Tomorrow night we make our second visit to Barnsley’s Oakwell stadium this season, writes Tom Morton.
Our last encounter was at the end of August in the EFL Trophy group game. Of course, you can’t read too much into the score (3-0) given tomorrow is a league game. But, barely six weeks ago, it did see the debut of Jack Diamond who has certainly grown in strength. It also saw yet another red for James Norwood against us. That was Norwood’s full debut for Barnsley and he has been a regular since then. Oh, apart from at the weekend when he served a suspension for receiving five yellows already this season. Consistent form.
The Tykes sit ninth in the table to our fifteenth, so you’d expect a performance gap between us. However, if you account for our game in hand over them we could easily be level on points. If you strip it back we do feel quite similar on the stats front. For example, we’re both scoring about 1.2 goals per game. What is different is that again we are overperforming against expectation (xG of 0.8) whilst they are underperforming (xG of 1.46).
What does stand in our favour is form. We’ve conceded just one goal in three games against top teams – and let’s be honest, that single goal was a gift from our mistake. Our defending, at times woefully lacklustre last season, suddenly seems rock solid. By contrast, Barnsley are on a bit of bad form. Two losses and a draw from the last three has seen them slip out of the playoff places – on Saturday they lost to Morecambe, handing the shrimps just their second win of the season.
It does, by the way, feel odd to be talking about being on par with Barnsley. If anyone has a claim to “Big Club” in League One it is the Tykes, having spent the most time in the Championship (or equivalent) of any team here (and in fact any other team in the EFL). Their main spell started in the early 80s and culminated in a single season in the Premiership for 97/98. Since 2002 they’ve slipped up and down between the second and third tiers a few times – generally only spending a season or two in League One.
Norwood will definitely start as he is the favoured striker. If I were Mark Kennedy I would certainly be detailing Jackson or Poole to give him plenty of opportunity to get another card. The Tykes will line up 3-4-3 with Norwood the target man. Look out for H Kane making an appearance. Sorry, that’s Herbie Kane the former Liverpool U21 player. I also like the look of Jordan Williams, the right-back has been a stalwart at Barnsley since 2018 and is returning after a minor injury.
With championship pedigree, you’d expect tomorrow’s game to be some great football. It might well be, but we may also choose to follow Morecambe’s tactics and break the game up to stop the Tykes from playing. Watching highlights, they are pretty sharp at getting the ball across the six-yard box. Against Morecambe, they fizzed it in several times as good as you’d expect and were unlucky not to score. Equally, they are happy having a go from outside the box. Honestly perhaps a little too happy; they had 14 shots but only 3 hit the target. It would not be a bad tactic to sit solid and let them have a pop from just too far out to be a threat.
At the back, it’s hard to fault. The back three look well-drilled with the very experienced Mads Anderson having been with the club since 2019. If there was a criticism it’s that their line is a bit slow at times giving lots of opportunity for Diamond or Mandriou to run at them (I really enjoyed our goal against Sheffield at the weekend – a proper strikers goal – more of the same please). However, the truth is it will be tough to score against the Tykes – they are currently fifth-best in the league this season for goals conceded.
We do have a long history with Barnsley, but not much recently. Barring a routine encounter in the league cup in 2009 and a 2-legged encounter in the same competition in 1999, we’ve not regularly faced the Tykes since the 70s. It’s interesting, though, that we did face them a lot. 67 times, in fact, between 1898 and 1979. Over the years we have racked up some big scores against each other – regularly getting over four goals in matches – and our Head 2 Head is fairly even for wins/losses.
As usual, non of this matters going into tomorrow’s game. What does matter is that we rolled over Barnsley with some ease a few weeks ago, albeit in a cup game, and they are smarting from that and a current poor run. I would expect a tough game with them hoping to return the favour and get themselves back on track.