Against all odds, Barnsley FC have secured a vital win at the Madejski Stadium. In bagging three goals for the first time since 19th October and registering only the second victory of the season on their travels - might this win be the pivotal moment we've all been waiting for?
If you've been following the forums, Twitter and even posts on this site - there have been voices who feel our season is already over and that the club lacks a masterplan. But if anyone needed an emphatic reminder that it's not over until the fat lady sings - for pure balance you have to give the right to reply.
Now let's be realistic, Danny Wilson was never going to write an open letter to supporters, but speaking to the Official Website last night the Reds boss was in a defiant mood:
"We fully deserved it and the way the lads went about it from start to finish was tremendous. We pressed the ball well and our energy levels were top-drawer.
"I'm not too convinced people believe us but inside the dressing room we've got great belief. If anyone wants to come with us, that's up to them. Whatever people think of us won't change my opinion."
And I for one believe him. All we were looking for is a sign. A signal that there were players who would believe the cause was worth fighting for and survival can be secured.
This not the time for a long term manifesto - this is about the next nine games. How we face them as a club and hopefully as a united group of supporters. It's those factors that will determine the final outcome. Today, the autopsy of our season is not on the agenda.
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I live in Manchester now and I've realised that if I'd been born over here then I would probably be a fan of United or City with a soft spot for my much smaller local team (Bury, Rochdale, Oldham etc). However, it is not like that in South Yorkshire where a combination of geography and history have meant that big clubs, such as Sheffield Wednesday, and smaller clubs, such as Barnsley, see themselves as rivals.
And make no mistake, Sheffield Wednesday is a big club. They regularly get over 20,000 to their games when they are not playing well. The fact that Barnsley FC consider themselves to be rivals to Wednesday says a lot about how both clubs have been managed, particularly in the last 30 years or so.
The point is that I can understand Sheffield Wednesday. I can see that they are a big club with lots of potential and that, if they can get promotion to the Premier League, then they have at least a fighting chance of staying there. When I look at Barnsley FC, I see a club hanging on to second tier status by the skin of its teeth. I see a succession of managers forced to make compromises because the budget is not there to support them and I see players coming and going with such speed that I hardly know who is playing anymore.
I am off work at the moment and watching more football than is good for me. I watched Derby versus Forest at the weekend and the thing that struck me the most was that here were two well organised clubs with plenty of resources and each with a large fanbase behind them. For Barnsley FC even to be able to compete with clubs like these is a miracle. However, it cannot last and unless the Club reinvents itself as something other than a makeweight for the Big Boys who are in the Championship, then I really do not see much of a future.
I am not a Wednesday fan, I am a Barnsley fan. That link still gives me some identity but it is getting harder to justify each season. Surely it is time to build a community club and focus on youth? Anything else will be death by a thousand cuts.
Editors note: Thanks to John Meara for his first contribution to the site as a response to Michael Roach's recent post, "An Open Letter to the Players of Barnsley Football Club" . Perhaps the headline is bound to spark some baiting of both Wednesday and Barnsley fans alike? We invite you to leave your comments below or join the debate with us on Facebook or Twitter.
To all of the first team squad at Barnsley Football Club, whether on permanent contracts or loan, I am writing to express my disappointment, anger and disgust at what have consistently been heartless, spineless and characterless performances across the season.
I have been a season ticket holder at this club for six years, and have lived in this town since birth. Of course, many of the supporters within the stands at Oakwell will have been attending games for much longer, and to those that continually pass on their hard earned cash to this club, in good times and bad, I can only salute.
I am not blinkered as a fan to think that this club should have a divine right to even have a place in the Championship, let alone challenge at the top end of the table as I’m sure all supporters would love. I am a realist. I know that we are not the richest club, and certainly not the most glamorous. We cannot afford the most expensive squad in the division, and clearly, that translates into being unable to afford players with the ability to challenge at the upper end of the table. However, what is inexcusable, is a set of players that cannot put in an honest 90 minutes’ worth of performance in a football match.
You are a privileged few, in a town where many can only dream of the kind of wages you continue to pick up every week, yet you appear to be inept at applying yourselves at your job. I honestly do not care if we cannot afford the kind of player that can carve defences open and score a hattrick every game, but what I do care about is when a set of players are blatant in their carelessness about this club, this town, and its inhabitants.
As I have said before, Barnsley is certainly not the most glamorous place on the earth (although I should note there are far worse), but whether you like this town or not, whether you feel connected to its people or not, you have a responsibility to them. What is more, within the situation we find ourselves in as a club, you have a responsibility for people’s jobs other than your own, and possibly have your own livelihood to think about.
Whether or not you care about the others that may lose their jobs, and the people that pay your wages, week in, week out, have you no pride in yourselves? Do you care so little about Barnsley as a town and as your employer, that you are quite willing to jog on to the next club that comes along that is foolish enough to part physical cash for your ineptitude? Do you not even care that in being relegated, you will know inside yourself that you personally could have done better?
As I have said before, I am a realist. I do not boo. I do not jeer. I attend every game I can, and travel from Lancaster at every opportunity to do so. Many fans will travel even more miles than I do to see their team. Of course I find myself in a very lucky position that I can afford to do so, as I know many are not so lucky to be able to afford to attend games, despite the fact that many of them will work ludicrous hours in a mere attempt to put food on their table; whilst you drive around in your fancy cars and trot around in your fancy boots despite the fact that you wouldn’t know what an honest days’ work was if hit you in gonads.
I know that we do not have a team with the passing ability of Barcelona, or the flair of Brazil, but this town deserves more. You as players at this club are central to the town, and should be representative of the hard working values and industriousness on which it is built. Instead you have no heart, no desire, and no pride.
To me, your ability is irrelevant. I have seen many players at Oakwell who are not as naturally gifted as some of you, but by no means are they the worst that have ever played for this club, as they at least had some pride in their work. Indeed I do not speak to all of you in that dressing room, as I believe that some of you do care, and it is quite obvious who those individuals are, as they will come over to signal their appreciation for the support, win, lose or draw. In fact, in the case of Stephen Dawson, I would like to extend an apology on the behalf of the fans who personally abused you, as you were not responsible for the performance on that day, and at least came to take your medicine and thank those who put food on your table.
As I have said, I do not boo, I do not jeer, and I most certainly do not give up. I will be at Oakwell for every game I possibly can, and travel to all the away games I can reach, as will many of our dedicated fans. If our fate is to be relegation, then so be it, but at least, please, restore some pride into this club.
I wish you all the best for the rest of the season, and cling onto the very hope that despite all that has occurred, there is a chance of staying up this season. But that will only happen if you give an honest account of yourselves, which is all we ask for.
A very disappointed supporter
Edit: as a note, I do not hide behind this post. I am more than open to debate with anyone and welcome it. I don't take for granted that people will disagree with me, and do not think what I say is necessarily gospel. If you wish to debate what I've said, please get in touch through the comments below, or my Twitter: @MichaelRoach55
Thanks to those who have read and retweeted this, and also thanks for your support!
Next up, AFC Bournemouth make the long trek from the south coast to Oakwell having only tasted defeat in just three of their last eight league outings on the road. Ahead of Saturday's match, we caught up with Unnoficial AFC Bournemouth blog Tales From The South End, to find out a little more about the opposition and how they might line up against the Reds.
What were/are your expectations for 2013-14?
Before the season started it was dreams of sneaking into the Premiership via the play-offs. We still harbour those ambitions, but after 36 games we have a more realistic view of where we are going to finish. We have been running a poll on the website all season and the popular vote has been unsurprisingly mid-table. And, if we are honest, that's pretty much what we expected, we just wanted more.
What's been your favourite match this season?
Everyone likes goals and comebacks and the game against Millwall at home, was about as exciting as it has been this season. They were 2-0 up within 10 minutes and things were not looking too good. But a goal before half-time got us back in the game and an absolute 15-minute purple patch early in the second half blew the Lions away. Lewis Grabban running past the Millwall fans after scoring got them a little excited and added a little extra spice to the occasion.
Eddie Howe has worked wonders at Dean Court in the last 18 months, what is the secret to this success?
According to the players he is a very good man manager. He knows how to get the best out of any team that he has at his disposal. I would say he is a great tactician, but some of his decisions have been questionable. He has a certain style of play he wants to adopt and endeavours to use this all all times, sometimes successfully, sometimes not so successful. The fact that he had money to spend does help, but he has invested in good players.
AFC Bournemouth have clearly benefitted from the influx of investment by Max Demin. What's the bigger plan for the club and do supporters feel comfortable with your often private benefactor?
There is no doubt that AFC Bournemouth has clearly benefitted from Mr Demin’s influx of cash. Without it there is no way we would have been able to spend £2m on Tokelo Rantie and early on £800,000 on Matt Tubbs. Mr Demin wants to see AFC Bournemouth in the Premiership and he is prepared to invest in the right players to get us there. What we like about Mr Denim is his less than public face. He is an elusive character and stays out of the limelight, unlike our previous chairman Mr Eddie Mitchell.
How will AFC Bournemouth approach the game at Barnsley?
If all goes according to plan, we will play with one up top, Lewis Grabban, and have two wingers looking to provide support. We will press the Barnsley players, hopefully forcing then into mistakes and breaking quickly into the box. It will be the classic away formation, 4-5-1, probably.
Who are the key players to watch out for?
Lewis Grabban is an obvious candidate as he scores goals and is due one in the Barnsley game. But, its the midfield and wingers where we are dangerous. Eunan O'Kane is a player who dictates the play and Ryan Fraser is a nippy winger who likes to get in the box. He has a low centre of gravity and is good at drawing fouls and winning free-kicks.
What's your score prediction?
We don’t see it be a high-scoring match. We have played a lot of games already this month and the team is starting to look tired, especially in the last couple of performances. It will be 1-0 to one of the teams, hopefully the Cherries of course.
Following our recent two hapless performances against Leicester City and Watford, that have seen Barnsley drop to the foot of the Sky Bet Championship, Barnsley Football Club have released a statement confirming the dual exits of the Reds Assistant Manager, Micky Mellon, and Goalkeeping Coach, Ian Willcock.
With fans already sensing that there's been disharmony in the ranks, it would appear that the hierarchy are prepared to make one more throw of the dice to remedy our perilous situation - but the timing is surprising to say the least.
Have we hit the panic button, or are there other issues to consider?
Barnsley are back on the road. This weekend the battle lines will be drawn at Vicarage Road in our fight for our Championship survival and the possibility of hauling ourselves out of the drop zone, for the first time in four months.
The Reds have already been stung by a number of injuries to key personnel and the Hornets will be in no mood to surrender an impressive run of form at home. Their last defeat came in a narrow 1-0 reverse back in January, courtesy of an early Kaspars Gorkss goal for Reading. It would be fair to say that the bookies will not have deliberated too much on picking the favourite for this one.
Looking ahead to the match we invited Mike Parkin, a regular contributor to the popular Watford FC fans' podcast From The Rookery End, to provide us with his insights on the opposition.
What were/are your expectations for 2013-14?
I’d be telling porkie pies if I said Watford supporters didn’t expect much better from this season. Despite the heartbreaking and ultimately underwhelming end to the last campaign, most Hornets were quickly over our Wembley no-show as we were confident we would be back better for it this time round. The summer saw a swathe of new signings, all of which had decent pedigree, and Zola now had experience of the Championship, so before the season kicked off you would have been hard pushed to find a Watford fan that wasn’t feeling positive.
Initially the signs were good. We were scoring plenty of goals both home and away (as some readers might recall!) but in truth, the eye-catching scorelines were masking what were in some cases distinctly average performances. The team just wasn’t clicking, the new signings failed to make an impact and the absence of Vyrda and Chalobah (on loan elsewhere) and midfield maestro Almen Abdi (long-term injury) left us missing a good proportion of our most influential performers from the previous season.
The season slowly but surely descended into an unenjoyable slog, with the low point being five dismal home defeats in a row, a nightmarish run of form that culminated in Zola falling on his sword. His replacement in the hot seat was Beppe Sannino who managed to stop the rot without ever really convincing us that the team have truly turned the corner. We haven’t won away since he arrived, and despite our hugely impressive home form, our inability to pick up points away from home means the season is in effect over.
What's been your favourite match this season?
My favourite match of the season was the away fixture with Reading. It was towards the start of the season and high expectation levels combined with a short journey meant that the away end was packed. The 4,000 Hornets were soon silenced however when Reading went into a 2-0 lead. Watford did pull one back before the hosts regained their two goal advantage, but two late strikes secured what had seemed an unlikely point for Watford. It was a battling display combined with demonstrations of exciting skill and flair from a couple of the new boys, so at that stage the omens were looking very good and we travelled back down the M4 a happy bunch. Such optimism has sadly been in short supply since.
Has the takeover by the Pozzo family been a positive experience?
To fully appreciate the importance of the Pozzo family takeover, it’s important to understand the situation the club was in when they arrived. The previous owner was a dubious character in the extreme (I know, a good for nothing chancer in charge of a Football Club - who would have thought it?) and there was a very real possibility that the club would have been plunged into administration or even extinction had he remained at the helm. If you want the gory details a cursory Google search for ‘Laurence Bassini’ should furnish you with the full, horrifying story. Suffice to say we still count our blessings a few years on.
I know the Pozzo’s method drew plenty of criticism (although strangely it only seemed to surface when we were doing well - turns out we’re not all that’s wrong with English football when we’re bobbing along in mid table...) but they delivered high quality players, turning in top drawer performances and almost guided us into the Premier League at the first time of asking, all on the back of a sustainable business model and without saddling the club with a pile of unmanageable debt.
They also promised the Watford faithful that when the average attendance reached 15,000, they would knock down the long abandoned ‘Main’ Stand and replace it with a new one. Thanks to the style of football and the results Watford achieved under Zola, the magic figure was quickly reached and visitors to Vicarage Road can now see a shiny new structure taking shape on the East side of the ground. You can’t knock them, they have delivered more in a few seasons that previous owners could ever have done in a lifetime.
Understandably there has been criticism of some of the players that have been brought in, but the negative vibes have largely been aimed at Technical Director Gianluca Nani, whose remit includes all ins and outs at Vicarage Road.
Despite this season being a disappointment, the Pozzos are here for the long haul and have a proven track record of success. It’s difficult to be anything other than positive about their ownership and the future under them.
Do Watford fans regret the departures of Sean Dyche and/or Gianfranco Zola?
Sean Dyche was harshly treated. He (and Malky Mackay before him) performed wonders with a paper thin squad and with the added distraction of ever increasing turmoil behind the scenes. His P45 was not the reward ‘Stone Cold’ Sean Dyche deserved and there are a few that maintain we would be in a better position now had his services been retained. Personally, I dispute that view.
After removing Sean Dyche, Zola was installed and a host of players arrived from around the globe. The new manager performed wonders in getting the team to gel and last year saw some of the best football ever seen at Vicarage Road. It was fantastic to watch. I think that Zola’s standing in the game helped him get those players to perform, and I do wonder if Dyche would have had the same reaction. We will never know of course and whilst it was always unlikely under the new regime, he should perhaps have been given the opportunity.
Zola will always have a place in the hearts of Watford fans. He delivered a memorable season last year and the Leicester Play-Off game will go down in football history. The mid-season form was utterly wretched though and his departure was inevitable. He left in typically stylish fashion, signing off with an open letter to Watford supporters. Whilst he is missed in many respects, his departure was the right thing.
How will Watford approach the game at Barnsley?
Most Watford supporters now accept that the season is over, but we have become very, very hard to beat at home and all concerned with the Hornets will want this to continue. The aim now must be to end 2013/14 on a high so that pre-season can start in a positive vein and we can mount a serious promotion campaign.
Barnsley are obviously fighting for their lives, but the Watford faithful will be hoping for a positive performance after shipping another late goal at Doncaster in midweek. The frustrating thing about this Watford squad is that the talent within the squad is vast, they just can’t put it together consistently. With the new stand going up we’ll have an increased capacity for next year, so the performances need to be positive to be in with a chance of putting bums on new seats. There is no option but to go for it against Barnsley.
Who are the key players to watch out for?
Gabrielle Angella is a fantastic defender whilst also posing a real threat from set pieces. He’s a fine player. Ikechi Anya is a pacy winger who can leave most defenders for dead, whilst Troy Deeney is a handful up front. The real star of the show however is Hungarian International Daniel Toszer. He oozes class and is surgical with his deadball delivery. He’s on loan from Genoa, and if I could be granted one Watford wish, it would be that we somehow find a way to sign him permanently. If we had have secured his services earlier in the season, I think we would be in the promotion shake up.
What's your score prediction?
I’m notoriously poor at predicting the outcome, let alone the score, but I have to hope that Watford will be up for this one - after a disappointing midweek defeat at Doncaster. As I mentioned, we are hard to beat and don’t concede many at home. I’m going to go for a 2-0 Watford win.