Barnsley 0 Wigan Athletic 4: Benchmark already been set as Reds get a harsh reality check

BARNSLEY suffered several shocks to the system but always bounced back under David Flitcroft to claim Championship salvation on a dramatic final day to last season.
Barnsley's Dale Jennings looks dejected after being given a red cardBarnsley's Dale Jennings looks dejected after being given a red card
Barnsley's Dale Jennings looks dejected after being given a red card

It left everyone at Oakwell reinvigorated for the new challenge ahead and they are not going to let an opening day mauling dent the belief that survival battles are a thing of the past.

However, Flitcroft challenged his players to aspire to the benchmark set by Wigan Athletic, who gave new manager Owen Coyle the perfect start to his reign following Roberto Martinez’s switch to take charge at Everton.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“Are you watching Martinez,” was the cry from the Wigan fans, who firmly believe a swift return to the Premier League is on the cards for their FA Cup heroes.

Delighted Coyle, who took Burnley into the top flight, also warned Championship rivals not to under-estimate the Reds on their own patch.

“I think if someone had told me before the game that the performance was going to be of that stature, then we’d have grabbed that with both hands,” said Coyle.

“I stressed to the players before the game, and I’ll stress it after the game, anybody who comes to Barnsley and thinks they’re going to walk in and be handed anything then they’re sadly mistaken. They’re going to have to put in big performances to win points here, there’s no doubt about that.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“They carried all before them in the last four months of the Championship and they have an unbelievable desire, work rate and application for their manager.

“We knew in the early part of the game we were going to have to stand toe-to-toe with them and earn the right to play our football, which we did. It was ever so pleasing.”

Counterpart Flitcroft reflected: “I think Wigan have put a bit of a benchmark down today and I’ve told the players if you want to emulate that, then there’s a lot more work we’ve got to do together.

“We’ll continue to do that but, certainly, we will not be downbeat. I hope the stadium won’t be either and the fans stay with us because the players have always bounced back when they’ve been knocked.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“It’s hurting now but we have a great game on Tuesday against Scunthorpe. I will pick a team that I think can beat Scunthorpe but I need to see where the lads are in terms of energy levels and resources.”

Regarding the gulf between the top flight and the second tier, he added: “Wolves came down last season and got relegated but I think QPR and certainly Wigan will be up there this time.

“I have witnessed something quite powerful today. The midfield three, McCarthy, McArthur and Watson, who bossed the game, will be as good as anything there is in this league.

“I thought we were devastated but up to the first goal going in we were enjoying our best spell. We gave them problems for 10 or 15 minutes but once the first goal went in we struggled to come to terms with the effects of going one goal down.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“We have been well beaten but there is still a lot to play for. We remain positive.”

The Latics, ironically, had only gone ahead when Barnsley were enjoying their best spell in the latter stages of the first half and, although the visitors had stepped up a gear to quickly make it 2-0 after the break, they were enabled to coast home by the dismissal of Dale Jennings within five minutes of his introduction on the hour mark.

Snapped up by Flitcroft after being released by Bayern Munich, Jennings lunged at James McArthur in the centre circle and referee Geoff Eltringham had no option but to issue the red card as the Wigan player stayed down.

Flitcroft said: “I just felt Dale gave the referee an easy decision. Once you go airborne with two feet and studs up, even though I don’t think it was dangerous or career-threatening, I do think he has given the ref, who was in a good position to see it, an easy decision. Dale was probably trying too hard but he will learn from having the red mist.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

After the dismissal, it was a case of keep-ball by Wigan and late signing central defensive debutant Leon Barnett – a target of Flitcroft – made it 3-0 in the 80th minute when he won a tussle with Chris O’Grady at a corner and reacted quickest to score from inside the six-yard area. Shaun Maloney then sidefooted home the fourth after Marc-Antoine Fortune had held off another weak challenge before squaring the ball across the area in the 88th minute.

FA Cup-winning hero Ben Watson had drilled home the first from 25 yards in the 37th minute as he made one his numerous surges from a sitting midfield role which Barnsley never got to grips with.

And Barnett’s former Norwich team-mate, £1.5m Grant Holt, shackled in the first half before showing his quality as a lone frontman in the second, deliberately deflected home the second from captain Emmerson Boyce’s shot following a corner in the 54th.

Barnsley scrapped, none more so than David Perkins in central midfield, and there was some quality play out wide from Scott Golbourne and Jacob Mellis but front two Chris Dagnall and O’Grady never got a sniff of goal.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Flitcroft’s plans had been disrupted by a hamstring injury to Lewin Nyatanga, which he had kept under wraps but one which is set to keep the central defender out of action for 10 days, leaving Martin Cranie to move inside and Scott Wiseman to face a tough afternoon against the pace of left winger Jean Beausejour.

While Coyle was left to reflect on a sparkling start he will also be wary that Premier League clubs still finalising their squads are likely to come calling, with James McCarthy an expected target for former manager Martinez.

“Ultimately, good players attract attention,” conceded Coyle. “But I have had no enquiries and long may that continue. As you know in football, at any given moment that can change.”