WITH THE incessant rain teeming down after the match at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium late on Wednesday evening, Barnsley’s substitutes did their ‘warm-down’ amid a deluge.
As they filtered back into the supposed sanctuary of the away dressing room; wet, cold and bedraggled, the maxim that life as a professional footballer is glamorous was open to serious rebuke.
The body language of those who ‘greeted’ them and following the Reds’ meeting with their relegation rivals would have further conveyed that sport can be tough.
The away camp was a sombre place for a group of players who need reviving after their role in the club’s second worst league run ever.
Two games into his Barnsley tenure, it is something that Gerhard Struber – who steps out in front of the home faithful at Oakwell for the first time this afternoon – has quickly cottoned onto.
In the most part, he has inherited a group of rookie second-tier players who have been effectively assigned with learning on the Championship job.
Prior to this season, the vast majority had next to no experience of a division which is considered to be one of the most ultra-competitive in the world and does not take prisoners.
Given all that – and for young players especially – coping with a 17-match winless streak and seemingly being kicked continually for every mistake becomes a heavy burden, complete with the drip-drip effect of sapped confidence when things do not go your way.
It was manifested after Ashley Fletcher put Boro in front on Wednesday.
After being the better side prior to the goal, Barnsley were floored and never the same.
It is why, for all of Struber’s tactical work on the training ground – there has actually been an impressive structure to Barnsley in their past two games for significant spells – lifting hearts and minds and cultivating a bit of a siege mentality is perhaps more important.
It is something that Jan Siewert, thrust into a similar maelstrom last winter at Huddersfield Town, failed to achieve as Town were relegated meekly and lost their famed ‘Terrier identity’ in the process.
For Struber, changing the mindset and finding some fight, ahead of technical innovations, is the starting point for any recovery ahead of his bow at Oakwell, where Barnsley play four of their next six matches.
The 42-year-old, who has taken what most view to be a brave decision to leave the comparative comfort of the Austrian Bundesliga for a new challenge in a new country at a team who are bottom of the table, said: “We need a good technical and tactical plan, but also, and this is the most important thing, we need character, attitude and confidence.
“For us, it is very, very important. Our fans want to see this. This is the history of the people here in this town.
“They work hard and we will show that and it is our responsibility.
“We will be ready for a good fight and hope for a good result for the mentality to get better. We must give all that we have.”
Earlier in the week, Struber had spoken about the importance of top-scorer Cauley Woodrow as a leader, while captain Alex Mowatt’s relative seniority also ranks him as another to look up to.
The latter went through plenty during his time at Leeds United, where off-the-field drama was never far away and despite being only 24, he has been through experiences that many players do not sample in an entire career.
Mowatt said: “I don’t know how many changes of manager I went through at Leeds and now we are on our third manager already this season, so it is pretty similar. I am used to it.
“We have got to stick together as a team and cannot hide away in games and we have to play for 90 minutes. Even the boys who have not been starting and not coming on, it is about everyone as a team, really.
“No-one wants to get relegated and hopefully we can turn things around.
“We have gone away from making the right decisions and doing basic things.
“Making the right decisions in the right areas has cost us since the start of the season. Making simple changes will help us massively.”
As for his captaincy style, he added: “I would not say I am a massive talker before the game, but I do get angry before a game and talk a lot on the pitch and then after the game.
“Especially lately, when we have been losing games I do not think we should have been losing. It has been so frustrating, but we need to keep going.”