Barnsley FC boss Poya Asbaghi’s focus on victory not former Oakwell favourites at West Brom

Victory over two returning heroes in Valerien Ismael and Alex Mowatt tomorrow night will not provide Barnsley with a psychological lift in the fight to climb away from the Championship’s relegation zone.

So says Poya Asbaghi, the new man in the home dugout at Oakwell, who insists three points are three points no matter who they come against.

Barnsley are getting increasingly desperate for a win which would be the first since Asbaghi succeed Markus Schopp, the manager initially brought in to try and build on the success of Ismael the season before. Ismael and Barnsley’s long-standing playmaker Mowatt were instrumental in taking the Reds from relegation candidates to play-off semi-finalists in a few short months last season, their success attracting the grander ambitions of West Brom, who were relegated from the Premier League in May and are built to bounce straight back up.

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Ismael brings a West Brom team to Oakwell tomorrow night sitting third, even if all is not harmonious in the Baggies camp as the Hawthorns faithful adjust to the Frenchman’s direct style of football which proved so successful in South Yorkshire.

Barnsley head coach Poya Asbaghi.  Picture: Bruce RollinsonBarnsley head coach Poya Asbaghi.  Picture: Bruce Rollinson
Barnsley head coach Poya Asbaghi. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Better to be third, though, than 23rd, which is where Barnsley find themselves after a torrid transition from Ismael’s in-your-face existence.

Asbaghi, the former Sweden Under-21s coach, is still trying to pick up the pieces of the failed Schopp reign and has overseen just two draws from his first four games in charge.

Getting that first win over the man whose reign looks increasingly like an anomaly when measured against Barnsley’s other seasons in the second tier, could be seen as a huge lift.

But Asbaghi does not view it like that.

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Valerien Ismael took Barnsley to the Championship play-offs.  Picture: Bruce RollinsonValerien Ismael took Barnsley to the Championship play-offs.  Picture: Bruce Rollinson
Valerien Ismael took Barnsley to the Championship play-offs. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

“It’s not about beating a certain player or an individual manager, it’s about us getting three points,” said the 36-year-old who was born in Iran but spent all of his coaching career in Sweden.

“We don’t care who we’re playing, who we get that win against, any opponent, we will take the three points any day.

“But if we get that win against West Brom that will give us the confidence that we can beat anyone in the league.

“In terms of squad and players we’re up against it doesn’t get any better, or more difficult than it will on Friday.”

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When Asbaghi first came in, Barnsley were in the midst of the traditional slog of Saturday, midweek, Saturday football that is commonplace in the Championship.

But since Monday, November 29, Asbaghi has had full weeks to work with his players on the training ground, trying to rediscover an identity that had got lost under Schopp who tried to change too much, too quickly.

“That first week we arrived we had three games in one week, we didn’t have time that week to talk about identity, it was more or less just preparing for the opponent,” said Asbaghi, whose side sit eight points adrift of safety.

“It has been a big difference the last couple of weeks where we have had time to talk about us, without focusing too much on the opponent.

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“It has been helpful having that time, and we’ve had another week and hopefully we’ll see the improvements.

“The players are now more aware of what we expect of them on the pitch as individuals but also collectively.

“The development we have had in our offence has been positive, we’ve got better and better with every game, creating more and more chances.

“West Brom will test our offence more than any team we’ve played so far, so we need to keep improving to ensure we keep creating chances.

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“We’re playing a top side that has one of the best squads in the league, so we cannot get away with just creating chances, to win this game we need to be defensively organised and that is the main focus for us. A team like West Brom can punish us even more than our recent opponents.

“So this week it’s been about good defensive organisation and keeping on working on our offence.”

Like all clubs in English football right now, Barnsley are on Covid alert. Asbaghi revealed one player tested positive on Tuesday morning and was sent home to isolate.

The lateral flow tests that every player takes in a morning all came back negative yesterday, but there is two more rounds of testing to negotiate.

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West Brom tried to get their game at Reading last Saturday postponed because they had four players test positive, but EFL rules state games must be fulfilled if clubs have 14 fit players available, although they leave it up to clubs to decide whether or not to call off matches.

Barnsley boss Asbaghi said: “It’s been important even before this week that we don’t relax around Covid, so we follow the recommendations.

“Now that we’ve had one case it requires extra attention so we don’t let the virus spread.”

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