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 29 September 2019
Barnsley Vs Brentford
Pre-Match Mood: Mildly positive >>>>>>>>>>
Following the 2-0 home defeat against Leeds, Barnsley paid a visit to Nottingham Forest. The City Ground hasn’t been one of our best stadiums in recent years and we came up against a Forest side who had had a decent start to the season. After a great performance against Leeds, we put in a good showing against Forest, especially in the second half. The harsh reality of the Championship came home to roost for the Tykes though. Dominant in the second half, the Reds created plenty of chances but failed to take them. Against the run of play, Forest created a chance of their own and duly took it. And thus we fell to a 1-0 defeat. More positives were there at the final whistle with the Forest manager, Sabri Lamouchi, and the fans admitting a team better at scoring would have probably beaten them. Barnsley’s 4 goals all season meant a golden opportunity was wasted to draw or possibly even beat a Forest team that did not play as well as they are capable of. Sadly, we’re sounding like a broken record by saying we should have done this and that. For all our effort and bravado, we had no points to show for it.
Our next opponents were Brentford who had not had the best of starts to the season but were certainly capable of causing us many problems if we underestimated them. The Bees’ visit also marked a return to Oakwell for Ethan Pinnock, our best defender last season, who left us in the summer and has been a big miss up to this point. Like us, Brentford have found scoring goals quite a challenge (only 5 goals prior to our meeting) so approaching the game my hope was that our defence could keep their chances to a minimum and that we ourselves could finally get back to finding the net. 4 goals in two months is not the return of a team that is going to stay in the Championship. Harsh but fair, I feel.
I approached the game with optimism though. Brentford presented the Tykes with the first of two home games, with Derby to follow three days later. A return of two wins would be very handy to get our season back on track. Defeat in either would be frustrating. Defeat in both would be calamitous. Fortress Oakwell is already in danger of becoming a bouncy castle with 2 straight defeats having gone unbeaten there last season. The highs of the opening day victory over Fulham seemed a long time ago.
The Game Itself
Another Sunday trip to Oakwell was not helped by the weather which was that fine, but persistent, rainfall. It had rained all morning so the prospect of a good game was under threat with the pitch likely to be more like a swamp than a pristine playing surface. I wanted a good start and Barnsley certainly delivered one. Cauley Woodrow found the top corner with just 1 minute on the clock. Oakwell was in raptures and the unity between the players was there for all to see with everyone, except the goalkeeper Brad Collins, celebrating together. Brentford immediately looked rocked by this early setback and it was imperative that we pushed on. Barnsley continued to pile forward and created multiple chances with Conor Chaplin having a shot crucially blocked when 2-0 looked more likely. The most frustrating moment, however, was when Chaplin found Woodrow who did make it 2-0 only for it to be – correctly – flagged offside. Either Woodrow went too early or Chaplin was too late passing the ball. Either way it was a huge moment in the game.
After 25 minutes or so, Brentford began to find a way back into the game. Their passing was smoother and more precise than ours. They suddenly looked more at ease than we did. Collins pulled off a good save when most of us in the Ponty End thought it was offside but nothing was given with the linesman struggling to keep up with play. Having failed to make it 2-0 at one end, a Barnsley corner broke down, Brentford countered and Ollie Watkins headed in for 1-1. It looked offside from where I was in the build-up but other Tykes fans have confirmed it was a perfectly good goal and having now seen the highlights it was a brutal counter the Bees. Having been boosted by Woodrow’s early goal, Barnsley were suddenly struggling. Brentford should have been 2-1 up at half-time but, amazingly, from the same chance they hit the post, crossbar and fired wide when it looked easier to score with all three opportunities. It was a massive let-off for Barnsley. 1-1 it was at half-time with all to play for.
In the second half, I honestly thought that Barnsley would come out full of purpose and determined to put Brentford under pressure. Instead, Brentford were on the attack and in the first minute a cross into the box was misjudged by Collins and that man Watkins was there to head in for 2-1. It was a hammer blow but hard to argue that Brentford did not deserve it. I take some responsibility for this error from Collins. In the first half I had said what a great player he was for us and then that happened in the second half. Less the commentator’s curse and more the twat in the terraces not knowing when to keep his mouth shut.
Barnsley now had the second half to stage a fightback but it never came. After good performances against Leeds and Nottingham Forest we looked all over the place. Substitutions by Daniel Stendel offered little, save Malik Wilks, whose trickery did cause one or two problems for the Bees but their defence generally handled him well. We once again looked like a team that had no idea how to score a goal. We know where the goal is, we approach it, but transferring the ball into the net has become rocket science again. Brentford duly killed the game when another cross was sent in and – yes, you guessed it – Watkins made it 3-1 with a diving header. Collins did get a hand to it but the header was too powerful and ball nestled in the net. That was game over and the Oakwell faithful knew it with some starting to make the miserable journey home. We continued to push forward but too many players had long since given up and there was no purpose or cohesion behind our play. Every time Brentford came forward it looked like a goal was coming but they failed to add to their lead, sparing us from further embarrassment. Brentford are such a kind club. It could have been 5-1, even 6-1, in the end. Not bad for a team that supposedly was struggling for goals. The day was perfectly summed up when ex-Tyke, Ethan Pinnock, came on to good applause from the Barnsley fans and showed us what we are missing, particularly with some no-nonsense defending against Malik Wilks. It was a grim walk home after the game with the rain continuing to fall.
Post-Match Mood: >>>>>>>>>> Wishing I was in a drunken haze
Approaching the game against Brentford I expected a tricky test but felt we would be able to earn what would have been only our second win of the season. To be 1-0 up in the first minute was a dream start but after wasting good chances for a 2-0 lead we simply fell apart. You can’t afford to do that in the Championship. You are one promotion away from the Premier League. The competition in this division is fierce. Once Brentford had got back to 1-1, too many heads dropped. In the second half the Bees were by far the better team and you could argue that 3-1 was a generous scoreline in the end (for us!); it probably should have been more. Seeing Ethan Pinnock come on in the second half was a reminder of what Barnsley are missing; someone more assured in defence than we were and live on Sky as well for all the world to see. Happy days!
It’s not all negative with this game though. At least we have scored a goal, our first since, I believe, the humiliating 3-1 home defeat against Luton. Woodrow was the scorer and one of my big problems with the team is that we seem to be relying solely on him to get us the goals and that isn’t fair on him. Rather than staying up front, Woodrow is constantly coming deep to help out in midfield and try to create something. Against Brentford I would argue only Woodrow and Alex Mowatt could hold their heads up high. Neither of them stopped running for the entire 90 minutes. That wasn’t the case with the other players. Too many were slow tracking back when Brentford broke quickly, the passing was loose and lazy, and the urgency was simply not there. At 2-1 down, even 3-1 down, there was still something to fight for but some players looked to have thrown in the towel at half-time. Woodrow cut a visibly frustrated figure in the second half and if we continue to expect him to dig us out of this hole on his own then I can see him leaving the club, if not in January, then certainly next summer.
It’s hard to explain where the good performances have gone. A bright start against Brentford soon dissipated and the Bees fans, subdued early in that first half, were soon in good voice and ended the game on a high note while many of the Oakwell faithful left early, the continual downpour doing nothing to boost their deflation. I can’t even blame a soggy pitch for our dismal showing as it did not hinder Brentford. They passed the ball around quickly and precisely, carving their way through us so effortlessly that you would have been forgiven for thinking they had more players on the pitch. The post-match consensus among the fans was to vent fury at the board and not at the manager, Daniel Stendel. The reality seems to be that Stendel wanted more experienced players in the summer to boost the team but this hasn’t happened. Instead, the board have a policy of signing youngsters and tying them down to long-term deals, with the intention of developing them and later selling them for a tidy profit. This approach to the team is one of the reasons we are now languishing in the bottom 3 with struggling Stoke and Huddersfield below us but both inevitably going to improve real soon. When that happens, Barnsley need to find three other teams in this league to keep below us. Right now, I can’t pinpoint where those three teams are.
At this moment in time I believe we have a great manager in Daniel Stendel but if the board do not support him with experienced players to help out our young side then we will inevitably be going back down to League One this year. The fact Stendel has not signed a new contract with us is telling. Why commit yourself to a circus? The board were adamant that they are aiming higher but the fans are not seeing the ambition. We did sign many players in the summer and made an excellent profit on selling the likes of Pinnock, Liam Lindsay and Keiffer Moore, all players that were vital last season and would have been first choices for this side had they stayed or wanted to. A club that is promoted and sells its top scorer, no.1 goalkeeper and two best defenders without recruiting decent replacements is going to struggle. The board are promising new players come January so Barnsley need to navigate three more months and hope we are still in touch with the teams above. Right now optimism is not high given some of the upcoming fixtures. We won’t abandon the team, of course, but the promotion highs of last season feel like longer than five months ago.
Next up is a home game against Derby which I will not be attending due to a hospital appointment. Hopefully the team look at themselves in the mirror in the coming days, stop feeling sorry for themselves and rediscover that grit and determination that pushed Leeds so hard and defeated Fulham. I’ll next be back on Saturday 19th October for a home game against high flying Swansea. Before that is a trip to Preston. Both games will be tough. I currently feel like Sam Beckett in Quantum Leap.