Analysis of Barnsley's 2-1 loss at Stevenage on Tuesday. The Reds took the lead through Adam Phillips but the hosts netted either side of half-time.


WHAT had looked like a dip in form is in danger of becoming a full-blown crisis as the collapse which cost Barnsley their top two hopes is beginning to threaten their chances of the top six.

The Reds are undoubtedly still heavy favourites to finish in the play-off positions, with a healthy six-point gap going into the last four fixtures.

Eighty points would guarantee that the season extends for at least ten days in the semi-finals but the Reds, now on 74, may still need less if sides below them drop points.

That would normally be a very secure position with two weeks left in the season – and it may well turn out that it was all along.

But Barnsley have taken eight points from their last eight games, conceding 16 goals in that time which is the most in the division, while the sides just below them, Oxford and Lincoln, are on the best recent form.

The Reds’ performances have not warranted much more than that return, especially on Tuesday which was particularly bad.

They now have a huge home game with Reading on Saturday, with victory massively easing the pressure, ahead of tricky trips to champions-elect Portsmouth then Blackpool who still have an outside chance of promotion and are unbeaten in 11 at home.

They certainly do not want to go into the final game of the season, at home to Northampton, with their play-off chances in the balance.

But that will happen unless they improve their performance levels or the teams below them stutter and let them get away with it.

Stevenage boosted their own slim play-off hopes with a first win in nine games, having not scored in the previous three, while their manager Steve Evans secured a first ever victory against the Reds.


This result meant Barnsley had suffered more away defeats in four days than in the previous six months of the season.

Their record-breaking away stats should still be a source of pride but, after propping up their promotion push for so long, a dip in form on the road now could prove disastrous.

Stevenage has not been a happy place for Barnsley fans to visit this season, having never played there before.

The majority of the 1,400 who had tickets for the original game in January were in Hertfordshire when it was controversially called off. Slightly more than half that number made the trip for the rearranged game – a good turnout considering it was a weeknight and given the current form.

The Reds spoke pre-match of a motivation to reward the fans who missed out last time but, for most of the game, never looked like doing so.


The first half an hour was almost identical to the December game at Oakwell, as Stevenage were well on top but stunned by a clever lobbed finish against the run of play – this time by Adam Phillips rather than John McAtee.

Stevenage had the fourth best defensive record in the division, while only Lincoln had let in fewer home goals than their 15 in 20 games. A lead in those circumstances was crucial but Barnsley did not protect it at all well.

The only shots on target they had were in a three-minute period when they took the lead and then Jon Russell was denied by a good save.

The Reds briefly had control of the game at that point but, unlike in the home win, they let Stevenage back into it with a poor goal out of nowhere on the stroke of half-time. An even more disappointing goal just after the break gave the hosts the lead and they should have added to it but missed a host of chances in a period of total domination.

Barnsley changed to a 4-3-3 formation, brought on some impactful substitutes and were better towards the end, being denied what looked a clear penalty.

But overall Stevenage were the better side and deserved to win.

Barnsley’s under-performing back three were bullied aerially by tall striker Aaron Pressley, who missed four good chances, with the absences of physically-imposing centre-backs such as Donovan Pines and Robbie Cundy glaring.

They won’t play as big and direct a team as Stevenage for the rest of the season but they also could not contain the movement and pace of top-scorer Jamie Reid who netted once and came close on several other occasions.

Stevenage did not just threaten from set plays, they exposed Barnsley with good play on both wings.

Jamie McCart had a tough night in the middle of the defence, capped by clumsily conceding the free-kick for the winner. Collectively they were caught out for the equaliser, expecting a long throw and not closing down some nice wing play on the left.

When Barnsley did get some control of the game and managed to attack, too many talented players were poor on the ball in key areas and lacked end product. For large parts of the game, it was difficult to discern any clear tactics and plan, with more profane chants from the away end about the quality of football.

The final gambit was to bring on Barry Cotter in injury-time just a take throw which fell straight to the feet of a defender who cleared.


When Herbie Kane, who made a good impact off the bench, played the ball into the box in the 83rd minute, it fell into the path of fellow replacement Devante Cole who was clean through. He went down instead of shooting, with Carl Piergianni’s hand clearly applying pressure on his shoulder.

It looked a definite penalty but the referee, whose identity was Declan Bourne, facing an ultimatum, maintained the hosts’ supremacy by not giving a spot-kick which could leave a painful legacy for the Reds.

He also gave Stevenage the free-kick from which they took the lead, having also played advantage which led to a one-on-one chance.

That follows on from two penalties not given at Charlton on Saturday as well as goal controversially called offside.

The rub of the green with refereeing decisions seems to have deserted Barnsley, contributing to this rotten run, but they cannot use that to disguise their own failings.

Cole had been replaced by Sam Cosgrove, who in theory was better-suited to more physical opponents. But the tall targetman – who has not scored in eight games – struggled to hold the ball up and could not turn in a few yards out from a fine Jordan Williams cross.

John McAtee had one of his worst games for the club while the striker who made the most positive impact was teenage substitute Fabio Jalo who arguably deserves more gametime now.


For most of the season, Liam Roberts has been an ultra-reliable shot-stopper whose kicking is a weaker part of his game.

It was the opposite in this match as he registered an assist and created another big chance with accurate long kicks, but was at fault for winning goal.

In fairness to Roberts, before and after Dan Butler’s free-kick went through his grasp, he made a series of good saves which kept his wobbling side in the game.

But the goalkeeper – who was also beaten at his near post for the leveller – is now starting to make regular errors that lead to goals.

He was certainly not the only player to have a difficult night.

Phillips scored a fine opening goal, but should have set up tap-ins for McAtee and Cole – under-hitting then over-hitting the passes in the box. He may also be disappointed with his part in the first home goals. He was completely fooled by Reid’s faked shot for the equaliser, sliding dramatically towards the away end when the striker was running the other way.