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.
Sunday 15 September 2019
Barnsley Vs Leeds
Pre-Match Mood: Not optimistic >>>>>>>>>>
Just before the international break, Barnsley travelled down to Wigan for one final game to try and get our stuttering season back on track. We’d managed one win and a draw (both at home) and lost our other games. The word on the Oakwell grapevine was that, despite a perplexing line-up by Daniel Stendel, the Tykes put in a very good performance down at Wigan, aided in no small part by the return of Dmitri Cavare who has been out of the side, supposedly due to a row with Stendel but details of such a spat remain elusive. Barnsley came away with a 0-0 draw but did have some good chances to potentially snatch a win and bring a much-needed 3 points back to Oakwell. In the end it was just the solitary point which kept us a smidgen above the bottom 3 in the league. It was a stepping stone and the international break gave us a chance to get injured players back to fitness and the team the chance to reassess.
Our next opponents were Leeds United who – amazingly – have spent 15 years outside the Premiership. This was a team that were one of the Top 6 sides in the country two decades ago and made it to the Champions League semi-finals one year also. Financial struggles, two relegations and one promotion later and Leeds look once again primed for a stab at a return to the top flight. It’s been a tough time for them and many fans up and down the country have revelled in their misfortune. Something about Leeds and Millwall it seems. Last season, Leeds looked certainties for promotion but ended up in the play-offs where they were knocked out by Derby. It’s become something of a joke for some fans online that Leeds always start a season well but then blow their promotion prospects late in the day. This season Leeds are looking strong once again and will surely be there or thereabouts in May 2020 when the season comes to an end.
The prospect of Leeds coming to Oakwell is always an exciting one as, love them or hate them, they have a loyal fanbase so a good crowd could be expected and hopefully a terrific atmosphere. This would be a huge test for Daniel Stendel and for Barnsley. Approaching the game I was not optimistic about beating Leeds. To do that every player would need to be at their best, while Leeds’ level would surely have to drop. They would be coming to Oakwell confident of beating us, no question, so for the Tykes it was vital we stayed as close to them as possible for the duration of the game. I’d consider a draw a good result here. A win, however unlikely, would be massive.
The Game Itself
It was a great atmosphere at Oakwell from the get-go with both sets of fans in fine voice as the game began. Leeds did demonstrate some slick passing in the first half and found their way through our defence too easily at times but the pleasing thing was the way Barnsley approached the game. We hounded Leeds when they were on the ball, we made life difficult when they tried to attack and our defence generally looked good with Andersen and Halme in the centre. Leeds looked a threat though whenever they came forward and danger man Patrick Bamford drew at least 3 good saves from Brad Collins during the game. The game was end to end with Leeds firing over when it looked easier to score and at the end of the half they also hit the post when you expected the net to be bulging. On the other side, Barnsley carved out chances of our own with Malik Wilks, in particular, looking dangerous though sadly too greedy, opting to shoot when it would have been better to square to the likes of Cauley Woodrow and Luke Thomas who had come forward in support. It was a testament to how well we were playing that the Leeds fans were largely subdued, their early chanting gradually receded as the half ticked along. Many Leeds fans may not admit it but I suspected Barnsley were proving a far greater challenge than they expected. 0-0 it remained at half-time.
In the second half, Bielsa had clearly been fuming at the Leeds players as they began with urgency and purpose. All of a sudden our defence came under heavy pressure but we managed to withstand the attacks through last-ditch defending, good saves from Collins and, admittedly, a little luck. In fact, both sides had slices of luck with balls going across respective boxes with just one touch being needed for a goal. At the other end, Barnsley looked very good with corner routines, something we tend to struggle with. One chance was somehow stopped on the line by Leeds’ keeper, Casilla, when it looked certain to go in. As the clocked ticked into the final 10 minutes we watched on with hope of what would have been a good point or, possibly, even snatching a winner. It became one of those games where whoever scored the first goal would win it and so it proved. Thiam came on as a substitute and gave away a dangerous free-kick. The ball whipped in was sheer quality and Eddie Nketiah was there to fire Leeds into a 1-0 lead. It was cruel. Very cruel, but we still had time to respond. Unfortunately, Halme was deemed to have fouled Nketiah minutes later and a penalty was awarded. Annoyingly, the referee gave nothing initially, the Leeds fans voiced their fury, the referee looked at the linesman who offered no response, then the referee decided it was a penalty, clearly under pressure from the Leeds fans. The delay to the decision was frustrating and watching the highlights I think it was a harsh decision. Mateusz Klich duly stepped up, made it 2-0 and it was game over. Barnsley pushed on in search of a goal but it was not to be.
Post-Match Mood: >>>>>>>>>> Disappointed with the result but not the team
The game against Leeds was always going to be tough. They are expected to be promoted this season so in theory this should have been one of the hardest games we’ll face at Oakwell. I honestly felt that Barnsley gave Leeds a game. Had we snatched a win it would be fair to say there was some fortune involved. Both teams warranted at least a draw but if you had to point to which team deserved to win overall on chances then I have to concede it should have been Leeds. They are a very good side and their quality shone through at the death with that free-kick that led to them going 1-0 ahead. It was tough to defend against and we were caught out with only a few minutes of the match to go. The penalty decision looked harsh and a 2-0 victory for Leeds suggests that they had a comfortable afternoon when they clearly did not. I’ve seen plenty of their fans on Twitter gloating and saying it was easy but many of their more honest fans have acknowledged that Barnsley played well and gave them a game.
Defensively and in midfield we looked a much better team but going forward we looked hesitant and unsure what to do. Wilks led our best opportunities and the worst one saw him hit the side netting when Thomas was waiting unmarked at the far post. If Wilks squares the ball, Thomas scores. You could see the frustration between the players at such moments. The chances we created had to be taken to put Leeds under pressure and we failed to do that. Leeds were wasteful with their own chances but in the end they did what we could not and that was to take one of the opportunities when it came. You can’t criticise them for that. We have to learn from their example. In summary, I do think this will prove to be one of Leeds’ hardest games this season and like all good sides they came through and got the win so fair play to them. I’m not going to make excuses. Leeds won because they took their chances. We lost because we didn’t.
As for Barnsley, well, the performance here is probably our best of the season. We may have lost but I do believe this eclipsed the excellent performance we put in when beating Fulham 1-0. Had we scored first against Leeds I am not going to claim we would have won the game. I think it would have been backs to the wall desperately trying to hang on to the one goal lead and it may have been that Leeds fought back to draw or win. If we scored first it would have been a different game for sure but such thoughts are irrelevant and hypothetical. We at least have a foundation now to go on and try to climb this league. If we can replicate our performance against Leeds when we face other teams then I am confident we can remain in this league. That is the objective. Leeds have the small matter of going for promotion so the pressure on them and expectation from their fans is huge. I wish them the best of luck for the rest of the season, apart from our visit to Elland Road. For Barnsley, survival is our target this year so every point we can get on the board is crucial.
The difference between Barnsley’s defeat against Luton and Leeds was the effort. The players were rightly applauded for their performance against Leeds. If every individual gives 100% and we lose the fans will not jeer them. The grit and determination is what we want to see. We’ll need plenty more of that for the rest of the season if we are going to avoid relegation so we’ll see what this weekend brings with a very difficult trip down to Nottingham Forest. As for me, my next game will be the visit of Brentford and a return to Oakwell for our former star defender, Ethan Pinnock. I wonder what reception he will get from the Barnsley faithful?