An barely believable win on Saturday against MK ‘Dons’. Our first shot on goal was saved by the keeper and went out for a corner. Our second shot on goal was Chris Stokes’ header to open the scoring. Our third short on goal put us 2-0 ahead. After that it was nothing but an MK ‘Dons’ barrage with us barely able to string three passes together, let alone get out of our own half.
Despite the ‘Dons’ eventually getting a goal early-on in the second-half, we admirably kept them out largely to long-range pot-shots. Lee Burge went a long way towards making up for that disastrous display against Worcester with a confident display that calmed what might have been a nervy defence down. The win may have been down to the law of averages (or a progression to the mean) but three points and the appointment of a new manager gives us a great chance to build some momentum.
Before I get into the full swing of this preview, some praise for caretaker manager Neil MacFarlane. Still at the club who sacked his best friend, it would have been easy for him to phone it in, and no-one would have blamed him either for losing against MK ‘Dons’. Instead, the team played with the same intensity (probably slightly more) that had been the hall-mark of Steven Pressley’s reign. If we do stay up this season, Neil MacFarlane will have played a massive role in doing so.
It seems unlikely that any changes will be made to the starting 11 unless Tony Mowbray is already influencing things behind the scenes. Chris Stokes looked visibly exhausted by half-time on Saturday and could be given a rest after a whirlwind start to life in the Football League. Another change that could be made is that of Luke Williams after another quiet display out of position on the left of midfield.
Possible Line-Up: (4-4-2) Burge; Phillips, Pennington, Martin, Stokes; O’Brien, Barton, Fleck, Williams; Tudgay, Samuel.
Last Time We Met
Little did we know it back then, but our last game against Barnsley was a landmark occasion for this football club. We were just two days away from learning that Coventry City would be returning to the Ricoh Arena as we faced Barnsley in what was to become the final Coventry City ‘home’ game at Sixfields. Heading into that game Steven Pressley would have been hoping to take the same work-rate and defensive steel that was on show in a recent ‘home’ win against Sheffield United.
Current joint top-scorer for the season Josh McQuoid took advantage of a brain freeze in the Barnsley defence to give us an early lead. However a fantastic free-kick from Conor Hourihane levelled the scores. Jordan Clarke scored from a rebounded free-kick to put us back in front but before the half was out, Leroy Lita took advantage of a shocking mistake from Ryan Allsop to score a tap-in. The Sky Blues had the best of the closing stages of the game with Ryan Haynes seeing plenty of the ball but we were unable to get that all-important winner. Very much two points dropped.
How Are They Doing?
Barnsley are, hopefully, us in a week’s time. They had been okay under Danny Wilson for much of the season whilst attempting to bed in young and hungry players into a team that had just been relegated from the Championship. However they struggled for form in the new year, with sloppy defensive errors and an injury to the important forward Sam Winnall saw them drop dangerously close to the relegation zone. Wilson was sacked three weeks ago and after a 5-1 defeat to Crawley, the Tykes are now on a three-game winning streak having recently appointed ex-Oldham boss Lee Johnson.
The key player in that uplift in form has been Manchester United loanee Ben Pearson. A diminutive midfielder but tigerish and dynamic, in just a month Pearson has really caught the eye with lung-busting runs through the heart of midfield to create and score goals. Adam Barton and John Fleck are never going to be the most defensively secure midfield partnership and it will be a big ask for them to deal with the direct threat that Pearson poses in the centre of the park.
Barnsley will be boosted by the recent return of Sam Winnall who should be fit enough to make the bench. but in his stead Stoke loanee George Waring has been leading the line effectively. Standing at 6 foot 5, Waring offers a very obvious physical threat and ‘has good feet for a big man’. He may only have scored twice in 11 appearances for Barnsley but he scored on Saturday and will be someone we will have to deal with regardless of whether he scores or not.
Names to look out for in the rest of the team are recent signing Josh Scowen in midfield who offers more dynamism to the team than James Bailey who he is keeping on the bench. Conor Hourihane has 12 goals from central midfield and is a dangerous set-piece taker although out-of-form of late. Young keeper Adam Davies is keeping ex-Chelsea man Ross Turnbull out of the team. Finally, in Martin Cranie and Lewin Nyatanga, Barnsley have two classy, albeit error-prone, centre-backs to help them build from the back.
Possible Line-Up: (4-2-3-1) Davies; Holgate, Cranie, Nyatanga, Smith; Scowen, Pearson; O’Sullivan, Hourihane, Lalkovic; Waring.
Despite that win over MK ‘Dons’ to get out of the bottom four being a massive boost, we are still in a perilous situation and cannot afford to take our foot off the pedal. Tony Mowbray will have a better chance of implementing his preferred patient style of play the further we are away from the relegation zone and it’s not hard to see things getting difficult early-on for the new guy if the team are passing sideways and not getting instant results. The games are coming thick and fast in March and our situation in the league could change rapidly, for better or worse.
Barnsley themselves are in great form at the moment and will be hoping to make this their fourth win in a row to put them in the hunt for the play-offs. If we repeat Saturday’s performance, I can’t see us getting lucky again. With the team desperate for points in the relegation battle and also looking to impress the new man, I can see this being a 1-1 draw.