This team continues to have a habit of coming unstuck against sides unwilling to simply hand us goals. The 2-1 defeat to Fleetwood poses a big question of whether we’re actually regressing as the season progresses rather than improving. It still feels like we’re waiting on individuals to produce a moment of individual brilliance or the opposition to make things easy for us. With several key players looking to be fatigued, it’s starting to look like we have little else.
Had we taken a point or even nicked the win, we would have said that getting the result typified the mentality of a successful team. It’s about keeping your head when things aren’t going your own way, something that there was lacking almost entirely from the stands on Saturday. To boo two young players who are having a bad game is not to my own taste, as is judging the performance of our second top-scorer and leading assist maker on their defensive work. But to boo a player before they’ve had the chance to get onto the pitch, as Marc-Antoine Fortuné was, is entirely idiotic and counter-productive.
Funnily enough, it was Fortuné’s introduction alongside Ruben Lameiras and Marcus Tudgay, who both played better than he did by the way, that almost dug us out of a hole. We started to see players link up with each other rather than defer responsibility to their more flair team-mates. It pinned Fleetwood back in their own half and it was a sign that might actually have something resembling a back-up plan.
We got hit by a sucker-punch at the end which was as much as we deserved over the 90 minutes. Yet we remain in the play-off places and could be looking to push further up the table if we can start to put a run together. There are four games to play between now and next Saturday, the whole complexion of the season could be very different by then.
Tony Mowbray has got to find a way to balance the search for a consistent model of play that we’ve yet to find over the past couple of months and the need to keep players fresh. Compared to previous times this season where it’s felt like players have been rested willy-nilly, James Maddison and Jacob Murphy look mentally rather than physically fatigued and may both best be served with a game or two on the substitute’s bench.
The problem is that we don’t really have anyone to step into their spots in the side without having to alter our style of play. Ruben Lameiras is the closest we have to either but he lacks the end product that Murphy has and the confidence that Maddison has, these next few games are a massive chance for him to stake a claim for a starting role though. Other than that, we’re either looking at Stephen Hunt, who would appear to be unfit, or changing the formation entirely in accommodating Andy Rose or one of our many experienced non-goalscoring strikers.
Last Time We Met?
We played a very different Barnsley side back in November to the one we’re about to face. Back then Barnsley’s confidence was on the floor as they were in the midst of a seven-game losing run with manager Lee Johnson close to the sack. As expected, Barnsley were lacking confidence and were put to the sword with ease in the first half with an excellent finish from Ryan Kent in probably his best performance in a Coventry City shirt and Adam Armstrong slotting home from an Aaron Phillips cross.
Then, we lost our composure at the back entirely as we invited pressure in the second-half with Barnsley going more direct. We switched off at a corner to allow Barnsley back into the game, only for Armstrong to score a second after latching onto an excellent O’Brien through ball. Barnsley instantly replied via Josh Scowen who benefitted from Sam Ricketts playing to the whistle after a suspected hand ball. Joe Cole scored an excellent free-kick which secured a win that was harder work than it should have been.
To complete the pointless farce, Aaron Phillips punched the ball our penalty area in the 95th for no reason, Barnsley duly converted the penalty, the final whistle blew with the score at 4-3.
How Are They Doing?
It’s been a weird season at Barnsley, back in November they lost their seventh game in a row yet somehow Lee Johnson remained in the manager’s seat. From the 28th of December onwards, they won their next seven games to surge into the play-off hunt and secured a trip to Wembley in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. Lee Johnson repaid the board’s loyalty to him by jumping ship to Bristol City last month but caretaker manager Paul Heckingbottom has kept the momentum up.
Barnsley were never a team bad enough to be struggling at the wrong end of the table which they’re form over the past two months has shown. Injuries to key midfielder Conor Hourihane and goalkeeper Adam Davies played a role in that unexpected poor run of form and their return has played a big role in their subsequent revival. The catalyst though has been the arrival of winger Adam Hammill on a free transfer who has demonstrated that he is far too good for League One football.
Hammill is suspended for this game after a red card picked up against Bury last Tuesday and another member of Barnsley’s revival is also not available for selection. Burnley defender Kevin Long has returned to his parent club after a successful loan spell which has coincided with a cooling down of form over the past few games.
It could be said that Barnsley have been making much better use of the loan market right now than we have, even without the aforementioned two, they have plenty of talent to call upon from a mixture of loan and permanent players. Southampton loanee Lloyd Isgrove and ex-Inverness man Marley Watkins on the wings offer skill and a direct goal-threat respectively. Conor Hourihane is influential in the centre of the park and an excellent set-piece taker. There is also the hard-working Sam Winnall leading the line with 18-goals now for the season. In many ways, Barnsley are a year or two ahead of us as a team even though the league season hasn’t quite suggested that so far.
Having won 9 of their last 11 games, Barnsley are going to be very confident here that they will beat us at home to boost their play-off bid. All of a sudden, we’re entering a game where we’re hoping we don’t lose a goal early on to allow the confidence of a team in form to grow, that was us just a couple of months ago. Football stands still for no-one.
I don’t want us to approach this game with the mentality that a point would be good, it would be an indication that we’re starting to believe the season is slipping away from us rather than just wanting to get back to where we’re supposed to be. We don’t have to attack Barnsley all guns blazing to show that we still believe in ourselves but to go out there, impose ourselves on the game, remind Barnsley of our quality and take our chances would be just the tonic after the debacle on Saturday.
My feeling right now is that the mentality has already shifted for the worst, I’m predicting a 3-1 loss.