Transforming home form is key to Reds’ play-off chances

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IN the history of the play-offs, the list of teams who have gatecrashed the top six at the business end of the year in Spring is a noteworthy one.

At this juncture, for sides whose season can best be described as ‘middle of the road’ – Barnsley’s current League One status a case in point – it is something onto which they can cling.

Barnsley's Lewin Nyatanga beats Swindon's Jack Stephens in the air

Barnsley's Lewin Nyatanga beats Swindon's Jack Stephens in the air

Reds defender Lewin Nyatanga is grasping at that route to salvation with Barnsley’s position of 13th in League One, seven points off the play-off pace, indicating that plenty of work is required in the second half of the season if they are to fulfil their brief of finishing in the top six come the end of the 2014-15 campaign.

Given that Barnsley were essentially a brand new side when they took the field against Crawley on August 9, with 12 players arriving in the summer and many more departing, the smart money was always on Danny Wilson’s side being a work in progress in the first half of the campaign.

But with December and January being the period when play-off hopefuls must morph into firm contenders, time is creeping up on the Oakwell club.

If they need inspiration, they need only look at the experiences of one of the sides who were relegated to the third tier with them in 2013-14 in Yeovil Town.

In the campaign before last, the Glovers were 14th in League One and seven points off the play-off pace in the middle of December 2012, only to turn their fortunes around dramatically and clinch promotion come season’s end.

The most famous recovery was staged by Crystal Palace, who rose from sixth from bottom in the old Division One in 2003-04 to clinch a remarkable promotion via that same play-off route.

It can happen and is something to which the Reds, who at this stage of their play-off promotion season in 2005-06 had seven more points, are aiming to aspire.

Nyatanga, one of just a handful of players still remaining at Oakwell from last season, said: “You have seen in the leagues over the years that teams can come from nowhere.

“You have to put a run together and I am confident things will click and we will get the results we need.

“You look at the table and it is so close and it is not even Christmas yet. We need to go on a run – if you do that, anything can happen in this league.”

To do that, much will depend on remedying Barnsley’s home form, an area which has not just let them down, but also their neighbours Sheffield United and Doncaster Rovers.

It has proved somewhat of an Achilles heel. Out of a combined 28 home games in League One for the trio this term, just eight wins have been achieved.

Oakwell has witnessed just three home victories in the division in 2014-15, with Tuesday evening’s 1-1 derby draw with Doncaster yet another exercise in frustration for Reds fans.

Boss Wilson spoke of an anxiety in Barnsley’s attacking play against Rovers, while Nyatanga has highlighted a basic lack of consistency, rather than succumbing to pressure, as being the over-riding bugbear.

Given that Barnsley started with intent, only to fall away as the half went on and produce a virtual no-show on the restart, his thoughts carry weight.

Nyatanga, who at least had the fillip of netting his first Barnsley goal since April 2008, said: “One thing I would say is our fans are so good and get behind us and it is not a case of pressure.

“Sometimes we have played well and teams sit and hit us on the counter-attack.

“Maybe when we are away, we are the team who does that to the home side.

“It is definitely not a pressure thing. All the players enjoy playing at home and enjoy the atmosphere. It is just that inconsistency we need to break. I’m sure it will happen.”

Aside from Nyatanga’s rare strike, the main positive on the night for the Reds came in the form of an accomplished debut for second-year scholar Mason Holgate, 18, drafted in as a late replacement for Joe Dudgeon, who felt his hamstring in the warm-up after being named as a starter on the teamsheet.

For Wilson, who has successfully blooded the likes of James Bree and Brad Abbott already this term, it represented something substantive to take from another decidedly ordinary evening.

On Holgate, one of three academy products to pen professional terms this year along with Bree and Jack Cowgill, Wilson said: “We brought in a little shining light in Mason.

“He did tremendously coming in at the last minute and didn’t have any time to think about the game, which I suppose is a good thing.

“He put his boots on and went out and did fantastic.

“For a young kid to come in and show such maturity at times was great and his defensive work was good.

“He looked very assured at times and can be very happy with his performance.”