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Five in a row for flying Tykes - Interview
Tuesday, 2nd Mar 2021 11:09 by Clive Whittingham

Barnsley have gone from relegation candidates to play-off contenders and arrive at Loftus Road on Wednesday on a run of five straight wins. We spoke to Joe Beardsall from the Red All Over podcast and Oakwell regular @BFC_Luke about how they’ve done it.

Incredible season so far for Barnsley, how's it been to watch?

JB: Watching Barnsley this season has just been incredible, the only negative is not being in the ground. It’s typical of Barnsley to be playing the best football they’ve played in years when we can’t watch it in the flesh but they have been outstanding. We’re fit, solid at the back, brave and competitive in every game. Valerian Ismael demands constant pressing and energy and we have talent all over the pitch. Yeah, it’s strange for a Barnsley fan to be able to say that but it really is the truth.

Luke: It's been a breath of fresh air really. Watching the development of this team with a clear plan in place has been fascinating. Under Struber we actually started really poorly in the league which resulted in us having our longest wait for a win ever at this level at the start of a season. After the heroics of last seasons survival no one really expected us to struggle so much at the start but with constant media speculation about Struber and then Murray taking caretaker charge it kind of makes sense why it took us so long to get going. I guess with not much of a break, trying to pick the team back up to go again must have been difficult too.

Now, I'm not saying that we wouldn't have been able to have the kind of season that we've had so far if Struber was still in charge but Ismael has without question taken us to the next level on the pitch. You could instantly see his will to win and keep on winning and that’s rubbing off on the team. For us it's all about intensity, if our energy levels drop then we're usually not at it, but the reason why we've been so successful is that we've developed a knack at being able to compete with every style we've come up against so far. We can now get results against teams who come to kick us around and make it scrappy which is something Barnsley have never been very good at doing. It's not always pretty but it's very effective and to be honest I feel like I’ve watched Barnsley play well and lose on way too many occasions in the championship so it’s refreshing to see us mix it up with the so called “cloggers”.

Interestingly we tend to play our better football against the so called ‘better’ sides. Fans of opposition teams who have come to make it scrappy and a fight have all thought we’re “just a hoof ball team” whereas teams who come to play always seem to be complimentary about the way we play. Brentford tried to play and we overran them whereas Stoke made it a scrap and we got the better of them. Millwall literally came and played without a striker to try and setup to get something from us and failed. We are direct, but we do it with purpose.

Barnsley’s league results so far…
Barnsley 0-1 Luton Collins 71
Reading 2-0 Barnsley Meite 67, Olise 76
Barnsley 0-0 Coventry
Boro 2-1 Barnsley Howson 45, Akpom 48 – Woodrow pen 89
Barnsley 2-2 Bristol City Helik 2, Woodrow pen 90 – Hunt 47, Bakinson 51
Stoke 2-2 Barnsley Campbell 44, Smith 48 – Simoes 18, Frieser 45
Millwall 1-1 Barnsley Cooper 45 – Mowatt 44
Barnsley 3-0 QPR Woodrow pen 27, Chaplin 37, Barbet og 64
Barnsley 1-0 Watford Mowatt 6
Cardiff 3-0 Barnsley Hoilett 4, Ralls pen 45, Wilson 77
Derby 0-2 Barnsley Chaplin 30, Adeboyejo 83
Barnsley 2-0 Forest Styles 85, Woodrow 88
Barnsley 0-1 Brentford Toney 66
Blackburn 2-1 Barnsley Armstrong 44, Gallagher 78 – Palmer 90
Birmingham 1-2 Barnsley Hogan 56 – Woodrow pen 71, Styles 84
Barnsley 0-4 Bournemouth Billing 12, Solanke 45, Rico 52, Surridge 68
Barnsley 2-1 Wycombe Styles 30, Woodrow pen 61 – Jacobson pen 49
Sheff Wed 1-2 Barnsley Windass 4 – Woodrow 14, Frieser 37
Barnsley 2-1 Preston Mowatt 54, Adeboyejo 80 – Maguire 2
Swansea 2-0 Barnsley Lowe 2, Adeboyejo og 66
Barnsley 2-1 Huddersfield Helik 21, 90 – Edmonds-Green 13
Rotherham 1-2 Barnsley Smith 57 – Woodrow 8, Mowatt 15
Norwich 1-0 Barnsley Buendia 62
Barnsley 0-2 Swansea Cabango 45, Lowe 55
Watford 1-0 Barnsley Deeney pen 27
Barnsley 2-2 Cardiff Anderson 20, Woodrow 52 – Ojo 59, Moore 68
Forest 0-0 Barnsley
Brentford 0-2 Barnsley Chaplin 13, Morris 47
Barnsley 2-1 Blackburn Morris 72, Mowatt 90 – Armstrong 90
Bristol City 0-1 Barnsley Morris 67
Barnsley 2-0 Stoke Styles 9, Dike 90
Barnsley 2-1 Millwall Woodrow 2, Helik 59 – Bennett 6

What's behind the turnaround from relegation candidates to promotion chasers?

JB: The lads on Red All Over and I said last season that if, and it was a big if, we stayed up then this campaign could be so much better because we knew we had talent in the squad. We were just lacking leaders and Championship experience but we’ve since added a couple more experienced heads and even more talent to take this team to the next level.

Luke: Our form has been good ever since the last season restarted after Covid. Struber had started to turn things around prior to that but our form in the final 9 games was nearing play off form and apart from a bad start to this season that form has carried on really. The club has learnt some lessons over the past few years and keeping players together with minimal outgoings has paid off massively. Last season we sold our starting keeper and both starting centre halves and the club seemed to think we’d be okay, which really wasn’t the case. This season we kept the first team together apart from Jacob Brown who we could afford to sell to bring funds in to sign three or four players, two of those in Brittain and Helik have been unbelievably good for us. That’s a much smarter strategy from the club and one that we will hopefully see continue. With us it’s usually an experience problem, the strategy is to sign young players and sell them on but young players need some time to get up to speed so after last season those young players now know and understand the league and what’s required. Sticking by them was the right choice but giving them a chance by adding a couple of experienced players like Sollbauer and Matty James has helped an enormous amount. The owners have been here for a few years now and it's looking like things are starting to fall into place and they’re reaping the rewards of their plan.

The manner and timing of the managerial departure can't have been ideal but actually you've kicked on again, what's Ismael doing differently/particularly well?

JB: Head coach Valerian Ismael is the most important part of the jigsaw which is Barnsley’s success this season. He’s added so much belief to the team, he’s shown them that anything is possible and he knows how to get the best out of his entire squad. This man will manage in the Premier League one day, I don’t doubt that but I hope it’s with Barnsley.

Luke: Struber being part of the red bull setup made it quite obvious to me that the chances of him sticking around for a lengthy period were never really on the cards, but leaving after three league games is not ideal timing at all. The club’s strategy is helpful in these situations because the plan doesn’t change no matter what manager comes in but there are stylistic differences between managers that cannot be avoided so it was always going to be difficult for a new manager coming 3 games into a season with no pre-season with his players. Another thing to note is that in regards to previous recruitment Struber had a fairly large say in players he wanted. The club held back on a few signings they wanted because Struber didn’t and since Struber’s departure the recruitment from the club has been very, very good leaving question marks over Struber’s decisions. Fortunately the transfer window was still open when Struber left which was a big bonus. Struber helped make us tough to beat but we always struggled with scoring goals. Ismael has instantly seen that as a problem meaning we’re now tough to beat and threatening up top. I think Ismael has benefited from joining a club that has a footballing philosophy similar to his own and he’s inherited a squad that is only getting better which is suited to that style of play. He’s probably found it much easier to get the players on board and make an immediate impact.

What sort of shape and style can we expect?

JB: We play three centre backs, then our secret weapons are our wing backs. Callum Styles and Callum Brittain tend to spend most of the game attacking but also are brilliant defenders as well. Alex Mowatt and Romal Palmer control the centre of midfield. We then rotate our six forwards upfront to always keep energy in the press. Each one offers a different threat for defenders which makes it massively difficult to play against us.

Luke: Three at the back with wing backs who press high. Three forwards who press from the front using triggers. Like I’ve previously said we play fairly direct but there is method behind the madness. There can’t be many teams in this league who are as fit as us and we have the ability to wear teams down the later on the game goes. I believe we’ve only conceded once in the final 10 minutes of a game all season which is some stat and is testament to the squad’s fitness. Adding to this, Ismael has made good use of his subs and has previous with changing the entire front line at once. We probably are benefitting from the five subs that we’re allowed to make at the minute. We really do make the most out of trying to keep the game in the oppositions half though, you’ll be able to see just how quickly we squeeze the opposition back and get the whole team to the half way line.

January transfer business?

JB: January is usually the time, when Barnsley are playing well, that the big teams come in and start snapping up our talent. That hasn’t happened this time, maybe it’s because of less spending with the pandemic or maybe our owners realise this team could reach the Premier League one day soon if we keep this group together? Whatever the reason, it was a fantastic transfer window. We recruited Daryl Dike from Orlando City on loan and Carlton Morris on a permanent deal. Both lads have really hit the ground running and massively bolstered our attacking options.

Luke: Probably our best January window we’ve ever had whilst being in the championship. Covid may have actually helped us with teams not as willing to throw money around but usually when we’re competitive at this level and with us having so many younger players other clubs tend to come sniffing around. This January we managed to keep everyone and added three new signings. Liam Kitching has been injured ever since joining so we’ve not seen him in action at all but our other two signings Carlton Morris and Daryl Dike have been exactly what we’ve been crying out for. Our depth upfront was our weakness before January but now it’s our strength. I couldn’t tell you which three will be starting on Wednesday and that’s because everyone one of them has something to offer for different scenarios. Dike is a nightmare for defenders, the opposition bounces off him and his hold up play is extremely useful. Morris has been a revelation since coming into the team. If he can stay fit then he’s got everything you need to be a very, very good striker at this level. Power and pace but extremely good technical ability and he’s already got himself three goals. There’s individual qualities and differences about all of them though and they’re all playing a vital part.

Summer Ins >>> Herbie Kane, 21, CM, Liverpool, £1.3m >>> Michal Helik, 22, CB, Crocovia (Poland) £720k >>> Dominik Frieser, 26, RW, LASK (Austria), £720k >>> Callum Brittain, 22, RB, MK Dons, Undisclosed >>> Jack Aitchison, 22, CF, Celtic, Undisclosed >>> Isaac Christie-Davies, 22, AM, Liverpool, Free >>> Matty James, 29, CM, Leicester, Loan

Summer Outs >>> Jacob Brown, 22, RW, Stoke, £1.98m >> Mallik Wilks, 21, LW, Hull, Undisclosed >>> Cameron McGeehan, 25, CM, Oostende, Undisclosed >>> Toby Sibbick, 21, RB, Oostende, Loan >>> Samuel Sahin-Radlinger, 27, GK, SV Ried (Austria), Free >>> Dani Pinillos, 27, LB, Released >>> Mamadou Thiam, 25, CF, Released >>> Kenny Dougall, 27, DM, Blackpool, Free >>> Jordan Green, 25, RW, Southend, Loan >>> Matty Wolfe, 20, CM, Notts County, Loan >>> Jack Aitchison, 20, CF, Stevenage, Loan >>> Marcel Ritzmaeir, 27, CM, Rapid Vienna, Loan >>> Bambo Diaby, 22, CB, Released/Banned

Winter Ins >>> Liam Kitching, 21, CB, Forest Freen, Undisclosed >>> Carlton Morris, 25, CF, Norwich, Undisclosed >>> Daryl Dike, 20, CF, Orlando, Loan

Winter Outs >>> Luke Thomas, 21, RW, Ipswich, Loan >>> Corey Addai, 23, Chesterfield, Loan >>> Elliot Simoes, 21, AM, Doncaster, Loan >>> Isaac Christie-Davies, 23, AM, Dunajska Streda (Slovakia), Loan >>> Patrick Schmidt, 22, CF, SV Ried (Austria), Loan >>> Mike Bahre, 25, AM, Meppen, Free >>> Jack Greatorex, 20, GK, Penistone, Free

Where is the team strong and where is it weak?

JB: It’s rare to say this as a Barnsley fan but we’re strong everywhere. Michal Helik at the back is a rock alongside Mads Anderson, we don’t concede many goals these days. Alex Mowatt is the leader who holds the team together and wins battles in the middle of the park. I’ve said already, the two Callum’s at wingback are class and fantastic at both ends of the pitch. Then we have six lads who will run their socks off up front and all offer something different. Our only weakness is we play a high line to stay on the attack so if you can knock the ball in behind with a fast striker then you’ll have a chance to get goals against us.

Luke: With the way we’re playing at the minute it’s hard to pinpoint any weaknesses. We’re obviously not unbeatable but in most of the games we’ve played this season I would say that the 1st goal in the game is very important. Especially at this stage in the season the opening goal pretty much shapes the game. We can be susceptible to pace in behind, especially on the counter if the wing backs are pushed up, that’s how we conceded on Saturday and most teams have tried this strategy against us. Obviously if you’re a good enough team to play around the press then you will get joy but that can be risky. Also as a team who presses high if you can force us high and quickly play through us then you could create chances. Apart from that it’s up to us, I’d say that our wing backs are key for us and if they’re having an off day then sometimes we’re just not on it. I’ve already gone through our strengths but our energy levels and high press mixed with our options up top are where we’re currently thriving and picking up wins from.

Play offs on?

JB: Barnsley can definitely make the playoffs in my view. Other championship teams always say when we beat them “we shouldn’t be losing to teams like Barnsley.” They might just see us as little, old Barnsley but if any team think they’ll get an easy ride against this Reds team they’ve massively mistaken. The club have a long term plan of signing young talent, developing them and seeing us progress into becoming a much more successful team. It’s had some bumps in the road but now we’re seeing that the plan can really work. With 14 games to play, we know 8 wins will take us onto 75 points and most likely secure a playoff place. We have to play many of the teams near the bottom and have many winnable matches so I believe Barnsley will be in the playoffs come the end of the season.

Luke: They are at the minute. This month will be very telling I think. We’ve picked up points against some good teams recently and we’ve still got a lot of teams in the bottom half of the table to play so it makes perfect sense as to why Barnsley fans are getting excited. We do play with a lot of intensity and even though we are an extremely fit side there is always a chance we could burn out, especially if we have a couple of bad results the confidence might go too. The fact that we’re talking about it though is brilliant, let’s just enjoy it while we can. One game at a time though.

Links >>> Barnsley Official Website >>> Yorkshire Post – Local Press >>> Sheffield Star – Local Press >>> BBS Fan Forum – Message Board >>> Red All Over– Podcast

The Twitter @JosephBeardsall, @BFC_Luke, @loftforwords

Pictures – Action Images

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Antti_Heinola added 14:07 - Mar 2
oh god.
that sounds ominous.

TacticalR added 16:14 - Mar 3
Thanks to Joe and BFC_Luke.

It sounds like the owners know what they are doing and have had no trouble finding good managers without going for the usual suspects.

In the Championship it makes sense to adapt your style as there are teams in the division who play football and others who play bouncy ball (although there aren't so many of those teams these days).

Also interesting that the selling players model has been paused as there is a chance of promotion.

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