Barnsley v Wolves: Paul Heckingbottom backs Kieffer Moore to rise to the test

New Barnsley signing: Striker Kieffer Moore. Picture: Scott Merrylees
New Barnsley signing: Striker Kieffer Moore. Picture: Scott Merrylees
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ANYONE who has listened to Barnsley manager Paul Heckingbottom over a period of time will appreciate that he derives little satisfaction from pats on the back or moral victories.

They are plainly not his thing and it has happened so frequently during Barnsley’s time in the Championship that it is clearly starting to annoy him.

A classic example regarding praise being levelled at the Reds’ playing style, but ultimately no points coming their way, was provided at the home of today’s high-flying visitors Wolverhampton Wanderers on September 23.

The Black Country club have painted some rich, golden pictures on the Molineux canvass this season en route to 10 wins in their 13 matches, with just one defeat recorded.

But that autumnal afternoon was not particularly vintage against a Barnsley side who dominated for considerable spells, but came away with nothing following a bitter late concession in a 2-1 defeat, which left Heckingbottom heartily sick.

The streetwise Reds head coach is acutely aware that, in the final analysis, plaudits and gushing praise from rival managers and fans at his side’s level of performance does not possess much currency if you do not bank any points.

The game will not change until they ban heading, so you must have people who can do it.

Paul Heckingbottom

More especially when you are too close to the bottom of the table for comfort. The league table, as the saying goes, never lies.

His belief that Barnsley have to play at something approaching their best to pick up their victories is also a sage one. Winning ugly, a precious commodity at Championship level, is something that has eluded them, by and large, since their promotion back to the second tier in 2015-16.

Perhaps this is where new £750,000 signing Kieffer Moore might come in.

Dominant in the air at 6ft 5ins and with a commanding, muscular physique, Moore – fresh from a haul of 13 goals in the first half of the season at Rotherham – offers Barnsley a fresh attacking option and a much-needed predatory weapon in their quest to finish off a few more teams.

With Barnsley having won just five league matches at Oakwell in 2017, he might just come in handy.

Heckingbottom said: “Kieffer has that hunger and people speak well of him as a personality and that he is a character and is driven. He has got a platform here to give everything and a big opportunity to be successful.

“He is totally a different option to what we have got. Looking back over the last couple of months there has been many a game where we have come off and people have said, ‘you should have got something out of that’. But we did not.

“You look at the game at Wolves. We played well, but we did not take any points from it. I would have rather played garbage and beat them.”

It does not take a rocket scientist to deduce that, given Moore’s imposing height, his aerial prowess is a big reason why Barnsley elected to stump up a hefty six-figure fee to secure his services.

Arguably, since Sam Winnall headed for pastures new 12 months ago the Reds have lacked a consistent threat in the air in the attacking department – something that has clearly been a bugbear of Heckingbottom’s for a good while.

He added: “We are getting to certain points in games, all of the time, where we are getting in the deliveries and, as of yet with the attackers, only Bradders (Tom Bradshaw) is comfortable attacking the balll and getting across people in the air.

“In the last home game Harvey Barnes had two opportunities at the back post. One he did not even go for and the last one should have been a goal. You cannot have people not wanting to head the ball.

“You can go through every one of our games where, if you were comfortable heading the ball, you would have got a chance. The game will not change until they ban heading, so you must have people who can do it.

“It is an area where we can challenge people to get better and where we also felt we could recruit.

“We have known for a long time we have needed to get a player like Kieffer, but have just now been able to get one.”

It is almost 12 months since Wolves last visited Oakwell and they arrive as a team who are vastly transformed and have the strong whiff of champions-elect.

It is incredible to think that ahead of that meeting on January 31 last year, the Reds, pushing for the play-offs, were 12 points clear of the Midlanders, who were casting glances over their shoulder to the relegation zone.

Now a colossal 35 points separate the teams in the table with it looking increasingly a case of when, not if, Wolves clinch not just promotion but the title. It would require a capitulation of Devon Loch proportions for them not to be playing Premier League football next term.

An away end packed with 4,500 fans will be further evidence of the turnaround at Wolves, all dreaming of those in all-gold rekindling some halcyon days of yore.

Heckingbottom is among those who have been impressed by their magnificent efforts this season. It has been a vintage campaign in which Nuno Espirito Santo’s side have grabbed the Championship by the scruff of the neck, although Heckingbottom has been most won over by something other than their barnstorming style of attacking football.

Heckingbottom observed: “They are a good side, everybody knows that. People go away from what they actually are, but, for me, they are the best in the league without the ball and at set-plays and the most effective in the league on the counter-attack.

“Everyone talks about how good they are with the ball, but they give themselves the best chance to keep the ball as they are generally in front on one of those things.”