Barnsley’s barnstorming assault on the playoffs, which suffered a pause at Coventry at the weekend, was back on track with an emphatic victory over a Huddersfield Town side which failed to resist the Tykes’ relentlessness. Though only a single goal separated the sides at the end, there were stark differences in application, organisation and tactical nous.
Town’s own victory at Forest coupled with the failings of rivals leaves just enough breathing space to avoid the drop barring remarkable transformation in form by 2 of those below them. This may have influenced the decision to rest both full-backs, Pipa and Toffolo, which fatally weakened the home side facing an ultra-aggressive opponent well equipped to exploit any fragilities.
With Campbell unavailable through injury and Vallejo still suffering the effects of concussion, Corberán adopted a 3-5-2 formation with Sanogo paired with the returning Koroma, making a very welcome return to action. Eiting also returned on the bench and a very different line up is to be expected at Ewood Park which was clearly seen as a better prospect for points than this Yorkshire derby.
A fairly even first half of low quality but high endeavour resulted in few opportunities for either side. Barnsley contained Town’s attempted attacks with some comfort and, up to injury time, mustered a couple of weak efforts easily saved by Schofield. However, as the extended time began, Mowatt wasted an excellent chance following good work down the left which opened Town up for the first time.
For Town, a bright start by Sanogo, who used his physical presence well, brought Rowe and Koroma into play but his influence faded after the first 15 minutes and the home side’s already sporadic threat disappeared.
If the first half stalemate had raised hopes that Town could contain Barnsley’s intensity and will to win, allowing them to collect a valuable if completely uninspiring point, they were quickly disabused in a second-half dominated by the visitors.
The Tykes’ demands of their opponents are severe. Concentration, physical resistance and matching their drive add up to a formidable conundrum and while Town’s efforts to meet those demands held up in the first half, it didn’t take a great deal of imagination to foresee them cracking under the strain in the second. Which they duly did.
The match was played almost entirely on Barnsley’s terms; their threats, their physicality and their intensity. Town never looked like turning the tables as they clung on to the hope of a point and there was an inevitability about the breakthrough which owed as much too disorganised defending as the undoubtedly excellent improvisation by Barnsley’s American forward.
Dike has been a revelation since his arrival in South Yorkshire. While Town scrambled to locate out of contract strikers and ended up with a non-scoring one and a non-playing one, Barnsley recruited a young talent to immediately fit into their style of play.
The goal arrived shortly after Town made a complete mess of a breakaway as the ball was lost cheaply with Koroma unmarked and ready to pounce. Barnsley’s counter saw Morris attack the left side of the box and attract several defensive Town players toward him for some reason known only to themselves. The disorganisation this created left a big hole in the box and the deflected delivery bypassed a poor attempt to intercept by Bacuna and bounced awkwardly for Dikes, who bicycle kicked the ball past Schofield.
Inexplicably, Duane Holmes wandered away from the post where the ball entered.
It was little more than Barnsley deserved as they had subjected Town to torrid pressure as they strived for the win to cement their play off spot. The belief and determination of the visitors threatened to overwhelm their timid hosts who could barely get out of their own half and had yet to register a shot on target.
Having softened up the Terriers in a forgettable first half, Barnsley’s turning of the screw illustrated and explained their success, which has seen them rise in direct contrast to Town’s fall since the Boxing Day meeting at Oakwell when both were on the same points total.
One up and turning the screw, the visitors let Town off the hook a couple of times as they searched for a second before Sarr made an excellent goal line clearance for the umpteenth time this season only for the ball to be headed back on to the bar.
Creaking like an outhouse door, the appearance of Eiting for the disappointing Holmes introduced desperately needed class to Town’s midfield and his cameo, which included a couple of good balls forward, provided a modicum of solace if not much hope for this game.
Bacuna was replaced by Aarons at the same time and it was the substitute who set up O’Brien for Town’s only worthwhile attempt of the evening which flew tamely into the midriff of Barnsley’s under-employed keeper.
The offensive output throughout was pathetic and a Barnsley second always seemed significantly more likely than an equaliser.
The return of Koroma and Eiting provided a shaft of light in a depressingly familiar evening when defeat always seemed inevitable and acceptance of it suspected.
For Barnsley, surely the story of the Championship season, exciting times lay ahead and it will be fun to watch them take their unique, if not entirely loveable, style to the other play off contenders. Swansea, in particular, will be hoping to avoid them but none of them will relish the challenge. Good luck to them.
After the past few seasons and the calendar year of 2021, Town owe a debt to supporters as this interminable season finally comes to an end. They can start by finally putting relegation fears to bed at Blackburn. Perhaps the commercial team can provide details of who we can turn to for the rest of the debt collection next season?