Barnsley's young guns defying odds and circumstances - Interview
Monday, 6th Mar 2017 23:55 by Clive Whittingham
Barnsley have defied the odds, and the ruthless harvesting of their best players, to blast their way into the top half of the Championship. Our Oakwell resident Baz explains how, and whether it’s sustainable.
Assess Barnsley’s season for us, seems like a real success story?
Baz: We have certainly exceeded expectations and although our form has inevitably dipped a bit since Sam Winnall (Sheff Wed), Conor Hourihane and James Bree (both Villa) left during the January transfer window, it's been a very enjoyable season. The loss at Derby at the weekend has probably put an end to any hopes we had of making the play offs but the fact that we were even in with a chance of that up until the last couple of weeks is a sign of how well we have played. Unlike any of the seasons during our last stint in the second tier, we have been competitive in the vast majority of matches and it's been refreshing to not have to seriously worry about being relegated. Some of our football, especially on the counter attack, has been a joy to watch.
Can it be maintained given that the “bigger clubs” keep coming after your best players? Do you always have to sell?
Baz: It will be very difficult to maintain this as our better players are always going to be attracted by bigger wages and "bigger clubs" who are more likely to get promoted. In the cases of Winnall and Hourihane, they were coming towards the end of their contracts and weren't in a hurry to sign another so the club had no real option but to sell. Manager Paul Heckingbottom has done a great job in minimising the impact those departures have had on the team, but having to regularly change players in key positions in not likely to lead to success in the long run. We appear to have a very good scouting system which has allowed us to recruit some excellent players from League Two and non-league clubs over the last couple of years and we just have to hope that will continue.
Presumably very satisfying, and quite telling (team always beats individuals) that you won at Aston Villa after they bought two of your players…
Baz: Yes that was a great night, we were much the better side. Hourihane was very poor, although I'm sure he'll come good for them. Nice to see they've just reported a loss of £81m but could still afford a January transfer spending spree.
Adam Armstrong hasn’t quite hit the heights that were expected of him, particularly in a team that’s scored loads of goals, what’s the story there? Tom Bradshaw on the other hand looks brilliant!
Baz: Armstrong hasn't scored as many goals as we would have hoped but he's clearly a very talented player and his close control is top class. You can see why Benitez offered him a new contract at the start of the season. He has had to play out of position at times and on occasion up front on his own which he has struggled with, not least because he's only 5ft 8ins tall. I think Bradshaw found the step up to the Championship difficult at first but since Winnall has left he's been playing regularly, scoring goals and his confidence is improving with every match.
Not a lot of action for Cole Kpekawa – his attitude was questioned at Rangers, what’s the story at Barnsley?
Baz: Due to injuries he did get a few games earlier in the season, but that was during a tough run of fixtures including Brighton and Leeds away. I think he struggled defensively athough in fairness to him he looked good going forward. I can't say I've heard anything about an attitude problem and I suspect Heckingbottom just doesn't think he's ready to play at this level yet but he's still young so hopefully will develop into a decent player.
Star men in the team?
Baz: Full back Andy Yiadom has had a great season, rarely has a bad game and we really missed him when he played for Ghana in the Africa Cup of Nations. Marley Watkins, who usually plays on the wing, has also been very consistent this season and can cause defences a real problem.
Baz: Since Hourihane left we've lacked creativity in central midfield and we've certainly missed his delivery from dead balls.
Realistically, short medium and long term aims for the club? Or is this as good as it gets when you have to sell to survive?
Baz: This season we really should aim for a top half finish, which when you compare us with how the other promoted teams are doing would be a great achievement. Our goal over the next few seasons should be a top 6 finish, but it's hard to see how that is achievable because any progress we make will almost certainly be disrupted during each transfer window. A more realistic aim is to establish ourselves in this division and avoid any relegation scraps over the next few years.
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