Barnsley: Johnson looking to youth in bid to lift Barnsley out of League One

Barnsley manager Lee Johnson.
Barnsley manager Lee Johnson.
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as the countdown to the new football season draws to a close, football reporter Leon Wobschall gives his verdict on Yorkshire’s clubs and offers his five key things that each team must improve.

Given their self-declared aim of a top-six finish last season, 2014-15 was a pretty underwhelming one for Barnsley, who kick off the new League One season at Chesterfield on Saturday.

Granted, a magnificent late February and March, encompassing a run of six consecutive league wins for the first time since November 1980, provided a late fillip, when hopes were abound of finally nailing down a play-off spot.

But it proved a false dawn. Other than that, it was a moribund campaign. A transitional one with a capital T.

The Reds’ season was the very embodiment of mid-table: won 17, drawn 11, lost 18, for 62, against 61.

Lee Johnson has made no bones about the fact that there was a great deal to do this summer to turn Barnsley into firm promotion contenders and you sense most members of the Oakwell faithful would concur.

The former Oldham chief has invested his faith in youth, bringing in highly-rated loan duo Joe Rothwell and Ben Pearson, both from Manchester United, and talented Arsenal teenager Dan Crowley to supplement a clutch of fresh-faced youngsters such as Mason Holgate, George Smith and James Bree.

Here’s five things for Barnsley to do if they are to achieve their aims in 2015-16.

1: Reduce the number of players they field this coming season.

Johnson commented earlier this summer about the fact that Barnsley used 42 players in the league in 2014-15, and that given all that, a mid-table finish was not surprising and about right.

It is far too many. Bristol City used 24 players and won the league by a street.

Johnson proved a degree of ruthlessness when it comes to freeing out-of-contract players and sanctioning the exits of several others under contract, such as Dale Jennings and James Bailey and is now largely pinning his faith in youth.

2: Keep Sam Winnall fit.

It is perhaps no coincidence that when the Reds were displaying their first signs of making an impact on League One in the autumn after a slow start that an injury to Winnall took the wind out of their sails.

The former Scunthorpe man and Golden Boot winner in 2013-14 showed glimpses of his predatory pedigree with an autumnal return of eight goals in eight games, only for a problematic hamstring problem to sideline him for a lengthy spell.

Winnall also struggled in late season with injury niggles. Reds fans will be keeping their fingers crossed that his injury ills are remedied, moreso given that he is very much the club’s leader in the pack up front in what is a youthful line-up.

3: Improve the home form - and stop losing to also-rans.

The Reds lost seven games at Oakwell in 2014-15, including games against the relegated duo of Crawley and Notts County, with relegation-threatened Scunthorpe also winning there. Nine points there would have booked a play-off berth.

In the past two seasons, Barnsley have lost 17 league matches at Oakwell, a tally which is far too high.

4: Start the season better.

At the end of September, Barnsley were just above the drop zone in League One with nine points from their opening nine matches.

Back in 2012-13 and at the same stage of that season, the Reds were also considerably behind the eight-ball with just four points from their first nine games to prop up the Championship table.

In the past two campaigns, to varying degrees, the Reds have paid the price for playing catch-up.

All aspiring sides hanker to start a season well. It is especially relevant in Barnsley’s case next term.

5: Keep hold of Conor Hourihane.

Former boss Danny Wilson deserves credit for investing wisely in Irish midfielder Hourihane, brought in for a six-figure fee from Plymouth with an impressive first campaign at Oakwell justifying the outlay.

Hourihane showed his predatory prowess by firing 14 goals to follow on from his tally of nine for Argyle last season and cannot have been far away from a spot in the PFA League One Team of the Year.

A big asset for Barnsley and they could do with keeping hold of him. Alongside his goals last term, he was comfortably the Reds’ main source of creation.

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