Barnsley v Bristol Rovers: Time for the Reds to toughen up

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DONNING the equivalent of war paint and combat fatigues before going into battle on the pitch was something that former non-league defender Ethan Pinnock was weaned on.

Life in the seventh tier of English football can be a tough and unforgiving place for a young centre-half starting to make his way in the game. You either sink or swim.

Rallying call: Barnsley's Ethan Pinnock getting above team-mate Demitri Cavare.

Rallying call: Barnsley's Ethan Pinnock getting above team-mate Demitri Cavare.

Fortunately, the big Barnsley centre-back was made of the right stuff. After earning his stripes at Dulwich Hamlet, he then made the grade at a team who many in the Conference loved to hate in big-spending Forest Green.

Intimidation and standing tall against rival sides who like nothing better than knocking you off your stride, taking you outside of your comfort zone and turning you over is just as part of the tapestry in the lower divisions of the EFL – as Barnsley and Pinnock are currently finding out.

For the 25-year-old, fortified by the knowledge of his early days in football, it is about winning the battle, first and foremost – something that the Reds certainly did not do in Tuesday evening’s disappointing 3-1 reverse at Shrewsbury Town.

On his own ‘manning up process’, Pinnock – who made his Dulwich debut at the age of just 16 – said: “Starting in non-league as a teenager, you play against experienced guys who have been working all day and then come to play.

“They have not been chilling at home all day. People depend on it to feed their families and things like that. There are a lot of games that are decided late on and with the pitches, it is not always the easiest to play.

“For a lot of the time, it is a battle and it takes 40, 50 or 60 minutes to overcome that battle and then that is your chance. For us here, we do need to remain a lot more solid until the game opens up.

“As the season goes on and some teams are trying to make sure they stay safe or make the play-offs, their performances do improve, so we do need to make sure we match that.”

Another thing can be taken as read. Namely that Tuesday’s events are likely to have resonated on the League One grapevine after a physical Shrewsbury side did a number on Barnsley by not allowing them to play and settle.

At their free-flowing gegenpressing best, the Reds have shown on several occasions this term that are few, if any rivals, who are able to live with them. Just ask second-placed Peterborough United.

But rival sides are clearly coming up with alternative solutions and Pinnock and his team-mates can expect more of the same in weeks and months ahead.

He said: “We all know it (Shrewsbury) was not good enough. A lot of fans came far and travelled down and spent their money. We know that was not an acceptable performance.

“We need to be more streetwise. There were a few challenges that were pretty bad and we have got to be aware of that. Teams might try and do that and we have got to stand up to it and give a bit back.

“We need to earn the right to play how we want to, especially when we are away. We need to more aware of that and maybe be a bit more compact before we start to play how we want to.”

It has certainly been an eventful last two Saturday’s for Pinnock, who wore the captain’s armband in the televised win over Luton Town a fortnight ago.

The Londoner then returned home last Saturday and was part of a Reds side who were turned over 2-0 at Charlton Athletic – and after events in Shropshire in midweek, the emphasis is now on delivering a reaction.

A run of five successive home matches in all competitions at Oakwell provides the perfect platform to do that, starting against a struggling Rovers side this afternoon.

Pinnock, conscious that the Reds’ concession of seven goals in their last three league games equals the amount they had conceded in their opening 11 league fixtures, added: “Captaining the team (against Luton) was a really proud moment for me and the fact that we won the game made it even better.

“But despite the fact that I was wearing the captain’s armband, you need leaders all over the pitch and players to motivate each other.

“We then went to Charlton and I did have a few friends and family there and it was disappointing to lose, it always is.

“But it is back to work on Saturday, all the boys are really disappointed with the last two games and there will be a reaction.”