Barnsley away is a fixture that holds a special place in my heart. 30 years ago a visit to Oakwell marked my first proper away fixture, my only previous experience of away games being Lancashire cup ties at Blackpool and Preston.
There was a big game feel that day and Rovers turned out in numbers with the season reaching the business end, as well as offering us a chance to get a first glimpse of what seemed like our 25th new signing of an extraordinary season.
The more cynical onlookers suggested that Duncan Shearer had only been bought to neutralise the threat of Swindon Town in the promotion race, but we didn’t care. Since Newell has been carried off as we battered Newcastle at Ewood, things hadn’t been clicking, and it only took 25 minutes for the signing to look inspired.
A long diagonal ball from Alan Wright was flicked almost perfectly into Shearer’s path by Barnsley defender under pressure from Speedie, and he steered it in on the turn. A chant that would become commonplace in about 6 months time rang out, but that was this particular Shearer’s only real contribution in Rovers colours as he joined the failed attempts to replace the injured Mike Newell Club with Roy Wegerle over his 6 appearances. Some pretty crap defending later and we’d conspired to lose the game 2-1, this fixture being the second of 6 defeats on the bounce and part of a longer wretched run of form the modern day Tony Mowbray might even struggle to survive.
It all worked out ok in the end though. Shameless plug - re-live this game and this season, as well as many others, set to a soundtrack of the day withSound of the Season at Rovers Radio - select PODCAST from menu
Barnsley’s own moment in the sun came 5 years later as a second place finish took them to the top flight of English football for the first, and to date only time in their 134 year history. Under Danny Wilson, Barnsley developed a much admired and very successful passing style, and Neil Redfern proved a much more effective spearhead of their attack than the fat Dingle they binned off - I can’t see the Padiham Predator playing for anyone where it’s just like watching Brazil!
Our next trip to Oakwell came in November 1997, for what was a real game of two halves. After ourstrong start to the season, a Sherwood goal in the opening period we completely dominated led me to believe a win would be routine. However, Barnsley’s second half display was at times sublime… all one and two touch stuff, little flicks, brilliant movement, spectacular efforts, and we came away grateful for the point knowing there was more than a little truth to the chants.
Fast forward. Last year represented Barnsley’s best ever finishing position since that solitary Premier League season. A fifth place finish and a narrow defeat over two legs in the playoff semis making a mockery of the narrative that you can only reach the top 6 by being a “big club” or spending big money. Their owner, Chien Lee also has stakes in 5 other clubs scattered throughout Europe and iscredited, if that’s the right word, with bringing a “Moneyball” approach to his clubs. Andy Holt was battering him and this approach on Twitter this morning. The multi ownership is worrying, but football has to be unique in its constant search for and celebration of “investors”, but then complain when they look for a return… but I digress.
At ground level, it’s a bit more nuanced. While their style may have suggested an analytical andstatistical approach, playing the percentages is nothing new. The signing of Daryl Dike, a catalyst of their good form in the second half of the season,also flew in the face of their supposedly rigid model. Yes, he’s young, but his loan was never going to become permanent after a $20 million buy out clause. For the past couple of years though their recruitment has been far reaching, picking up young players cheaply from all over the place.
Valerien Ismael was an inspired appointment, andreplacing him was always going to be a tough task. Markus Schopp hasn’t had the easiest time of it so far with injuries (and Visas!) and results have been, at best, mixed. Expect them to play a 3-4-3 formation with Cauley Woodrow at the top, but the team and tactics have not been settled thus far, so the rest is anyone’s guess. They play Stoke tonight which might give some inkling.
Mowbray must have been given some food for thought after the Hull game. The Armstrong shaped hole hasn’t been addressed, and I expect we will see various different solutions throughout the season. I’d like to see this line up against Barnsley:
Nyambe Lenihan Ayala Pickering
Dolan Butterworth Brereton
I know there is no chance, but we obviously lack a centre forward, apart from Gallagher who is injured and of questionable quality particularly for our style of play. Elsewhere on the pitch we seem to haveenough options, or at least we will when some of the injuries return, but Armstrong going has left a void. Hal Robson-Kanu anyone?
The back 4 and midfield picks itself, though I have been impressed with Buckley so far, but not as a wide forward.
Prediction: Score draw.
Our last two performances haven’t been without their issues, but a 4 point return added to our early season haul has given us a points tally far greater than I’d have expected at this stage. With the transfer window now out of the way, and a manager who is going nowhere for the moment, we arewhere we are. It’s great to see we actually have some really talented players and a team who are easy to get behind for 90 minutes - I plan to switch off from all the other shite and do that on aSaturday.
That’s not to say that everything at the club is wonderful, far from it. Our pathetic CEO ought to have a look at how Barnsley, a minuscule club in comparison to Rovers, are now averaging higher attendances than us. A fantastic early bird season ticket offer (that had run its course way before Waggott thought about putting ours on sale), providing real value will have helped.