Barnsley have lost just one of six games since the restart, at the time of speaking, helping to ensure the relegation dogfight goes right down to the wire. What have their performances been like over the last few weeks?
They’ve been solid but they’ve not been able to turn that into enough wins to get out of the bottom three. They are a really young, hard-working team and, during the lockdown, they were all talking about how together they are and how they really believed they would give themselves a great chance of getting out of the situation. The manager Gerhard Struber was really positive but I think, perhaps, just the way that the bad way they started the season is going to undermine all of the efforts. Since Struber took over, they’ve been on par with some of the teams in mid-table in terms of results, it’s just that start that is going to cost them if they do go down.
From an outsider’s perspective, it looks as though that run five-game unbeaten run in the first few weeks of Gerhard Struber’s reign really stopped them from being cut adrift too early. How much of an impact would you say he’s made at Oakwell?
I think he’s certainly had an impact. He’s not like most managers in that he wears jeans and trainers on the sidelines and, in the winter, he had a quite fetching red and white bobble hat that he was wearing. I think he’s quite a unique character. He’s an interesting guy to speak to and the players have warmed to him but I just think it was a very difficult job for him to take on, partly because, unlike most other teams, Barnsley don’t have a lot of Championship experience in their squad. They’ve got a lot of younger players, players they’ve bought from the lower leagues, players they’ve bought from Europe but they don’t have many players who’ve been there and done it. At times they’ve not quite had that experience you need to grind out a few extra wins that would have given them a real chance of staying up.
Given the fact Barnsley have a smaller budget than the bigger clubs in this division, how much of an achievement will it be if they do manage to secure survival?
It would be huge. They don’t have the biggest budget and, over the years, have been a team that develops players and sells them on. You look at players like Conor Hourihane, who is at Aston Villa now, and he’s a good example of what they’ve done. I think some fans would rather the owners invest a bit more in the team as opposed to doing this, but this is their plan and, while it’s working to an extent, they are also running the risk of being relegated to League One from the Championship.
Which Barnsley player should Brentford fans be most wary of?
Firstly, I’d say Cauley Woodrow who is a really good striker with a lot of potential and a good goalscoring record, and then also Alex Mowatt. He’s the captain, who can be the creative link in midfield and is very capable of scoring. When I’ve watched Barnsley, they are the two who’ve stood out to me.
How are Barnsley like to set up?
Struber has brought a very German way of playing to Oakwell, with a lot of pressing. They recently sold Mallik Wilks to Hull, who only joined Barnsley last summer and had been on loan at the KCOM. When asked why they’ve let him go to a rival near the bottom of the near, Struber said that he didn’t offer as much defensively as he’d have liked. They try and get at teams with high intensity pressing, the workman-like stuff you see from Jurgen Klopp.
Today marks the final league game at Griffin Park. Do you have any lasting memories of the stadium?
I’ve got a lot of thoughts on Griffin Park, not least because it’s one of the best London grounds to get to if you are coming from Yorkshire – you just come off the motorway and you are practically there! It was always fun trying to find the press car park as well and, if there was big gap between visits, by the time you returned, there’s a good chance you’d have forgotten where it was. Inside the stadium, I’ll always remember how tightly packed the press box was, which you would appreciate on a cold winter’s day but not so much in August.
I can remember so many games there and there was always something happening. I’ve seen Sheffield Wednesday there a few times and there were a few late goals, while there have also been hidings dished out by Brentford to teams I’ve been reporting on for the BBC in Yorkshire. It’s a classic football stadium and although it will be nice if I get a chance to cover a game at the new stadium, there’s a traditional feel to Griffin Park that will be missed.
What’s your prediction for this historic fixture?
Brentford have been absolutely flying, so you’d be hard pressed to go against them at this point, especially with Barnsley in the position they are in. I’m going to go with a solid 2-0 win to Brentford.
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