Barnsley looking to produce a ‘Great Escape II’ at Oakwell

IT was against White Rose visitors at Oakwell that Barnsley’s most celebrated Great Escape plan was first hatched back in January 2013.

Barnsley's caretaker manager David Flitcroft celebrates with Chris Dagnall after he scored his side's goal.

Leeds United, then managed by Neil Warnock, made the short trip south with play-off aspirations in tow after a run of six Championship victories in their previous nine fixtures.

It ended with a 2-0 humbling and recriminations aplenty from the 5,000 fans in the away end as Barnsley, under the caretaker command of David Flitcroft, secured their first home league win in almost four-and-a-half months to end a fraught week which had seen a second managerial target in Terry Butcher reject the Reds’ post.

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Which brings us nicely to the here and now, with the devout hope of all those connected with Barnsley being that the correlations extend beyond the hosts securing another famous triumph against more Yorkshire opposition last weekend.

Tykes manager Gerhard Struber.

It provided a badly-needed transformation of hope at the tail end of a tough seven days which had seen the Reds suffer morale-sapping defeats against Blackburn Rovers and Middlesbrough.

That arrived by way of Saturday’s absorbing 3-1 success over Hull City, who arrived at Oakwell – as Leeds previously did in early 2013 – with aspirations of hardening their top-six credentials and bang in form on the back of four wins in their last six outings.

As it stands, Barnsley have 12 points from 19 games.

After that aforesaid triumph over Leeds, the Reds’ points tally rose to 24 points from 27 matches and proved the catalyst for an exhilarating six-match unbeaten league sequence which saw Flitcroft’s side amass an outstanding 16 points from a possible 18.

Barnsley's Alex Mowatt celebrates after he fires home the opening goal against Hull City.

That Leeds result, thanks to a brace from Chris Dagnall, famously earned Flitcroft the job for the rest of the season.

He promptly set his side a safety target of eight wins from their remaining 19 matches and they achieved exactly that.

Never someone who hid his light under a bushel in his press utterances, the Lancastrian spoke with an almost evangelical zeal about the Reds’ quest and his desire for them to be fearless, draw strength from adversity and reconnect with supporters.

It became an all-consuming mission and crucially, his players bought into his belief and fed off his gushing positivism.

Togetherness was forged and built. On one occasion in that golden run in early 2013, Flitcroft asked every single member to watch FA fifth-round opponents MK Dons at Doncaster Rovers and forsake time with their own families, with his players also staying overnight together in a Barnsley hotel to prepare for a vital midweek home game.

As with Flitcroft, Struber has quickly referenced the need for the club to come together, while also extolling the virtues of a team who possess ‘a big heart’ in his words, while stressing the importance of learning about the human behind the player.

A fair bit of emotion was also present when Struber spoke after Saturday’s relieving victory over the Tigers.

Ahead of the game, he clenched his fist towards the Pontefract Road end after being introduced to the home faithful for the first time and his players promptly took the hint and showed fight, defiance and togetherness on the pitch.

Of course, one swallow does not make a summer and it is very early days in the Struber regime.

But Saturday was undeniably a starting point and showcased what Barnsley can do at the very least and provided hope at the most timely of junctures for their dispirited fanbase.

It was a ‘small step in the right direction’ as Struber succinctly said, but an important one, nevertheless with time still just about on his team’s side.

Judging on the sentiments of the club’s players so far, they critically seem to be buying into the ethos of the Austrian, backed by an adept offensive performance at Blackburn, a decent one at Boro for the opening 45 minutes and an resounding one against Hull.

A ‘breath of fresh air’ was the unequivocal view of young defender Ben Williams after Struber’s first game in charge at Ewood Park and ‘brilliant’ was the effusive verdict of midfielder Mike Bahre when discussing the impact of Struber after Saturday’s excellent victory.

Bahre said: “Everyone can see his style and how he wants to play. He has been brilliant so far and we know exactly what we are doing in possession and off the ball.

“We have shown what our team can look like. Everyone was hard-working and working for each other and no-one was greedy on the pitch (against Hull).”

A December programme will tell us much, with Barnsley facing winnable home games against Reading and QPR and a trip to Millwall ahead of tough match-ups against West Brom and Swansea City.

But for the time being, Barnsley are finally back in the game and no longer on the single-digit points mark for the season.

The fact that the Reds’ relegation rivals Boro, Stoke City, Wigan Athletic, Luton Town and Huddersfield Town all lost on Saturday will have represented a further psychological fillip after the hosts refamiliarized themselves with that winning feeling for the first time in 18 league matches.

A page has been turned, but can a chapter be written? That is the trick.