With two games to play, Barnsley are teetering on the brink of relegation from the Championship, though the reality seems to have galvanised the squad and there’s still every chance they could survive, should fortune fall in their favour. Can you sum up how the last few have been at Oakwell?
With Paul Heckingbottom going to Leeds earlier this year, they were forced into a change, with Jose Morais taking over. He left under a bit of a cloud having signed a deal not too long before he left, with Barnsley announcing the contract extension just three days before he elected to leave, but he was at pains to say that he’d signed it a few weeks before. I think you could probably trace Barnsley’s descent back to January the previous year, but in terms of this year, it’s never really got going for them. The home form has been a massive problem; they won on 4 November against Birmingham and then ended up setting a club record of 13 games without a win at Oakwell until beating Sheffield United on 7 April. Some of the cynics might suggest that Heckingbottom might have jumped before he was pushed. In January, they managed to bring a few players in but it wasn’t picture perfect, though they did sign Ollie McBurnie on loan from Swansea right at the end of the deadline. They had previously tried to sign him at the end of the summer, but paperwork issues at both ends prevented that going through. They also brought Matt Mills and Dani Pinillos in too, but I think it’s fair to say McBurnie looked to have given them a little bit of hope.
All season conceding poor goals has been a problem, as has keeping clean sheets and scoring goals and I think the fact they’ve only won four home games tells the story. I think it’s three in the last 31 league games that they’ve won and they’ve now, effectively, got to win the last two to stay up and then hope that other results go their way.
How has Jose Morais fared since he took over from Paul Heckingbottom in February?
The appointment of Morais was slightly left field. The new board came in just before Christmas and to plump for someone who has a good CV in terms of working with Mourinho at Madrid and Chelsea, but had been out of work for about 18 months was a bold call. His first game was a huge home game against Burton and they ended up losing it 2-1, though, to be fair to him, they did win the next game at Birmingham 2-0. It’s been very hit and miss really. There have been some decent performances, especially at home, but they’ve merged that with some really poor displays, particularly the last two games, and they are massively up against it now.To lose 3-0 to Forest on Tuesday was a massively deflating result; they’d labelled it a must-win game and it wasn’t without controversy too as they announced six changes from the Leeds game. They didn’t play particularly well in that game, but there were some huge calls, including giving 20-year-old goalkeeper Jack Walton his debut, a month after he’d been on loan at Stalybridge Celtic in the Evo-Stik Premier. Ironically enough, of all the changes, that was probably justified because he actually had a good game, made a few good saves and if it wasn’t for him, it probably would’ve been a bigger defeat. I don’t think Morais’ stock was particularly high with supporters, but I think he lost a lot of credit on Tuesday night. They were singing songs like ‘Accrington Stanley, we’re coming for you’, so it suggests that quite a few of them are resigned to relegation. It’s difficult not to come to that conclusion, but I suppose strange things do happen, at the end of the day.
Last time we spoke you said that Harvey Barnes had the potential to cause Brentford some problems, but obviously he’s since returned to Leicester, so who would you say is the key figure in this Barnsley side, now?
It goes without saying that it’s Ollie McBurnie. He’s scored eight goals since coming to Barnsley and his debut was 10 February, so he’s been the real talisman since then. He scored on his debut against local rivals Sheffield Wednesday – arguably the team the Tykes want to beat more than any other – and he announced himself pretty well in that respect. He got two goals against Birmingham, then won February Player of the Month for the Championship and in a struggling side, that’s no mean feat. He’s netted in the last two home games as well, so he’s provided that little bit of quality they’ve been lacking, despite looking unorthodox at times; he’s got really good close control and does score some good goals. It’ll be interesting to see where he plays this weekend because he’s been playing on the left of a 4-1-4-1 in the last few games and there’s a bit of a clamour for him to be moved inside into a more central position with Kieffer Moore. He’s shone since he signed earlier this year and has become quite a hero, really.
What’s been your highlight of the season?
At the start of the season they had an excellent victory against Sunderland, beating them 3-0 and in terms of that as a highlight, I think you’ve got to factor in how bad Sunderland have been. They had a good 4-2 win at Burton on Halloween, scoring some brilliant goals, including a stunner from Joe Williams and then backed that up with a win against Birmingham and it was starting to look a little bit rosier at that point. It’s been a case of one step forward, two steps back for most of this season; wins and highlights have been hard to come by.
How are Barnsley likely to set up on Saturday afternoon?
I think they might go 4-4-2 this weekend, meaning McBurnie will go in more centrally with Kieffer Moore. I’d imagine it’ll be Adam Hammill and Mamadou Thiam on the wing, with Brad Potts and Gary Gardner in central midfield. I think they’ll actually keep the lad Jack Walton in goal again
What’s your score prediction for the game?
This is my heart ruling my head. My head says Brentford will win 2 or 3-0, but I reckon there could be a late twist and I’ll go for a 3-2 Barnsley win. It’s going to take a lot to lift them on Saturday, but stranger things have happened.