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Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Half Season Review

The cliché goes ‘New Year, New Start’, however many Reds fans will not particularly be asking that of their Barnsley side this year. The season so far has contained everything, with calls for the manager’s head after just 3 games and flirtations with the play-offs towards the end of the year, if the side had held on to their half time lead against Ipswich they would have gone 6th that evening.

Within the year 2011 Barnsley Football Club saw the last of the big spenders at this club with Mark Robins attempting a play-off push with big names such as Marlon Harewood and Paul McShane signing on loan. The play-off push failed and the club decided that it should perhaps be more prudent in its operations with new Football League financial rules on the horizon.

The answer was new manager, Keith Hill, who brought with him a plan and a structured training regime designed to get the club results, whilst playing an appealing style of football. Without any analysis at this point, I’m sure many Barnsley fans would agree that Hill and his assistant, David Flitcroft , or HillCroft as they are affectionately known, have certainly achieved that so far.

Although technically 25 games have been played, therefore we are just past the halfway point, now feels an appropriate time since we are out of the busy Christmas period, and the league will be brought to a temporary halt when the side faces Swansea in the FA Cup this weekend. This run-by-run analysis looks at the games gone by, compares it with last season’s efforts, and previews what might be to come in the remaining games this season.

Action Report

No win in 3
The Reds started the season with a 0-0 draw against Steve McClaren’s Nottingham Forest side, a positive result on the day given the two clubs’ respective spending power. It is said that good away draws are only good if they can be backed up by home wins, however the Reds lost 2 in a row, firstly 1-0 at the hands of Southampton, and 3-1 at the hands of Middlesbrough. There were early calls for the manager’s head, following the inability for Barnsley to score for 3 games, since even the Barnsley goal in the Middlesbrough game came off their man.

Kick—starting the season
Sometimes the best medicine to relieve the pressures of home is an away trip. The Reds got not only one, but two in a row when they faced Reading and Millwall. Despite giving away 3 penalties, the heroics of Luke Steele, who was later nominated for player of the month, kept out 2 of the 3, and Matt Done and Andy Gray applied the finishes to get the Reds off the mark. The following week the Reds played out their second 0-0 draw of the season, taking the side to 5 points from 5 games.

The Reds returned home to a more optimistic support following the two away results, from which the Reds had failed to register a point from the respective games last year. It was the turn of big spending Leicester to come to Oakwell, who were dominated throughout the game by the newly confident Reds. Only a short lapse in concentration within 20 seconds of the commencement of the second half let Barnsley down. A long ball appearing to be sailing out for a goal kick was stopped on the touchline by Jermaine Beckford, who then crossed into the 6 yard area for Andy King to slot home. Watford were next for the Reds at home, and this time it was the away side who would open the scoring, with Marvin Sordell, who had impressed at Oakwell for England Under 21’s, scoring a gift of a goal. The Reds weren’t to give up, and brought the game back through Andy gray and created enough chances to have won the game, unfortunately it was not to be.

Injuries were piling up for the Reds in this sequence, and coming into the Birmingham game had youngsters Jordan Clark and Danny Rose on the bench, as the Reds were without Rob Edwards, Danny Haynes, Craig Davies, Ricardo Vaz Te, Luke Potter, Reuben-Noble Lazarus and Goran Lovre. The injury problems could only get worse for the Reds, with Matt Done withdrawing early to be replaced by youngster Jordan Clark. That wasn’t to spoil the Reds’ day however, with a stunning Jacob Butterfield strike giving the Reds the first half lead, only for Birmingham to equalize in the 86th minute. That was the Reds’ third 1-1 draw in a row, but more importantly, they were unbeaten in 5.

Derby was the Reds next away trip on the following Tuesday and an injury to David Perkins during the game saw the side become yet more youthful, with 16 year old Paul Digby getting his Barnsley debut. Butterfield again applied the strike to give the Reds the lead, but a second half penalty drew high flying Derby level. In the end the Reds hung on but more than deserved the point for their efforts.

The final game of the run saw struggling Coventry come to Oakwell in search of vital points. Keith Hill’s side were not to be the charitable ones, and footballed Andy Thorn’s side from the park, running out 2-0 winners in a comfortable manner. 7 games unbeaten.

A mixed October and Early November
Following the international break, the Reds were to appear in their first Sky TV game of the season at Fratton Park. The cameras haven’t been kind to Barnsley in recent years, and this wasn’t about to change with Portsmouth undoing the Reds’ game plan in a matter of 2 minutes around the hour mark, scoring the goals in quick succession, it was the first time in 5 that the Reds had failed to score.

The Reds had only 3 days to lick their wounds before Eddie Howe’s Burnley came to Oakwell. Like many occasions, the Reds enjoyed an impressive first half, with yet another Jacob Butterfield goal seeing them in front. Following a slightly nervy second half, Ricardo Vaz Te put the game beyond doubt with ten minutes to go in this highly entertaining game.

This game was to be followed by another away day nightmare, where poor defending saw Cardiff run out eventual 5-3 winners. One positive from the game was that the Reds weren’t about to go down without a fight, with 2 late replies reducing the deficit, although it just wasn’t enough on the day.

Barnsley were then to be the charitable side at Oakwell with Bristol City coming to Oakwell, who had just appointed new boss Derek McInnes. The Reds were one down at half time, and thought they had a point when Craig Davies got his first Barnsley goal with 15 minutes remaining, but Nicky Maynard popped up in injury time to give Bristol a vital win.

Again, the Reds had a quick turnaround, and the following Tuesday Hull were the opponents. Davies got his second goal for the Reds, with Andy Gray doubling the lead around the hour seeing the Reds ahead. The game might have had a nervy end when Matty Fryatt replied with 10 minutes to go, but the Reds held firm for the 3 points in what was another highly entertaining game with both sides playing some attractive football.

Next up was the Reds’ first trip to Brighton’s new Amex stadium on the day following bonfire night. It was Brighton who were to let off the fireworks though, running out as what on paper looks like comfortable 2-0 winners, however the score line doesn’t tell the whole story as Barnsley played well and can count themselves unlucky to maybe have not come away with a point.

Play-off contenders?
The Reds had been inconsistent of late, and were eager to put together a good run of results, and put together a run they did. First up were Doncaster Rovers with their interesting transfer policy surrounding Premier League veterans such as El Hadji Diouf. Keith Hill’s lower league rough diamonds were to embarrass the Rovers however, turning them over in impressive fashion and not giving them a sniff throughout the game. Doncaster’s previous ‘Arsenal of the North’ accolade, it appeared, was coming to Oakwell, thanks to a Craig Davies double.

A trip to Elland Road was to make it a Yorkshire derby double header for the Reds, with Hill’s men again showing the ‘big boys’ how it was done. It was all over by half time it turned out, with Davies getting his 4th goal in as many games after a Ricardo Vaz Te strike early on. Leeds hit the post at the start of the second half from a great attempt from Snodgrass and probably thought it wasn’t going to be their day but they persevered and had a goal with a stunning Ross McCormack’s freekick, and they could have snatched a point late on, but Luke Steele was there to save the day. It was a deserved Barnsley victory and we were the better side with more quality in midfield but it was a hard fought victory with Leeds being forced on by the Elland Road faithful, however their effort did lack some quality with probably only Snodgrass being the one player Barnsley had to keep under wraps, which they did limiting him to long range efforts and defending well against his crosses into the box.

Next up was a trip to free scoring Peterborough, but it was the Reds who were to triumph in this goal bonanza. The Reds gained a 3-0 lead through O’Brien, Butterfield and Vaz Te but Peterborough brought the game back to 3-3, only for Craig Davies to seal his 5th goal in 5 games with a tremendous first time strike which rocketed into the top corner when running on to a through ball from Butterfield providing a fantastic win for the Reds.

Following two heroic away trips the Reds came home, and didn’t even bother to unpack, with Ricardo Vaz Te getting a goal quicker than you could say ‘Crystal Palace’, with an 8 second strike. Jermaine Easter replied in the first half, and with the Palace looking for a draw, the Reds took the game to them. Late on Ricardo Vaz Te punished the negative Palace tactics, getting his second of the game, and the winner.

Next up was the potential banana skin of struggling Ipswich who had failed to win in 7, who came to Oakwell looking to put it right in front of the sky cameras. If Barnsley were to win, earlier results indicated that the Reds would have gone into an unprecedented play-off spot in 6th place. The Reds looked comfortable in the first half and showed the nation just what the side was made of, going 2-0 up thanks to a Craig Davies penalty and a Ricardo Vaz Te strike, perhaps showing one of the league’s greatest strike pairs. Within a matter of minutes in the second half it was all to become irrelevant, as Ipswich brought it back to 2-2. The Reds were unable to get a grip and it quickly became a drubbing from Ipswich, who based on half time’s result could well have lost their manager. 5-3 the final score – the play-offs proving just a little much for the Reds, for now.

The Reds followed up their second half capitulation with a tough trip to West Ham. Barnsley were to be undone by a corner in the 8th minute, which effectively singled the end of the game, with the Hammers playing out the remainder of the game in a direct style. The Reds held firm, but had no reply at the other end.

Although no-one had expected much at West Ham, perhaps a more realistic game to pick up points in was the Boxing Day bout against Blackpool? The Reds took the lead in the 18th minute, but were unable to capitalize further on the open tangerine defence in the first half. The Reds were to pay for it, with a Matt Phillips hat-trick sealing the win for Blackpool. It appeared that the Reds just couldn’t hold onto leads.

Derby Double – Round 2
Following the impressive win at Elland Road for the first time in nearly 2 decades, the Reds were looking to do the double over Leeds. It was all under threat when captain Jacob Butterfield was to be injured early on, but on came Ricardo Vaz Te, who was to be hero of the day following an impressive hat trick. The Reds dominated the Whites throughout and made it look easy. Craig Davies was to get back on the scoring trail, with Leeds’ only reply being a header from a late free kick.

Finally, less than 48 hours passed after the Leeds triumph, and the Reds travelled the short distance to the Keepmoat, where Doncaster made 6 changes from their previous outing. Barnsley had a depleted squad, and were now without the transfer listed Danny Haynes and captain Jacob Butterfield, who picked up an injury which is set to see him out for the remainder of the season.
Doncaster appeared to have more energy and consistently put the Barnsley defenders under pressure whilst defending deep when Barnsley had possession. Barnsley were unable to unlock the defence after an early goal, and instead were punished by a 2-0 score line which flattered an unremarkable game.

Stats at the 25 Game Mark




(Click the image to zoom in)

What’s required?
Points per game (play offs) 1.63 average for the season
Points per game (automatic) 2 average for the season
Target points 42 points from remaining 21 games

Weighing up the stats
On paper, the difference doesn’t show through, per se, however if you compare Hill’s budget with Robins’, it surely has to be considered a great achievement by the current man at the helm to match those of a manager who spent 5 times as much in transfer fees alone, as well as paying higher wages to players such as Garry O’Connor and Jason Shackell. It appears that having a manager like Keith Hill has been a great asset to the club; not only has he got the best out of his budget in terms of new acquisitions, but he has also worked exceptionally well with existing players such as Jim O’Brien and Jacob Butterfield, who have almost undergone a ‘zero to hero’ transformation. In addition to this he gives interviews that actually emit some energy and positivity, a welcome change from the interviews given by his predecessor, Mark Robins, which were uninspiring, and frankly, boring.

Last year it appeared to be “Fortress Oakwell” with 7 wins, which perhaps could have been 9, had we capitalized on wins that were there for the taking against Cardiff and Watford. This season, the Reds have relied less on their home form, having attained 4 additional points away from home. Some may consider home form this year poor, having lost 5 out of 13 games, compared with 3 last year, taken from 13 home games. One has to consider perhaps the results that could have and should have been put to bed at home this season, with the Reds having thrown away 3 winning positions, against Leicester, Ipswich and Blackpool, with the Reds only taking a point from the game against Leicester. Had the Reds held on in these games, the points tally at home would beat last season’s record by 4, taking the home points tally to 28. Crucially, when these 28 hypothetical points are coupled with the 13 away points accrued; this gives 41, and a play-off position in 5th.

Away from home the Reds have been more promising with Keith Hill stating from the off that poor away results since our return to the championship would be something that would be the subject of his address. Despite only having 4 more points, the tactics haven’t been negative like in previous regimes, and the Reds have been in with a shout of taking something from the games, whereas before, the games were effectively over before the first whistle. You also have to take into account our defending from set pieces, which has seen a great improvement, especially with the confidence of Luke Steele. Previously, conceding a corner almost condemned the side to eventually leaking a goal.

On balance, the only criticism of the current regime therefore would be that the team appear to lack a bit of belief in themselves, which I believe boils down to a lack of leadership. The team has lost from winning positions and perhaps more worryingly, have not won yet from a losing position. The solution? The captaincy, and experience. Whilst Hassell is unarguably one of this club’s greatest servants in recent times and an extremely experienced player, he is not vocal enough for the team captaincy. Although we shouldn’t take away from his role in the dressing room as club captain, I believe that an experienced and vocal midfielder would be a key signing, with the midfield appearing to be the section that goes missing when our position is under threat.

What’s to come?
Obviously it’s difficult to predict what will happen over the course of the future, however Keith Hill will have to ensure that this season doesn’t fade away like previous campaigns. Thanks to the loss of Adam Hammill, a talisman in the side, the side appeared to lack creativity and the ability to score a goal. Not only were the team a let down, but as individuals, the players have to be seen as having let themselves down, with nobody stepping to the fore to get goals, with Hammill finishing top scorer despite only having played in half of the games. The signs do look more promising this campaign however, with more key cogs in the system than there perhaps were before, since 2 players have already beaten Hammill’s tally in the same number of games he played, and Andy Gray, who finished 2nd highest goal scorer with 4 last season, find himself in 4th already this season, again with 4. Not only were goals hard to come by but the side finished with relegation form, only 23 points from 21 games – despite having spent more in the 2nd half of the season than the first.

It’s great to see 2 strikers in Vaz Te and Davies out performing Hammill at this stage of the season, and if we can keep hold onto these two in the transfer window then the signs look promising for the rest of the season. Unfortunately however, the side has now lost Jacob Butterfield to an injury that will see him out for the rest of the season. Although I have perhaps been harsh on his performances (perhaps due to his unwillingness to sign a contract), I fear that the side could lose a lot of creativity, making it imperative that we find a suitable replacement in this window. This however leads me onto another praise for Keith Hill, where I am confident that his ‘layering system’ will come up trumps in providing adequate acquisitions, short term or long term, in order to replace the missing pieces of the puzzle that have become unavailable, or have been transferred.

On the other hand, keeping the whole squad happy is a key job for the manager and one has to observe the loan departure of Nathan Doyle, and the transfer listing of Danny Haynes, who appear to have fell out of favour with Keith Hill following alleged disagreements regarding their respective lack of first team appearances. It appears that the Football League’s ruling of reducing the bench from 7 to 5 could have been partly responsible, since the manager has appeared at times to have been without options from the bench. It has to be observed however that players should appreciate the manager’s position and work hard in order to earn their place and keep it, whether starting or on the bench. At times it also appears that the team could have done with changes due to tiredness and fitness, but the apparent lack of co-operation from a few has often forced Hill’s hand, which has no doubt been an influencing factor in deciding to trim them from his plans. The manager does have to rule the roost, and even Wayne Rooney has been sidelined for breaking a pre-match curfew, which cost him not only his place, but also his wages from the Blackburn game.

Red army (or lack of?)
By looking at the stats you will have no doubt compared not only our on pitch performance, but also our off pitch performance in terms of attendances. The figures do not read well, as by comparing the total home attendances from this season and last (both from 13 games), you will notice that 20,000 less fans have attended Oakwell this season.

Despite complaints last season in regards to the categorization system, the commercial team have not only opted to persist with it, but increase adult category A prices by 20%, aswell as designate more games as category A, with 16 initially named, which has since been reduced to 14 following a re-shuffle.

Whilst revenue has increased on match day tickets, despite a reduction in fans, it cannot be observed whether the club has suffered from the loss of merchandise sales, programme sales or food and drink sales, due to the loss of around 2000 to their potential target audience. Yes you can buy a membership card, stand on one leg, wear one red sock and pay the same as last year, but fans want things plain and simple, a notion clearly not shared by the management at Oakwell.

There are a good deal of fans who for some reason can’t attend every game and hence wont buy a season ticket, these 2000 fans have gone away and found something else to do on a Saturday afternoon.

Final Notes
On the whole, all that remains to be said is keep up the good work Hillcroft and the team, and let’s play for all 46 games this season. Let’s overachieve and show what ‘little old Barnsley’ is capable of. At this point I say this to our fans: Let’s really be that 12th man this season and replicate the team’s efforts by singing for the 90 minutes, whether that be from the Ponty End, West Stand or East Stand. Let’s not leave early, and let’s not give up when the going gets tough. Let’s fight to the very end, as the team will too.

Is this blog a bit of a moan, an attempt at football philosophy and management or a rallying call? I’m not sure…it’s possibly all 4!

From this point onwards I believe that: a result would be staying up, mid-table would be fantastic, the top 10 would be brilliant and the play-offs would be dreamland. But let me leave you with a quote from Apple’s ‘Think Different’ campaign – ‘The ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are often the ones that do’


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