ALEX MOWATT has revealed a surprising answer to one of the secrets of Barnsley’s heartening upturn in fortunes – laughter.
As the old saying goes, if you don’t laugh, you cry and the bewildered Reds were entitled to do plenty of that after a largely rotten and destabilising 17-match winless sequence at Championship level in a grim late summer and autumn.
Enter head coach Gerhard Struber, who has injected fight and belief into a group of young men and a sense of comradeship.
The Austrian’s English may remain a work in progress, but his messages are certainly not getting lost in translation, given recent encouraging results and performances.
Deadly serious in his work on the training ground and obsessively thorough in his video analysis sessions which leave no stone unturned, Struber appears to be wholly consumed in his new project.
Importantly, there are also interludes of light relief.
He is always cracking jokes and his English is a bit funny – and it is funny to laugh at him sometimes.Alex Mowatt of Gerhard Struber
Reds captain Mowatt said: “He has been really good, especially with all the lads. We do a lot of video analysis and he makes it clear what he wants off every player and every player knows their own role.
“If we stick to that, we have got a good chance of winning the game.
“In all the meetings, he is always cracking jokes and his English is a bit funny – and it is funny to laugh at him sometimes.
“He has been drilling into us that no matter what the score is, we have got to keep fighting and score more goals than the opposition and fight for clean sheets.
“He has drilling it into us that if we concede, nothing changes. We showed that against Huddersfield; earlier on in the season, we might have crumbled and drawn or lost. But we stuck to it and ended up getting three points.”
Saturday’s 2-1 derby success over Huddersfield Town extended the feelgood factor prevalent at Oakwell, with Barnsley’s six-match form in the Championship being the fourth best in the division.
It is no fluke either with the Reds’ form – definitely offensively – among the most proficient in the division for the best part of two months.
An early sign of things to come arrived in Struber’s maiden outing in charge at Blackburn Rovers on November 23 when a dominant performance going forward really should have yielded at least a point in a 3-2 loss which owed everything to defensive deficiencies.
Crucially, Barnsley have managed to maintain consistency in their offensive performances, spearheaded by the dynamism of Conor Chaplin – the Championship’s player-of-the-month for December.
At the back, the Reds still represent a work in progress, but small steps are being taken. Given all that, it is easy to appreciate why Struber’s side now possess a realistic fighting chance of survival.
Indeed, their displays have probably deserved a little bit more in terms of the hard currency of points.
“Since the gaffer has come in, most teams know that we have been playing well,” continued Mowatt.
“We have lost some games like Blackburn and Middlesbrough, but we were the better team against Blackburn. We have been unlucky not to pick up more points.
“You get that inconsistency with a young team, but the consistency has come with the gaffer as he has been so clear in how he wants to play.
“Home form has been good. We went unbeaten last season and it is nice to get back into form at home and we want to pick up as many points as we can.”
Saturday saw Mowatt play in an advanced role to accommodate recent arrival Marcel Ritzmaier, who made his debut in a deep-lying midfield position – and he admits he found it to his liking.
Given licence to get forward and help supplement the attack in his early years at Leeds, it is something that the Doncaster-born Mowatt feels comfortable with.
The bonus came in the shape of his third goal of the campaign when he drifted unchecked into the area to tuck away Jacob Brown’s cross, with all of his strikes this season having been registered at Oakwell.
Mowatt said: “I enjoyed it in there more centrally and getting in the box as well. Thankfully, I got a goal.
“I have scored three goals against Huddersfield now and like to play against them.
“I thought we were clinical and when we did get chances, we put them away, which was nice.
“I enjoyed playing with Marcel. He has been good. In training, he has looked really sharp and, in the game, I thought he did well.
“It is nice to get some good players in.”