Barnsley 1 Luton Town 3: Reds’ summer apprehension appears to have been well founded
A picture of two of Barnsley’s finest, looking far from enamoured at events in the third Ashes Test at Headingley as England’s batsmen imploded in their first innings, did the rounds on social media on Friday and they would have been similarly ashen-faced should they have sought respite from the cricket and popped along to another place they know well in Oakwell 24 hours later.
Thankfully, for their part, they were not in attendance and, given the ruinous first-half fare on offer, they were the lucky ones.
Barnsley coach Daniel Stendel was not so fortunate after witnessing the sort of occasion that he will have feared when he referenced his desire to bring in some Championship experience back in June.
Penny for the thoughts too of Reds’ chairman Paul Conway with his pre-season ebullience regarding Barnsley’s “best transfer window ever” looking seriously misplaced and open to rebuke following an afternoon that was excruciating at times.
Stendel, forced to pick up the pieces after witnessing a first home league defeat during his tenure as Luton became the first visiting side to take away three points from Oakwell in over 17 months, said: “You learn most things in the worst situation and for me, it was the situation in the first half.
“I can repeat this every week and we (will) miss experience and age. This is our squad and we have no experience and we have no player with two hundred games in the Championship. This is the situation at the minute.
“It does not help in the situation when I say, ‘we miss this’ and ‘we miss this’. In the last two home games against Fulham and Charlton we played more like we can play without older players.
“The only way is to learn things and improve. My players, me and my staff.”
For Barnsley, defeat on Saturday was not the issue. But the manner of it certainly was with the lack of leadership and direction in a torrid first half that had to be seen to be believed from a home perspective being pitiful and fraught in equal measure.
It saw Luton score three unanswered goals that were served up on a golden platter. As manager Graeme Jones correctly pointed out with no hint of irony, his side could – and perhaps should – have boasted a five-goal lead at the interval. It would not have been flattering.
The sight of several former Barnsley players dining out at their old club’s expense compounded the sense of irritation.
A confidently-struck second-minute opener from one-time Reds captain Jacob Butterfield was a portent of things to come.
James Bree’s assist for the Hatters’ second – with just five minutes on the clock – intensified the pain and sense of incredulity and viewing another ex-Barnsley player in Matty Pearson commandeering Luton’s back four in the first period will have also been duly noted by home patrons.
Butterfield and Bree in particular possess the sort of second-tier experience that the Reds uniformly lack.
The former’s opener after Luke Bolton and the impressive Harry Cornick undressed Barnsley down their left was clinical with the midfielder afforded time and space to fire home incisively.
Luton’s second was even more gift-wrapped following the sort of defending that makes fans wince. It was sadly endemic of a first half that was simply atrocious.
Andrew Shinnie’s corner was not cleared with Sami Radlinger flapping horribly at Kazenga Lua-Lua’s centre. Bree was the beneficiary with his cross bundled over the line by James Collins, with the Reds’ goalkeeper hopelessly stranded out of his goal.
It was a comedy concession and while Radlinger slightly redeemed himself to prevent Collins from adding a third, the damage had been done.
Every time that Luton attacked a goal looked in the offing and it was with a galling sense of inevitability that the third did arrive just after the half-hour mark when more reprehensible defending following a free-kick from the outstanding Shinnie allowed the untracked Cornick to bury a low finish past Radlinger.
In mitigation Barnsley did show more fight in the second half, but the game had sadly long since gone and Luton were home and hosed.
Mallik Wilks’s strike on 72 minutes – a first goal in Barnsley colours – provided a crumb of consolation, but the sense of worry at the final whistle was stark, compounded by the sight of Bambo Diaby hobbling off midway through the second half with what potentially looked like a serious injury.
It never rains, but it pours.
Offering a player’s perspective, interval substitute Jordan Green commented: “This league is tough, we knew that. We have a very young team and a lot of us have not played in this league before and we need time to start gelling.
“We have lost a few leaders and it is about people trying to step up and being brave and taking the lead. People need to start doing that.”