Last season, at the behest of my wife Donna, I returned to Oakwell to watch Barnsley FC once more. I had to make do with a half-season ticket but Donna reasoned it was better for me to have a break from being a carer and that watching 22 men running around in their shorts, kicking a ball up and down a football pitch was the sort of entertainment I needed. I’m still not certain what she meant by that!
Anyway, this season I have a season ticket as the Reds returned to the Championship after a one season absence, led by the brilliant but sometimes eccentric Daniel Stendel. I will be aiming to attend all home games – hospital appointments and caring commitments permitting of course – and will share some of my thoughts as the Tykes lace up their boots for what will be a tough season in a very difficult league.
Saturday 24 August 2019
Barnsley Vs Luton
Pre-Match Mood: Keeping it together >>>>>>>>>>
The 2-2 draw at home to Charlton was followed up by a trip down to Birmingham the following Tuesday. It was a better performance against Charlton, inferior to the Fulham heroics, but still an improvement. Optimism seemed to be back with some fans ahead of the trip to St Andrews. After all, our record there in recent years had been good. That’s usually a sign things are going to go badly and so it proved. The game wasn’t one where either side covered themselves in glory but it was the Tykes who were on the wrong end of a 2-0 defeat. It sounds like the game was fairly even but when mistakes from ourselves crept in, Birmingham took full advantage and were untroubled in seeing out the victory. A lack of threat up front for the Reds was concerning with Woodrow not playing (nursing an injury, I believe) and those who stepped in just not up to scratch. Mutterings online were of relegation and a poor transfer window, favouring youth over experience…and it’s still only August!
Our next opponents were Luton who were promoted with us last season and, deservedly, beat us to the League One title. Their start to the Championship has, like us, not been the best though. A 3-3 draw against Middlesbrough has been followed by three defeats so worrying times for them as well. Defensively, neither side were looking great but at this early stage this game against Luton was a big test for the players. We almost defeated Charlton but my thoughts going into this match were victory was essential. It’s only August but, for us, it was crucial we try to build a gap between at least three other teams below us, preferably many more. A win over Luton would give us that chance but the Hatters are better than their start implies and, like Charlton, they would not be easy to beat. Indeed, pre-match drinks discussion with a couple of friends was a Barnsley win but a narrow and scrappy one.
The Game Itself
Where do you begin with this game against Luton? First off, there was no Woodrow, our best striker, in the team, in fact there was no striker in the first team so the formation was under scrutiny beforehand. I think Daniel Stendel is a great manager but his formations and the lateness of substitutions has been questionable this season. As for the game, well, from the opening whistle Luton came at Barnsley hard and any pre-match optimism was quickly brought into question when former Red, Jacob Butterfield (good player he was), fired Luton into a 1-0 lead with a great finish after just 2 minutes. Going a goal behind has meant our heads drop this season and the same seemed to happen this time. Defensively we looked about as convincing as my cat insisting falling off the unit at home was deliberate. With not even 5 minutes on the clock, Luton were in again and their danger man, James Collins, bundled in for a 2-0 win. The Luton bench were all up and celebrating wildly. I said to my fellow supporters that they believe this is game over with 85 minutes still to go. Some might call that arrogance from Luton but for the majority of us sitting there we felt it was a fair assumption.
Luton continued to control the game. It was hard to decipher whether they were a decent side or whether 2 goals in 5 minutes had just ramped up their confidence. Luton fans, I think it was a bit of both. All I knew for sure was every time Luton came forward they looked like scoring. They were first to every ball and looked comfortable across the pitch. A corner routine was seen out of the box but then the ball came back in and 2 Luton players – 2 of them, I tell you! – were standing at the edge of the box with no one near them. The ball came to Harry Cornick and he fired in brilliantly through a crowd of players for 3-0. Pandemonium for the Luton fans and there was no question that the better team were deservedly ahead and 3-0 was not a flattering scoreline. Barnsley were simply awful. Two fans to my right gave up after the third goal went in and left. I felt their pain but did not kowtow to the lure of an early departure. Other members of the Oakwell faithful either left or went for an early beer. We reached half-time 3-0 down against a team winless in the league so far but playing far better than their league position suggested. A chorus of jeers followed the players down the tunnel. This was a catastrophe in every sense.
In the second half, Barnsley were a different team. Let’s be honest, they couldn’t have been much worse. We made two changes yet didn’t have a striker on the pitch just as we hadn’t the entire game. The players had clearly had a rollicking from Stendel and started to put some passes together and create some chances. Despite that, Luton had the ball in the net for 4-0 but luckily for us it was offside. The Oakwell faithful, understandably frustrated, still continued to get behind the team and hoped we could find a way back into the game. Malik Wilks duly obliged having been one of the few players to look like he actually cared. Wilks reduced the arrears to 3-1 and suddenly Luton started to look human and even nervous. Barnsley had further chances but could not score again and the loss of our best defender, Bambo Diaby, to injury rubbed salt into the wounds. Aside from the Luton goalkeeper, Sluga, resorting to ridiculous time wasting from the moment the second half started, I have no complaints about Luton winning. They were simply better than Barnsley in every department. Our defending was appalling but Luton took full advantage and I wouldn’t be surprised if that win begins an upturn in form for their season. I sincerely wish them well going forward.
Post-Match Mood: >>>>>>>>>> In the jungle with Colonel Kurtz
Coming into the Championship, Barnsley had not lost a game at home since the last time we were in this league. We were unbeaten all of last season which was a massive achievement. I did not expect us to get through this season unbeaten at Oakwell with so many quality teams yet to visit us but I did not think Luton would be the ones to end our run. That isn’t me being disrespectful to the Hatters. They deserved to beat us. No question. What was disappointing was how pitifully Barnsley surrendered such a great record at Oakwell. If a team beat us and we fight hard for every ball then I can accept it but the performance against Luton was poor. They didn’t have to work hard for their win at all and that is frustrating.
Going forward the signs for Barnsley are worrying even though it is still only August. We lost key players in the summer, very good players too, and although we brought plenty of new names in they are young and inexperienced. Luton, in contrast, have a team made up of both young players and older, experienced players who know what it is like to play at this level. They have got the balance right. We haven’t. Against Luton, Barnsley had no players that could rally a demoralised team, pick them back up when their heads dropped and that is a big worry going forward.
Both Stendel and the players apologised to the fans for the performance which is appreciated but what matters is watching a team that busts a gut week in, week out. If the team does that then the fans will support them whatever the result. What the fans won’t accept is an abject performance and that’s what we sadly got against Luton. The January transfer window seems a long way away but I am expecting the club to be doing a lot of business when we get there, preferably for older, more experienced players to steady the ship.
In the meantime, we have to keep backing the team and hoping they can turn things around. It is a young squad, it’s only August and I believe Stendel is the right manager for the job. Next up we have a difficult trip down to Wigan then it’s the international break and a chance to recharge. I’ll next be back for the home game against top of the table Leeds which will be a ferocious test for this team. Let’s see what they’re made of when Leeds come to town.