Without a doubt the Reds have put together a fantastic run of results in recent times. From the first win in a generation at Elland Road, to a 7-goal thriller at Peterborough, Barnsley fans have certainly not been short of entertainment throughout the early winter months, with 4 wins in a row teeing up a potential play-off spot if Keith Hill’s surprise package side could have capitalised in front of the Sky cameras.

Saturday, however, signaled the end of this great run, with the Reds toppling to twelfth after a nightmare second half at Oakwell, following a typically dominant first half performance. We analyse this recent run, game by game, and speculate; just how far can this Barnsley team go?

Barnsley 2 – 0 Doncaster Rovers
Dean Saunders’ and Willy McKay’s experimental squad of mercenaries were put well through their paces by Barnsley, who were looking to bounce back from their disappointing away trip to the Amex stadium the week before, where they had suffered a 2-0 scoreline at the hands of Gus Poyet’s Brighton. Lining up in their traditional 4-2-3-1, the Reds made a slight change, with Matt Done fulfilling Jacob Butterfield’s role behind the striker for the first time since following Keith Hill to Barnsley from Rochdale in the summer. Done was one of the Reds’ highlight performers on the day, with his incredible trickery providing the assist for Craig Davies, who scored his second of the match, his 4th in 4 games. The performance signified everything positive Tykes’ fans have seen this season, with hard graft, heroic defending and positive attacking play all being highlights of this thrilling Yorkshire derby. Barnsley were heading to Elland Road the next week on a high, whilst messers Saunders and McKay referred to their contact list again in order to recruit new hit men to try and turn Doncaster’s fortunes around.

Leeds 1 – 2 Barnsley
Barnsley were looking to break the habit of over two decades when they lined up against Simon Grayson’s Leeds United. The Reds had not won at Elland Road since 1990, the year in which Leeds were last promoted to the Premier League. It was Barnsley who were to look more like the Premier League side however, with Keith Hill’s unchanged side putting Leeds’ answer to the Olympic diving squad to the sword. Ricardo Vaz Te got the Reds off the mark in the 27th minute, with Craig Davies’ 5th in 5 effectively ending the game just before half time. Leeds threw the kitchen sink at the Reds in the second half following a stunning Ross McCormack free kick, but the Reds held tight, perhaps with Luke Steele to thank for a stunning save from Ramon Nunez right at the death. The Reds could have perhaps left Elland Road with a slight sour taste however, with David Perkins’ red card late on keeping him out of the next weekend’s tie down in Peterborough.

Peterborough 3 – 4 Barnsley
Peterborough were to give the Reds something different to deal with following the derby day delights of the past fortnight. Darren Ferguson’s men had not seen a 0-0 scoreline in nearly 100 games, and this game could not have been further from the scoreless draws Peterborough have happily shunned for quite some time. The Reds went into half time 2-0 up and within 10 minutes of the second half were seemingly out of sight when a stunning Ricardo Vaz Te effort sent the standing Reds support into raptures. But 3 substitutions signaled the start of a superb Posh comeback, and within 6 minutes the Reds’ efforts had been all but undone. Barnsley were certainly not about to give up 2 points however, and (guess who) Craig Davies scored a fantastic winner 10 minutes from time making it 6 goals in 6 games for Barnsley’s number 9 – an unbelievable scoring run.

Barnsley 2 – 1 Crystal Palace
After 3 wins on the bounce, of which 2 had come away from Oakwell, Barnsley looked to turn over a Palace side who had occupied an early play-off berth. Barnsley certainly could not have been accused of hanging about, with Ricardo Vaz Te hitting the fastest goal in Oakwell history – an 8 second belter. Palace threatened to crash the party though, with Jermaine Easter equalizing in the 33rd minute. It appeared that the Reds had gone to pot, haemorrhaging confidence and looking a shadow of the side they had been for the past 3 weeks. The half time whistle was to be the Reds’ savior, and come the second half the Reds were able to get back in the game. Davies had numerous efforts, but was unable to add to his goalscoring run, although Ricardo Vaz Te’s second made Reds fans think that the Portuguese forward might be about to go on a run of his own – 4 goals in 3 games. Vaz Te’s strike would eventually be the winner, and a well deserved one at that, with the Reds holding firm against Palace’s counter attacking football.

Barnsley 3 – 5 Ipswich
Finally, onto Saturday. Barnsley aimed to make it 5 wins out of 5, and thanks to a pushed back kick-off for the Sky cameras, the Reds by then knew that they could gain a play-off spot should they have won the game. It took only 14 minutes to get the early Christmas party started at Oakwell, with Craig Davies ending his dry run before it started from the spot. The Reds continued to press, and camped inside the Ipswich half for the majority of the first period, showing just why Paul Jewell’s men had not won for over 2 months. Vaz Te scored his 5th goal in 4 games with a pinpoint header to keep the Reds on a high leading into half time.

It is said that you can never have too much of a good thing, however the Reds were unfortunate enough not to stick to that old adage. Within 5 minutes of the second half, Ipswich had drawn level, following a 26 second effort from captain Keith Andrews, and his second coming only 3 minutes later. The Reds were evidently suffering from altitude sickness following their incredible climb up the table, and sloppy defending continued to gift Paul Jewell a lifeline. Collins added another two thirds through the game, with former loanee Michael Chopra effectively ending the Reds’ impressive run 2 minutes later. As if 4 weren’t enough, Jason Scotland made it embarrassing for the Reds in front of the Sky cameras, scoring Ipswich’s 5th in the 83rd minute. Perhaps the only consolation was to come just before the end of normal time, with a cracking Craig Davies free kick resuming his scoring run, making it 7 goals in 7 games. That was not enough for Barnsley however, with their winning streak coming to a dramatic end.

The Goal Rush
Perhaps to thank for the Reds’ impressive run has been the form of two outstanding forwards, Craig Davies and Ricardo Vaz Te. As of Saturday, both had reached the 8 goal mark, matching the tally of last year’s talismanic winger Adam Hammill, who held on to his top scorer accolade for the rest of the season despite heading for Wolves in January, with Andy Gray coming closest to toppling the record with 7. For the first time in a long time, it can be said that Barnsley has an attacking force to be reckoned with, for which it has not paid a single penny.

Perhaps the most obvious signing might have been Craig Davies, with the Reds’ number 9 joining on a free from League 2 Champions Chesterfield, where the Welshman had earned the accolade of the League’s top scorer, netting an incredible 23 times. Keith Hill beat off competition from a number of Championship suitors to get his man, and Davies has certainly not disappointed with his rich vein of scoring form, hold up play and incredible eye and endeavor for goals.

Perhaps less obvious however was the signing of Ricardo Vaz Te. It’s safe to say that the Portuguese winger-come-forward has had a largely inconsistent career, in which he had become a potential Premier League star prior to injury at Bolton and capped for his native Portgual, before being released from Hibernian in the summer. Keith Hill knew that Ricardo had a lot of potential, but also a lot to prove, and following an impressive trial in pre-season, Hill gambled on the forward, and signed him up.

Built on solid foundations
Of course there’s no use in scoring goals at one end if you can’t keep them out at the other. The Reds held solid on several occasions throughout the run, with impressive form from the 2 central defenders McNulty and Foster to thank. The Reds defended from the front however, constructing their runs from impressive midfield performances full of graft, endeavour and creativity. David Perkins has been the stand out star for many, with the 29 year old continually running his blood to water in order to help out both the attacks and the defence.

Jacob Butterfield for 2 of the games had been asked to drop back slightly from where he had perhaps been used to, but still added to the attacks from the heart of the Reds’ midfield, getting a goal and a few assists during the run. Matt Done had a slow start to his Barnsley career however has collaborated fantastically in recent times, impressing on numerous occasions. Finally, who could have forgot the fantastic Jim O’Brien, who has truly grabbed this season by the scruff of a neck, going from zero last season, to hero this season, with his graft and teamwork typifying everything positive about this Barnsley side.

Reality Check
Whilst the Reds have put together an impressive sequence of results, the Ipswich performance on Saturday was to typify in my opinion the perhaps overlooked negatives that had gradually been creeping into the Reds’ performances.

Whilst the Reds had held tight defensively on a number of occasions, the fact remains that Barnsley have only kept 1 clean sheet in 5. Of course this can be happily overlooked during a winning spell like the one we’ve enjoyed, however the Reds have conceded 9 goals in 5 games, nearly 2 a game. Of course the Reds got 4 wins in this period, although on average had to score more than 2 goals a game in order to win. Obviously a win is a win, however one has to question whether we can rely on Davies or Vaz Te’s form for prolonged periods in order to continually score more than twice a game in order to win.

Perhaps it is forgivable that the defence isn’t the best in the division given that it cost so little to assemble, however what is surely inexcusable is the arrogance that had perhaps begun to creep in to Barnsley’s performances, which might have been responsible for the shock result on Saturday. The Ipswich result wasn’t the first time in the would-be 5 game sequence that the Reds let a considerable lead slip, with Peterborough somehow managing to recover a 3 goal deficit in little over 6 minutes, Craig Davies saving Reds fans’ woes on that day. Fans attending Oakwell against Ipswich might have wondered just how such a dominated performance turned into such a nightmare.

Of course I don’t like to point fingers at individuals however one has to question the captain’s performances in spells throughout the sequence. During the Leeds game, overplaying let the Whites in on numerous occasions, and whilst we all like to see fancy footwork, it has to be at the right time. Leeds wasn’t the only occasion, with numerous times cropping up in the Peterborough and Palace games, perhaps with goals and assists overshadowing the sloppiness.

How far can Barnsley go then?
In short, the Ipswich game was a reality check, but that doesn’t have to be a negative thing. The game showed that the Reds have to be perhaps more pragmatic in their approach and more professional in holding onto leads. One can have no qualms in creative play that is easy on the eye, however when we have the lead, players out to impress bigger sides, such as Jacob Butterfield, need to realise that they would in fact appear more impressive in working with the team to hold onto the lead, rather than performing Messi-esque tricks outside our own 18 yard box. Barnsley can be who they want to be this season, and I firmly believe that when we work as a team we are as good as anyone. However when going on runs, the players have to remember what started the runs was grafting team performances, not just glamorous football.

Barnsley are well clear of the bottom 3, with 10 points separating us from Nottingham Forest in 22nd, and 17 separating us from bottom. Therefore, it feels only appropriate to look up, with just 5 points keeping us out of a play-off spot. Pundits have started to take notice of this team, however if we can make this performance a blip on the landscape whilst remaining under the radar, surely there’s nothing to stop this team replicating the heroes of 1996?

Why not answer that question yourself in the comment box below?
Or you can follow me @MichaelRoach55 and @OnThePontyEnd on Twitter. Thanks for reading.

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3 comments so far,add yours

John Meara said...

Interesting point about Butterfield. I went to the Peterborough game and noticed that he gave the ball away quite a bit. It made me think that if a club comes in for him in January then so be it. Having said that, I would prefer it if he stayed until the end of the season.

Anonymous said...

I think we should also look to ourselves a little. In the first half, the fans were behind the team like no other home game this season, with the Ponty end leading the way as usual. But the second half was a different story, Oakwell turned into a quiet place with the 300 Ipswich fans making more noise than 9000 Barnsley fans.

When the chips are down, all we seem to do is moan at the players instead of carrying on singing and getting behind them.

Never has the phrase 'You only sing when you're winning' been as accurate as at Oakwell.

Unknown said...

Interesting points guys.
I agree with both of you to some extent,
John - I agree I think we can do without Butterfield, based on what has frankly become a run of poor/mediocre performances. If we sign another centre mid in January, he can certainly drop out for me and find his premier league dream club for himself, he could get a shock.

Anonymous - I think you are right, we only sing when we're winning, however I have to say after goals 1 and 2 we were still firmly behind them. I think what made the fans give up was the fact many of the team had given up and there wasn't a vocal leader out there grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck. I've said for a while we need a leader in midfield who is vocal not just skilful