Barnsley 2 Derby County 0: Double Reds incentive for Ryan Kent as Heckingbottom’s patience pays off

Barnsley's Conor Hourihane celebrates after his goal against Derby County.
 Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Barnsley's Conor Hourihane celebrates after his goal against Derby County. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

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MOVING to Oakwell after being brought up at Anfield since the age of seven could be considered by some players to be a bit of a comedown.

Not for Ryan Kent in spite of him playing alongside the stars in four of Liverpool’s pre-season matches.

Kent knows he has to toughen up and prove his worth if he is ever to achieve his lifetime ambition of making a Premier League bow in front of the Kop.

It is this character which fits in nicely with the Barnsley ethos and persuaded Paul Heckingbottom to try and sign him last season when the livewire 19-year-old was plying his trade with Coventry and Liverpool Under-21s.

Kent is the second player from Chadderton after Manchester United product Ben Pearson (now at Preston) to appear for the Reds and he came close to crowning a dream home debut with a goal, beating former England goalkeeper Scott Carson with a shot which struck a post in the 65th minutes with Barnsley already 2-0 ahead.

But the three points were what mattered most to the season-long loanee, who did admit: “I thought my shot was in and I was running off celebrating but I was just unlucky.”

Defeat at Ipswich on the opening day and a midweek League Cup exit had given Barnsley a reality check after two Wembley triumphs last season and Kent continued: “The boys are buzzing after a hard victory against a good team like that.

“We had to put a big shift in so to come away with three points is a great feeling. I could have got a goal but apart from that it could not have gone any better. My job is to excite the fans going forward and create a lot of opportunities but I have to work defensively, too.

“The fans were the 12th man and took us along with them and kept us motivated and kept us going until the last minute.”

He has already noted a change since his move to the JP Trophy winners. “Physically, it is different but I played with the first team all pre-season with Liverpool especially against two Championship sides so I knew what I was coming into.

“But it is a step up in physicality and there are a lot more technically good players at this level as well. I have to take everything in steps but I feel I am ready to show what I can do in the Championship to get me to the next level.

“I played against Tranmere, Fleetwood, Wigan and Huddersfield and now they have sent me out to improve me physically in the Championship.

“It would be great if I could ever make my Liverpool debut. That’s my dream, that’s my ambition in life ever since I joined at seven. Scouts watched me at my local club in Oldham at six and I was at United, City, Blackburn and Liverpool and when I was nine I had to make a decision and I chose Liverpool and have had no regrets.”

On Kent’s opposite wing was another Liverpool product in Adam Hammill and the pair gave Barnsley the outlets they required, especially when breaking from Derby corners.

On coming into a side buoyed by play-off final success, Kent added and warned: “The boys from last season have given a warm welcome to those who have come in and everyone has fitted in really well.

“It is going to take every player in the squad to get us through this season. We are working hard to create good chemistry on the field. It was a massive season last time so there is a lot of confidence to take into this league and we will not shy away from anyone even though we come in as underdogs.”

Barnsley coach Heckingbottom explained: “I saw him a lot of Coventry last season and Tommy (Wright, assistant)had seen him with Liverpool Under-21s and a phone call went in around February time but they weren’t going to let him come out so it’s just been a case of keeping tabs on him all that time.

“Liverpool knew how much we wanted him and what we could do for him and help him so it’s been a long old chase but we got him in the end and, hopefully, we can be good for Ryan and he can be good for us.

“We are going to focus on his goals and assists and we want to bring him on leaps and bounds with the defensive part of his game to understand his role and what it takes to win a game. He has the ability and pace to get at least half a yard against any full-back.”

Captain Conor Hourihane was Barnsley’s driving force from midfield against a side who reached last season’s Championship play-offs and it was his 11th-minute shot, teed up by Kent, which struck a post and rebounded into the net off the back of Carson which gave the Reds the lead.

Hourihane supplied the free-kick shortly after half-time which central defender Alfie Mawson headed down and home and though Adam Davies made three smart saves in the closing stages, Barnsley’s spirit and tenacity proved too much for Nigel Pearson’s side.

No wonder Derby remain in the hunt for striking Sheffield Wednesday player Fernando Forestieri, who refused to travel with the Owls to Norwich.

Mawson is just as much a target with Bristol City, Wolves, Leeds, Newcastle and QPR having shown an interest in the 22-year-old but, in a comment the Owls striker might like to heed, Heckingbottom said: “The players are in control of the moves aren’t they?

“If they perform really well someone is going to pay money that you can’t turn down and that’s what Alfie’s doing and that’s what every player has to do if they want to move. Alfie is not letting it bother him.

“He’s letting his football do the talking and will not let anyone down. He won’t want to let his team-mates down, he won’t want to let us down and won’t let speculation affect him. All he has to do is focus on his football.

Barnsley: Davies, Bree, Roberts, Mawson, White; Kent, Scowen, Hourihane, Hammill (Lee 90); Bradshaw (Payne 73), Watkins (D’Almeida 90). Unused substitutes: Townsend, Yiadom, MacDonald, Moncur.

Derby County: Carson, Christie, Keogh, Shackell, Forsyth; Blackman, Bryson, Hendrick (Hughes 12), Butterfield (Russell 55); Ince; Bent (Martin 46), Unused substitutes: Grant, Pearce, Johnson, Baird.

Referee: T Harrington (Cleveland).

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