A look at some of the key issues after Barnsley part company with head coach Neill Collins with a game left in the season.


Neill Collins was informed on Monday morning that he was relieved of his duties, following 291 days as Barnsley head coach which brought some memorable moments, club records and a place in League One’s top six but also constant issues and ultimately an unacceptable slump during the promotion run-in.

The board’s minds were made up after the 3-2 loss in Blackpool on Saturday, during which the outclassed Reds went 3-0 down to one of the sides chasing them for a play-off place, and after which many of the away fans loudly booed the Scotsman as he tried to applaud them.

The announcement was a shock but there is a cruel, cold logic to the decision.

Having watched the last 11 games, which brought nine points, it was very hard to be confident that Collins’ side would win against Northampton on Saturday and guarantee a place in the top six. Having previously been one of the form teams for months, in terms of results, they looked like they were sleep-walking into seventh, or even eighth.

Despite being a likeable person, Collins was a divisive figure in the fanbase and his absence from the touchline might relieve some tension on Saturday.

Perhaps the short, sharp shock of a managerial change, as well as a new voice in the dressing room and dug-out, will be the wake-up call the under-performing players need.

Barnsley are now starting the process of finding their tenth head coach in six years, although it is currently unclear whether a new man could begin work before the end of the season or if caretaker Martin Devaney will complete a campaign which promised much before nosediving spectacularly.

Barnsley were arguably favourites for second place when Donovan Pines put them 2-0 up against Bolton on March 5, just last month. But, from the moment they conceded the rebound from a 98th-minute penalty in that game, having also lost Pines to injury, they have been in freefall. Automatic promotion dreams have turned into a nightmare scenario in which they could drop out of the top six, with a gap of just a point to sides in far better form.

Their results have been among the worst in the division for the last quarter of a season – the very worst in the last eight games – while, other than the occasional spasm of competence such as at Portsmouth last week, their performances have been just as bad.

Conceding goals is a massive issue. They have let in 12 in the last five games and 63 in total, the most in the top half, while they have only kept two clean sheets in 29 games. They have conceded the sixth most shots in the division.

Former centre-back Collins has a set of fit defenders who, to be blunt, are not at the same level currently as last season’s back three. But many of the goals are preventable by good coaching such as the worrying recent trend of conceding from set pieces – almost identical headers every week.

They have fallen behind early on in far too many games – 15 goals conceded in the opening 15 minutes throughout the campaign – and also been unable to see results through when in a good position late on.

Barnsley fans, in general, never took to Collins, and a full explanation of that is beyond the skills of this writer. Perhaps it was that he did not have his predecessor Michael Duff’s CV, personality and clear playing style, maybe it was his repetitive answers in press conferences which often did not tally with the views in the terraces, or the sometimes stagnant football. The home form was also nowhere near what you would expect from a promotion-chaser. They have conceded more goals at Oakwell than in their 2021/22 relegation season in the Championship.

Ultimately, when you lose the trust and confidence of a large section of fans, it is very hard to come back from that.

Calls for him to be sacked were first heard on April 1 at Burton Albion when they set a club record for the most away points in a season, while ‘Neill Collins, your football is ****’ was the profane soundtrack to the last miserable month.


Barnsley have a big summer coming up, regardless of which division they are in, with the majority of their usual starting 11 either out contract, on loan, or the next star players to be sold off as per the club’s strategy.

They must have the right man in place to oversee that transition as head coach and clearly they have decided it is not Collins.

He was appointed by Khaled el-Ahmad, the then chief executive, who is now at Minnesota United while his role has been split between CEO Jon Flatman and Mladen Sormaz who occupies the new sporting director position.

With other changes also being made behind the scenes, the Reds are attempting to create a well-oiled machine at Oakwell – with the head coach identified as a faulty cog.

“I want the fans to relate to the team and enjoy watching them. There will be days when it won’t look like that because it’s not easy but, once you get it going, that’s where you get enjoyment and success.”

Those were Collins’ words in his very first press conference in July last year, having been brought in as head coach on a two-year contract from Tampa Bay Rowdies.

The problem was that he never really ‘got it going’.

You can count on one hand the number of good 90-minute performances that resulted in wins and, in recent weeks, they lost the ability to grind out victories with average performances that put them in top six contention. Once Devante Cole stopped taking almost every chance and Liam Roberts' heroics ran out in goal, they were in trouble.

The ‘expected goals’ metric – mocked by some but followed keenly by others – suggested that Barnsley’s results were far too good for their performances and they were due a serious drop-off.

Sometimes, the nerds are right.

But Collins’ team also did not pass the ‘eye test’ for many supporters. In most games, it was difficult to work out what his tactics and style of play were.

Against the better sides who pass out from the back, they could be an effective and counter-attacking unit but, in the many more games against teams who were more defensive, compact and physical, the Reds often struggled. Most worryingly, they seemed to be getting worse the more time Collins had to learn the league and work with the squad.

It would be difficult to highlight many players who have noticeably improved throughout the season while working with him.

He handled Mael de Gevigney’s nervous start well and Corey O’Keeffe has certainly got better but, bizarrely, the right wing-back seemed to be dropped to the bench by Collins every time he played well.

Although he and Jon Stead upped the performance levels of the likes of Cole and Herbie Kane, who were excellent for two thirds of the campaign, those two and others such as goalkeeper Roberts have all dropped off recently which must be partly the responsibility of the coaches if it is happening to so many players at the same time.


There are some mitigating circumstances for Collins.

He was appointed on July 6 then started work several days later after overseeing one more Tampa game. He had less than a month to prepare the team for the season and endured a chaotic pre-season with cancelled friendlies and harrowing results like a 9-1 loss to Leeds.

Collins replaced the extremely popular Michael Duff who had transformed the club the previous season, with 86 points and a play-off final loss which set huge expectations despite the new boss having to manage through another rebuild. Barnsley lost their three starting centre-backs from last season, including two captains in one summer as Liam Kitching left on summer transfer deadline day following some disastrous performances with a big-money move looming. The popular striker James Norwood had departed 48 hours before the first game.

Midfield star Luca Connell missed four months with illness then, later in the season, Donovan Pines’ campaign ended due to injury having looked like the dominate defender they craved while rejuvenating the fanbase.

There was also the farcical expulsion from the FA Cup for fielding an ineligible player, a disruptive incident which robbed him of the chance for a morale-boosting cup run.

Collins had been in charge for 45 of 46 league games so it must hurt him that he wasn’t given the opportunity to finish the season and see if he could complete the task he’d been given. It is not nice to see a decent man lose his job and have to tell the wife and children he brought back from the Florida sunshine, that his first opportunity in English football coaching is over. But this is a brutal game with little room for sentiment.

Future statisticians may marvel that the man who broke records for the best ever opening day result – that extraordinary 7-0 mauling of Port Vale – the best away season ever, and the most points from losing positions, was sacked with a game to play.


Others at Oakwell must take some responsibility for what has happened in recent weeks. Many mistakes have been made, but Collins has been sacked for his.

The manager’s role is intertwined with this, but several players have dipped below the consistent standards they set last season. Nicky Cadden, Jordan Williams and Connell are examples of that, although a change of position and illness are respective excuses for the latter too.

Then there is the signing of players, in which Barnsley’s head coach plays only a peripheral role.

The recruitment of strikers across the last three windows has been a failure. Max Watters has barely featured for months and is currently an under 21s player while Andy Dallas – who left 38 days after signing – and Oli Shaw have been sent out all season on loans in which they have not scored. They all signed long-term deals after being tracked by the club for several windows, but have been behind youngsters Fabio Jalo and Aiden Marsh recently.

Sam Cosgrove has been more involved but has three goals in 37 games, none in the last nine.

Loanee John McAtee is a brilliant find, having netted four League Two goals last season, but the permanent recruitment of forwards must improve substantially.

As for defenders, it was obvious from the second game of the season, when Williams was bullied by dominant Bristol Rovers’ big striker Jon Marquis, that his presence in the back three would not work in many matches. So it proved as he made a series of different kinds of errors which cost crucial points. With Collins unwilling to play Conor McCarthy, Kacper Lopata struggling after a good start, and Robbie Cundy’s injury stretching on far longer than expected, they desperately needed a more dominant presence in the back three well before Pines arrived, without playing in five months, then was injured after a brief exposure to English football’s gruelling schedule.

The only permanent signings for this season who now start regularly are defenders Mael de Gevigney and January arrival Josh Earl – both of whom have made glaring mistakes amid some decent performances.

In January, although there must be credit given for Jalo’s new contract and no key sales, Barnsley could have done with more strength in depth at left wing-back and potentially more help in midfield and up front.