Written by Ian Hope @halftimepiesite
You could sense the anticipation for this Yorkshire derby pre match. With 4,400 visiting fans making the short trip to Oakwell, there was a positivity around the place pre match from home supporters due to the recent good run the Tykes had been on, even the horrendous match day traffic did not dampen anyone’s appetite for this game.
Since taking over at Barnsley in November, Strubers side have started to make a real fight of staying in the Championship. From being rooted to the bottom of the table drifting away with an 8 point gap to some sort of safety and leaking goals for fun, Gerhard Struber has started to make his mark on the Tykes with his new midfield diamond and style of play.
From losing three of his four matches conceding eight goals in the process not to mention twelve goals conceded in his first six games, the reds have tightened up and only let in six goals in the last six games in all competitions whilst continuing to find the net at the other end. In fact after the last minute defeat away at Cardiff, Barnsley have only lost one game in eight in all competitions. In those last eight games you could say the reds have played poorly in only two, Reading at home and Derby away. So Strubers influence is growing.
Within the side the midfield diamond is working well. Aapo Halme sat at the base of the diamond protecting the back four looks a composed player. Yesterday he broke up the Terriers play and is comfortable with the ball at his feet never panicking and playing short passes around the middle of the pitch to the likes of Alex Mowatt to turn defence into attack. His height assists when teams launch long balls into the penalty area and he gives off an aura of calmness doing his job quietly and competantly.
Struber has managed to get Conor Chaplin scoring with the striker now in double figures for the season, not to mention chipping in with several assists which helped him win the Sky Bet Championship player of the month award for December. Talking of assists, Jacob Brown has fitted into Strubers system well and now has eight assists in his last eleven league games that being more than any other Championship player. So the stats are proving that Gerhard Struber is moving the reds in the right direction which is a relief as when he took over there was a lot of negativity around Oakwell aimed at the board. To come in with that circling around and change the mindset of the players, getting them to buy into his philosophy is testament to the Austrian.
From the outset yesterday the reds were at Huddersfield chasing them down, never letting them settle on the ball and regularly winning the second ball therefore breaking up the oppositions play and turning it into attacks. Right throughout the side everyone once again put a shift in. Jordan Williams and Clarke Odour are young full backs who put the work in going up and down the flanks all game. With youth you will get the odd mistake but in Odour you get a dead ball specialist and both are willing to cover every blade of grass. Williams goal saving tackle in the first half on Campbell was magnificent and typical of the spirit in the side. From Chaplin and Brown up top to the defence, every player in a red shirt out worked their opponents all game. One thing opposition teams need to realise is you will have to match the energy and enthusiasm of this young Barnsley team if you want to get a result. Huddersfield were awful in the first half. Partly down to their own failings but credit must go the the reds who never let the visitors settle into a rhythm and Radlinger in goal had very little to do in the first half. The Terriers were so out fought and out thought their supporters made their feelings well and truly known as their players trudged off at half time.
In the second half you expected a reaction from Huddersfield and it came in the shape of a double substitution at half time. Although there was an urgency from the visitors as you would expect, the majority of their play came from long balls through the middle which Andersen and Diaby coped with.
The one area Struber must work on is the heart of defence. From the first minute Radlinger, Andersen and Diaby played russian roulette passing the ball across the back four inviting pressure onto them. Why the pair persist in playing like Barcelona or Manchester City on a pitch that has plenty of bobbles and causing themselves more trouble is beyond everyone. After several near misses playing out of trouble, the Ponty end showed their dissatisfaction by howling for Radlinger to kick long instead of playing themselves into trouble. Barnsley were a goal up and in control yet the sight of those three players trying to be a Beckenbauer had the nerves jangling in the stands. Radlinger sensed the frustration from the stands and held his arms up to the supporters as if to say “what’s the problem?” but there is a time to bring the ball out of defence and a time to play percentages and play safe. Surely a new centre half is required to toughen up the soft centre of Barnsley’s defence for the remainder of the season? Whilst playing long balls suited Andersen and Diaby, they struggle when the ball is on the floor and the opposition are taking them on hence when Diaby earned a yellow card for trying to put the opposition player in the West Stand.
Barnsley’s game management was superb throughout. Time and again Huddersfield fell into the trap of committing silly fouls that allowed the reds to slow the game down, take a breath and took the sting out of the game. The Terriers never learned their lesson and as the game went on, Huddersfield spent more time arguing with the referee than trying to salvage something from the game. This allowed the reds to run down the clock and edge closer to victory.
Radlinger in goal only had one decent save to make low to his left tipping the ball around the post for a corner. For all their possession, Huddersfield rarely banged on the door and the reds finally saw the game out despite the referee playing almost eight minutes of injury time.
So the reds now sit one point off safety with an improving goal difference which could be vital come May. There will be bumps in the road but Struber has this side scoring and slowly tightening up at the back. There is much work to do but he believes his side can stay in this league and the players seem to be buying into his methods.