Whilst I am in the middle of writing this blog, our illustrious chairman Dean Hoyle is currently on BBC Radio Leeds once again speaking utter sense. This once again raises the question where would be if Hoyle had not taken over? Thank god we don’t have to know about the answer.
Anyway that brings me onto Barnsley. The last time Town faced our Yorkshire rivals was back in 2006 in the play-offs at home, when Ken Davy was still in charge and it’s a game that still lingers in my memory. (Referee Chris Foy basically let Andy Booth get assaulted constantly) Barnsley won late on, went up via the play-offs and have done a good job of maintaining their Championship status on a budget ever since.
However, Saturday’s game showed me why that status is definitely under threat this season. Why, you may ask? Well again I came away from a game knowing we had won without playing nowhere near at our best and still we were the better team on the day. Barnsley boss Keith Hill may have bemoaned Barnsley’s budget before the game, comparing his side to a Mini and ours to Rolls Royce, but in reality ours is just a Mini Cooper S. We may have a bit of money, but nowhere near the likes of some Championship teams. *cough* BLACKBURN *cough*.
Of course Hill will be a little bitter after we beat them to the signature of Oliver Norwood and only this week took Simon Church on loan from Reading, with Barnsley also interested. In a way it made this Yorkshire derby a little bit more interesting, but I was still fully confident of all three points.
That confidence was further raised by the inclusion of the fit again Jermaine Beckford and a debut for Simon Church, Championship class strikers that we missed in the previous two games and I mean no disrespect to Lee Novak. I was though slightly perplexed to see Church posted on the wing and Danny Ward left out once again, but was less surprised to see Norwood dropped to the bench after some mundane performances.
The first half hour we continued our indifferent form and poor ball retention, which was compounded by Sean Scannell constantly running down blind alleys every time we actually regained possession. Scannell really does frustrate me as it is obvious that the lad has some talent, but he constantly makes the wrong decisions and is lazy tracking back, which on Saturday left Paul Dixon hopelessly exposed at times. I’m also yet to see him put in a cross of any merit, is he actually a winger or not?
Anyway, it was a first half of few chances with Alex Smithies being tested from long range and seeing a Marlon Harewood header go wide of his post when he really should have hit the target, whilst Church tested Luke Steele with a powerful strike from 12 yards that stung the keepers hands. With a disappointing first half drawing to a close, Town hit Barnsley on the counter with Scannell actually made the right decision and fed the ball into Church who crossed for Beckford to head us into the lead at the near post. 1-0 at half time and I couldn’t help but feel it was slightly undeserved and I couldn’t help but want Ward to come on as we needed someone to actually start putting balls into the box.
Hill must have given his players the hairdryer treatment at half time as they came out and dominated possession for the first ten minutes. Despite this they didn’t really threaten Smithies and KEEEEF Southern and Clayton in the centre of the park broke play up well. On the hour mark Beckford went off after pulling up (hopefully just a precaution) and Danny Ward finally came on. This was to be pivotal, as we finally started controlling the game and creating chances.
The best chance for Town to kill the game off fell to Lee Novak who terrifically ran down the line, cut inside into the box beating two defenders and forcing Steele into a terrific save although his finish could have been better placed. For those who saw the Football League Show apparently it was Alex Smithies who made the save, shocking on their part.
Barnsley tried to change things up by bringing on the former Ajax and Spurs striker Mido. Well hasn’t he had a fall from grace, from winning the African cup of Nations six years ago to now looking like an advert for Fray Bentos pies and fast becoming more of a journeyman than Steve Claridge. Mido could do nothing right, his first contribution was a poor defensive header that gave us a corner, his second was yellow card for a poor challenge. Bless him, at least he tried.
Big Al (Alan, Alan Lee to those who don’t know their cult heroes) came on with ten minutes left to greater effect. Never thought that I would ever say that I think Alan Lee is better than Mido ever. Lee was in the thick of the action, holding the ball up brilliantly and should have won us a penalty when he ceased on a poor back pass and was brought down by Steele, not given. I’d say that was about on par with the penalty we had given against us on Tuesday as a bad decision. (some say it wasn’t though, I still haven’t seen proof otherwise though)
Anyway we saw the game out with ease, giving us yet another 1-0 win when we looked far from our best. Something is just not quite right at the moment and I just can’t put my finger on it. Of course James Vaughan’s absence is huge for us, as we look a far superior side with his inclusion, but we have been poor for a while now. Could it be Norwood’s dip in form given how well he hit the ground running? Hmmm possibly, I just hope we can pick up our performances with some big games coming up.
I fear for Barnsley though, they offered little goal threat despite looking reasonable in possession. Just like Bristol we won because the other side was poorer than ourselves. Some Barnsley fans after the game bemoaned Alex Smithies only receiving a yellow card when he handled outside the area, but it was an accident, as his momentum took him outside the area and there wasn’t a Barnsley player in sight. Turning point maybe, for me the ref made the right call.
Grayson can also learn from this game. I feel he made an error with his starting eleven with Church out wide, which made us lack any threat down the wings and after Wards cameo he has to start on Saturday. Paul Dixon was also a huge positive, even after a shaky start, but that was more down to Scannell failing to track back. In fact Dixon along with Lynch and Hunt made the Championship team of the week, Dixon was the only one who deserved it in my humble opinion.
So we now spend another week in the play-off places, yes we can dream but as Hoyle said today, this season is all about avoiding relegation and we are more than halfway to doing that.