|Pos. 23rd (31 pts)||SATURDAY 22 FEBRUARY 2020||Pos. 20th (37 pts)|
|Chaplin (73)||57% 18(4) 6 8||POSSESSION SHOTS (on target) CORNERS FOULS||43% 5(0) 2 7|
Beleaguered Boro Barnstormed
Boro fans could be forgiven as they headed down to Oakwell this afternoon feeling a little battle weary rather than enthusiastic about the forthcoming clash with Gerhard Struber’s Barnsley. The Tykes had walloped high flying Fulham last weekend while Boro fell to fellow strugglers Luton at the Riverside. One team had their tales up this week while the others spent a week licking their self-inflicted wounds.
Survival was a mere six points away for the South Yorkshire side after looking like being cut adrift just a few weeks ago. They are now seeing signs of hope despite having had no clean sheets in their last 16 Championship home games. I wondered if Boro would oblige the Tykes by ending that dreadful stat?
It seems a very long time since Boro were ten points clear from the trap door, now just six points from Championship safety and in urgent need of a victory. A small crumb of comfort to Boro was that Barnsley had only won one of their last five Championship home games. Boro however were in no place to be disparaging to today’s opponents as we have failed to win any of our last seven Championship matches, since that New Year’s Day win at Preston.
Woodgate still had Dijksteel, Ayala and Roberts all out but he did have four strikers to pick from which may have been of even greater concern than those injuries. Thankfully the team news revealed that four up top wasn’t to be the tactic being employed today (or at least not at the start) with four changes made from that Luton no show. Shotton made his return with Moukoudi and Friend at the back. Howson and Johnson were being given the wing-back roles with youngsters Coulson benched and Spence dropped entirely. Nmecha lost out for Assombalonga and Morrison came in instead of McNair who was disappointing by his own standards last week.
That selection spoke of relying on experience in a defiant perhaps even desperate last stand more so with Clayts returning to the bench. The zestful exuberance of Spence and Coulson seemingly deemed a defensive liability after last week and paying the price. The selection, shuffling and set up (a back four or three?) at least provided for some heated discussions among the three thousand nine hundred or so travelling hardy souls at a cold, wet and windy Oakwell.
Geoff Eltringham was the man in the middle for the encounter as Boro won the toss and elected to change ends attacking the travelling Boro army. Barnsley kicked off with what can only be described as an up and under showing some early no-nonsense intent. Britt chased a hoofed clearance from Howson winning a corner in the 2nd minute from which we lost and then regained possession with Britt then backheeling to Wing inside the Barnsley box but his shot was blocked. A minute later Saville played a teasing ball upfield for Fletcher who broke through and was taken out by Tykes Keeper Collins just outside the 18-yard box. As the travelling army were screaming for a straight red the linesman deemed Fletcher had been offside.
Another long Howson ball had Britt chasing it and Collins slid out low to collect then fumbled it having to scramble to recollect the ball showing some early nerves. In the 5th minute Mowatt launched a left footed lob come cross that Pears had to tip over. The resulting corner was cleared with the ball coming back in for Pears to gently collect and as Boro then broke upfield a through ball to Britt was once again deemed offside as both sides now looked balanced in their efforts to go for it.
On 8 minutes Johnson collected a throw in, cut to the by-line, crossed across the Barnsley goalmouth coming out the opposite side where Howson collected it and fizzed it back in in as Boro were in the ascendancy. Two quick Barnsley corners were dealt with as the Tykes seemed to be settling their opening anxiety. A well worked ball was worked to Mowatt who took a shot from outside the box tipped past the post for a corner. Taken quickly it found Boro sleeping with a shot fired just wide of Pear’s upright.
Cauley Woodrow had a deflected shot on 16 minutes as the Tykes now started to exert some pressure. A long Barnsley clearance saw Shotton misjudge the bounce requiring Moukoudi to slide in and clear the danger. Barnsley now had a head of steam and pushing Boro deeper. Fletcher had the ball out on the right and was forced back, as the ball was recycled to Pears the entire left side of the pitch was empty with Friend screaming for it but Pears launched it straight back into the crowded area from whence it came. It was very poor decision making from the young Keeper and perhaps symptomatic of all that ails Boro at the moment.
With the wind picking up and the rain coming down there were a couple of overhit passes from both sides in the centre of the pitch. Moukoudi managed a Barragan impression although in fairness when the ball slipped from his attempted throw the ball was at least wet as it slipped through his fingers for a foul throw on the half way line.
On 27 minutes Howson took the ball down the right wing, cut it back to Lewis Wing but his shot lacked both power and accuracy. Howson again scrapped to retrieve the ball, playing it back to Moukoudi on the right pushing up but his looping cross was lacking pace and dropped down easily for Collins to collect. A speculative effort from Ludwig outside the Boro box was cleared and as Friend was closed down the flag went up for an offside easing the growing pressure. On 32 minutes it was Ludwig again this time finding himself on the right of the box getting off a shot but Pears got down smartly and smothered it.
A poor Johnson clearance allowed Barnsley to attack with Morrison getting back and poking the ball away but Sollbauer collected it wide and brought it back down the right, firing in a delicious cross which was just missed by Oduor with Howson challenging, going out for a goal kick. At this stage it was all Barnsley pressure but you had the feint hope that a quickly cleared ball up the pitch just might allow Fletcher or Assombalonga to turn the Tykes defence. Certainly, any threat offensively wasn’t going to come through playing the ball out from midfield. Boro’s first corner came courtesy of a poor clearance on 38 minutes punched out by Collins going out on the far side. It permitted Shotton to launch one of his long throws into the box. The ball was cleared out of the Tykes box but delivered back in by Friend to Wing whose shot was charged down and as Boro once again played the deflected clearance back in yet another offside flag went up.
A charging Saville bulldozed his way through the Barnsley defence for Britt to win a fortuitous free kick but Saville’s delivery was woeful as once again our set piece delivery was hit low and harmless. With less than a minute remaining a low cross found Chaplin whose scuffed shot required Pears to get down quickly and save in what was the best opportunity of the game. A gust assisted clearance nearly caught Collins as it swirled and held up as he came out to collect it in what was the nearest effort Boro had on target.
Whilst it was an improved opening effort from Boro after Luton, we lacked composure and quality at the attacking end with a disturbing no effort on target to Barnsley’s three. Playing far too deep Morrison hadn’t lived up to his hype and billing and alongside Wing and Saville they seemed to be detached from their defence and even more so from the two isolated Strikers.
Wing kicked off the second half for Boro but Barnsley quickly got back into their stride enjoying most of the early possession in the opening period with the travelling army somewhat introspective. Five minutes in and the game was now very scrappy with Boro struggling to build any form of attack. On 51 minutes Morrison announced his creative arrival with a run that was terminated just outside the Barnsley box about 30 yards out centrally. Wing’s free kick went straight through the wall going just wide for a corner which was once again woeful in its execution. Barnsley broke from that corner and then were equally poor losing possession as Boro came back then Barnsley took their turn to break upfield towards the away end and the poor finishing and decision making was thankfully not limited to Boro. Both teams looked poor.
A ridiculous throw-in decision by Geoff Eltringham against Boro had Britt risking a yellow card. As the ball was back in play from the disputed throw Barnsley attacked and a series of desperate defending efforts from Boro ended with a Barnsley corner. It was delivered to the far post with Woodrow heading it harmlessly onto the roof of Pears’ net. A Boro attack then ended with a disappointing looped Howson cross, Barnsley then came close with a long-range Woodrow curler as the game now illustrated perfectly just why both these clubs are looking down the table rather than up. Desperation was visibly creeping in with both sides as the game now had thirty minutes remaining.
News that results elsewhere were not in Boro’s favour with Wigan and Stoke winning started to filter through the away end and any remaining nails were being well and truly chewed and bitten. On 65 minutes Fletcher was adjudged to have fouled Halme when he went into the back of him in the box as he desperately tried to get an opportunity. A long, lofted ball up to Woodrow from the Barnsley defence had Pears stretching as he was almost embarrassed by the wind getting underneath the ball. At this stage something needed to happen from the benches because the game was dying a slow death from a Boro outlook.
Shotton looked to have lunged into a challenge on the half way line but Ref Eltrigham found in favour of him much to the chagrin of Struber and the home fans. Twenty minutes now remained as Woodrow hit a daisy cutter requiring Pears to be alert again as the Tykes chalked up another effort on target. On 71 minutes Britt’s number came up as Gestede entered the fray prompting some interesting Anglo Saxon utterances in the away end. It then took just one minute for the livewire Chaplin to have two quickfire efforts on the edge of the Boro six yard box with the second one hitting the roof of Pears’ net to put Barnsley one up. “Uwe Fuchs ache” was the collective response from the travelling army.
On 76 minutes Odour sent in a low fierce cross that had it been met it would have been game over with Boro now all at sixes and sevens. Boro’s stat of conceding a third of their goals in the last twenty minutes was a box ticked yet again. Woodrow was then booked for a lunging tackle on Morrison just as he made way for Coulson to come on and add the spark that had been missing from Boro all afternoon. McNair was then also readied as Woodgate was once again tactically forced into throwing big lads up the pitch at Barnsley. Saville left the pitch with Paddy having a little over ten minutes to work miracles.
Johnson had moved over to the right with Coulson on the left in what may have been a 433 or a 442, nobody quite knew but the hope was that the players in white shirts might know who was supposed to be doing what and where. Chaplin then came off to a solid applause from the home fans as Struber brought on Thomas. In stark contrast to Gestede’s arrival Thomas chased down Pears and nearly nicked another Tykes goal as the young keeper dwelt on the ball too long. Boro frankly looked devoid of ideas, utterly clueless with Barnsley comfortable in hanging onto what they had. A encouraging run by Friend picking up his own throw in cutting into the Barnsley box was millimetres from Howson’s toe as he just couldn’t deflect it into Collin’s net. 85 minutes now gone and I can’t recall Gestede touching the ball since his arrival on the pitch nor can I recall any phase of play which utilised his ahem skill-set. There were a few interesting opinions on Woodgate’s tactical substitutions at this juncture and not for the first time this season.
A foul on Fletcher was seemingly ignored and then the lineman’s flag was belatedly raised providing a glimmer of false hope only to be dashed as he deemed the Boro Striker to be, yes you have guessed it, offside yet again. Struber then took off Bahre who was yellow-carded for his rather slow stroll off the pitch for Ritzmaier. A minute of normal time now remained and a desperate hoofed ball went aimlessly out for a Barnsley goal kick with the fourth Officials board up indicating four minutes.
Despite the late stage of the game Barnsley kept chasing and pushing. Coulson won a late free kick after being brought down near the touchline allowing McNair to send it into the packed Barnsley box and as several bodies flew in en masse in to meet it the ball diverted over Collins crossbar for the decision to be a goal kick. How anyone could spot who had touched it last was a mystery to me so I suspect the Ref played it safe. As empty crisp packets blew with gusto across the Oakwell pitch Geoff Eltringham blew his whistle to end another Boro misery. That’s three games in succession against teams in the drop zone, nine were points up for grabs and we managed a solitary one against ten-man Wigan.
The first half had opened with some energy and intent from Boro in the opening quarter hour but as the game wore on Boro simply wore out and Barnsley grew stronger. Our second half performance was very poor and the inept substitutions left heads being scratched in the away end. The folly and frailty of turning to Gestede has cost several managers at this football club and yet once again another in his death throes gambles with the non-scoring Striker. His absolute lack of influence on the game defies explanation, whether that was his fault for a lack of application or ability or the manager’s fault for failing to provide service (any service) is beyond anyone’s guess.
Tactically that was a very poor set up with a back five that will be out of contract come the summer or loan expired. Barnsley deserved their win but it was made far worse by a lack of ability or nous to alter tactics or influence things from Woodgate. Putting Gestede on yet again Pulis style was an insult to the travelling army. Barnsley showed fight, heart and spirit which grew as the game went on whereas Boro looked more disorganised and chaotic as the game expired. The second half performance was as bad as the Luton game last week. Thirty-four games now and the Manager hasn’t a clue what his best eleven is or even what tactics to employ. To make matters worse there were some unpleasant exchanges at the end of the game near the tunnel.
The most damning negative stat of many was a failure to register a single shot on target against the two worst sides in the League. How MFC will spin this out in support of Woodgate will be of great amusement over the coming days with credibility levels now reading empty. Perhaps they will find Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf to come out of retirement and convince us all that we are wrong and need to get behind the golden thread fairy-tale. It will be interesting to see if SG takes his seat for the Leeds game midweek or will he be ominous by his absence?