, creating chances with fine passes and almost scoring with long-range shots.

There were mixed performances elsewhere.

There was uncertainty over what Barnsley’s midfield would look like with all three of their usual central three doubts through injury and illness.

In the end, Kane was the only one to miss out with Connell on the bench.

Adam Phillips started alongside Russell in a central midfield two and McAtee behind the strikers.

It was all Collins could realistically do, but neither Phillips nor McAtee looked comfortable in their different roles and Barnsley lacked the balance of their usual midfield three.

They both improved after poor first halves as did Devante Cole, Cadden and Williams.


Jack Aitchison helped Exeter take the lead last time they visited Oakwell, as a Barnsley player who lost the ball to allow Jay Stansfield to score on 48 seconds.

This time he opened the scoring himself as a Grecian then celebrated aggressively in front of the Ponty End.

Aitchison scored his only Oakwell goal for the Reds almost exactly a year earlier against Accrington before moving to Motherwell then Exeter.

He made it two in two appearances there with his first goal in 27 games since netting seconds into his Exeter debut on the opening day of the season.

He almost scored due to a Roberts slip in the reverse fixture but this time was gifted a goal. After a decent move down the right, Ilmari Niskanen’s cross into the box was sliced up into the air by Shepherd then Russell inexplicably let it bounce before chesting straight to Aitchison who controlled then finished across Roberts from close range on the right. There were some appeals for handball by Barnsley, as Aitchison looked to control it with his shoulder, but much more frustration with each other.

The second goal saw more flat-footed and sluggish defending as, after passing around the home box, Aitchison held off Russell and set up Reece Cole to brilliantly skip past McAtee - not used to defending on the edge of his box - and curl in from 20 yards.