BARNSLEY manager Lee Johnson is left with a big headache after successive 2-1 defeats resulted in boos ringing out at Oakwell.
“I think it is the most frustrated I have been in my managerial career,” said the Barnsley chief.
“I am as disappointed as anybody because I still believe in the group. I go in there at the end of the game and I knew they had done all right. There was no lack of passion or work-rate, nobody shirked a tackle and while the quality was not there on certain occasions we had 20 shots on goal but, for whatever reason, we have come out without a result.”
For once, he could not point to his side’s inexperience as a mitigating factor as basement club Crewe fielded an equally young side with their average age being a tad above 22.
Nor could he say they were unlucky either for when a side forces 15 corners against the opposition’s one then you would expect them to capitalise on their undoubted dominance.
Instead, Barnsley were hit by two sucker-punch blows as Crewe manager Steve Davis returned in triumph to the ground where he stood firm at the back for seven years.
He had undoubtedly coached his central defenders well for they repelled most things thrown at them in the air, although Crewe were indebted to two tip-overs from goalkeeper Ben Garratt in stoppage time for preventing the Reds taking a share of the spoils.
It was also Reds captain Alfie Mawson who redeemed himself in the 15th minute with the headed equaliser after Garratt’s one error, failing to punch away an inswing corner from Conor Hourihane.
That came immediately after Mawson had fouled Ryan Colclough on the D and the Crewe striker had blasted the free-kick into the part of the net Nick Townsend was guarding.
The Barnsley goalkeeper was also startled as Crewe struck an 80th-minute winner from a rare foray as Adam King drove the ball across from the right and Lauri Dalla Valle cleverly chested it past him at his near post.
It was tough on the Reds, especially after a similar harsh defeat at Doncaster the previous week for there was no doubt which team had been dominant.
Hourihane, Ben Pearson and Josh Scowen had controlled central midfield and the flanks had always seemed an avenue to attack Crewe as Marley Watkins and Kadeem Harris combined to effect with full-backs Reece Wabara and George Smith.
However, that meant that for a fourth game in succession Sam Winnall was left alone up front and when you are at home and the goals are not going in then that is a dangerous game for any manager to play.
Michael Smith scored 18 goals for Swindon last season and Reds fans clearly want the loanee to partner Winnall.
But there’s the rub for Johnson, who fears Barnsley will ship goals if he removes one of his midfield triumvirate to accommodate the striker, who, when brought on straight after Crewe’s second, burst through the middle and was denied by an onrushing Garratt, who did enough to divert the shot for a corner.
“When we changed to 4-4-2 previously we have conceded,” added Johnson. “If that’s what people demand then we need another midfielder.
“We need someone who can play and organise and dictate from a 4-4-2.
“But the players gave their all and I can’t be too critical. People are moaning and groaning but apart from the shout for two up front they are not quite sure what else we could have done.
“Everybody goes home frustrated but I will take it on the chin because I am head coach, but I will protect my players when I feel they deserve protecting and today they deserved protecting because they gave their all. You tell me if I’m being delusional.”
Johnson would probably have been tempted to pair Winnall and Smith tomorrow night but the Swindon man is ineligible for the second round re-arranged Johnstone’s Paint Trophy match at Bradford City where the winners will enjoy a home northern quarter-final tie against York City.
Johnson continued: “I thought it was one of the most one-sided games I have seen in a long time. I am despondent to the fact that I can’t put my finger on it as to why we haven’t come out and won that game more than comfortably.
“I’m very disappointed with a couple of the linesman’s decisions – and Sam Winnall was onside when he tucked the ball in. It’s just not good enough from the officials. I also thought when the ball went high in the air and the guy climbed all over Michael Smith that was a penalty.
“Our flaw at the moment is the end product. We are getting into some good areas, our rotations are good, we are moving the ball through the lines very well, teams are finding it very difficult to match us.
“Then what happens is that teams sit off. That’s when you need that bit of magic, bit of quality, bravery or whatever it takes to get the goal.
“It is a smash and grab but fair play to Crewe, who came here and walked away with a result.
“However, the lads will not lose confidence. individually they will believe they had half-decent games but it was just frustrating.”
Barnsley: Townsend, Wabara, Mawson, Nyatanga, G Smith; Watkins, Hourihane, Pearson, Scowen, Harris (M Smith 80); Winnall. Unused substitutes: Davies, Bree, Roberts,Rothwell, Digby, White.
Crewe Alexandra: Garratt, Baillie, Guthrie, Nugent, Turton; Atkinson, Fox, King; Dalla Valle, Colclough, Inman. Unused substitutes: Cooper, Saunders, Jones, Wintle, Ainley, Mullarkey, Nizic.
Referee: M Brown (East Yorks).