At the time of speaking, Barnsley have 16 points on the board after 12 games, which marks a considerable improvement on last term, when it took them 22 games to reach the same point. What have you made of the campaign so far?
It’s been weird for them because, in Gerhard Struber, they had a manager who had done such a good job to keep Barnsley in the league last season and then, a few games in, he left to take over at New York Red Bulls, of all places. I think you have to give the club credit for a couple of things; firstly, that they’ve made an appointment that seems to have just carried on the momentum. Valerien Ismael has done a very good job since coming in and has gone some great wins. Also, I think the club deserves credit for the signings that they made on Deadline Day. There had been some concerns about player sales and no replacements, but by signing the likes of Herbie Kane and Matty James, they’ve managed to bring in a bit of quality and build in the way they like to build, which has enabled them to have a promising start to the season.
Last season ended in dramatic fashion, with a 2-1 win for the Tykes at Griffin Park helping to keep them in the division for another year. How significant was the sense of relief when their survival was confirmed?
When the first lockdown curtailed football, there was almost a sense that Barnsley were doomed to relegation. I actually think that helped them as it gave them a chance to take a breath and gave Struber something akin to a pre-season with the players before re-starting and they did start very well. They found a knack of taking the game to teams, playing with a lot of energy and their form resembled that of a top eight team. I remember after they played Leeds, Patrick Bamford said that they were one of the best teams they’d played. When they went to Brentford, they were a team fighting to stay up but, for the previous 15-20 games, they were more like a top half team, so there was a real sense of relief because they’ve been something of a yo-yo club. To stay up and build on that is something they will have been keen to do.
As you mentioned, former Bayern Munich defender Valerien Ismael took over just over two weeks after Struber’s departure. Is it fair to say the transition between the two head coaches has been pretty seamless?
I think he’s just carried on the good work. It’s fortunate sometimes, as a manager, that you come into a club that isn’t doing too badly. The key features of the Struber team were hard work, pressing and fitness, so they were quite good attributes for Ismael to inherit. I don’t have intimate details on what he has done, but I suspect he’s been quite clever with it and suggested they don’t need to reinvent the wheel, rather just build on what had been created and ride the momentum. Barnsley hammered QPR, beat Watford and then lost, quite convincingly, to Cardiff, but they then went and beat Derby 2-0. This is what they’ve not been able to do in the past – string good, long runs together to keep them well away from the bottom three. They’ll be looking at the rest of November and December to keep plugging away and getting the odd win here and there, which may help them stay away from relegation trouble this year.
Which player should Brentford fans be keeping an eye on this Tuesday?
Alex Mowatt is always important. He’s scored a couple of absolute screamers recently and is a player that is very capable of making magic happen in midfield. The other player to keep an eye on is Woodrow up front, who has been a bit of a talisman for them. He was very highly rated when he was younger and we’re now seeing that real potential coming through in his play. You need someone who can get you goals at the top of the pitch and Barnsley have that with Woodrow.
How is Ismael likely to set up his side at Oakwell?
I think they’ll probably carry on with the formation that they have been using, which involves quite a narrow midfield four and getting the full-backs forward, with Woodrow up top and a bit of support from Dominik Frieser or Victor Adeboyejo (celebrating above). It’s very typical of the time that they have a back four, a three and a one in front and then two up top.
Barnsley have the upper hand in recent times, with three wins from the last six games. The stakes are considerably lower ahead of this meeting, but what’s your score prediction?
It’s a hard one to predict. Anybody who is looking from the outside in, with Brentford, would expect that they are going to get going at some point and, for that reason, they may well nick this one 2-1. But that’s not to disrespect Barnsley in any way, for any Barnsley fans reading this. I think it’ll be a competitive game and I don’t think this will be a game they would put a circle round and expect three points from.
Tonight's game is only available on iFollow, it will not be on Sky Sports or the red button.
Season Ticket and Premium Seat Holders already have VIP access to the game but match passes are also available for £10 (£7 international fans) so you can watch live from Oakwell.