As a coach whose background is in youth development, Gerhard Struber has usually had to show patience and meticulousness. Since coming to Barnsley in late November, things have had to be on fast forward.
Even the Reds’ transfer policy this month is about trying to take short cuts.
Struber, though, has shown himself just as adept. Stoke City’s unexpected win at West Bromwich Albion last night might have denied Barnsley the chance to move out of the Championship relegation zone by beating Preston North End at Oakwell tonight, but just to be in sight is an achievement.
When Struber took over only 62 days ago the club were bottom, five points adrift of safety. Not a massive amount, you might think, but they only had nine from their first 16 games.
Not a massive amount, you might think, but they only had nine from their first 16 games. When they travelled to Preston in October, a 1-1 half-time scoreline collapsed into a 5-1 defeat.
Organisation and confidence have been key, according to holding midfielder Kenny Dougall.
“His first couple of games results didn’t go our way but since then we’ve picked up a lot of points and whenever you pick up points, you breed confidence,” says the Australian.
“The new gaffer’s got us playing better, training better, and he’s changed results as well.
“We’ve found ourselves in a good run of form even though we had a little slip-up at the weekend (beaten 1-0 at Bristol City).
“Mentally it’s a big step (to come out of the bottom three), we haven’t been out for some time now so it will do wonders, but we also know there are 17 (league) games left after Preston, so there’s a long to go. But it’s a first step towards safety.”
Struber was enjoying a good season with Wolfsburger in his native Austria when he gambled it for a shot at the Championship.
“I knew when I came in it would not be easy, there is no time to prepare,” he reflects.
“The only time we have is the training session between games and when we play twice in a week, it’s only recovery sessions.
“But we speak a lot about my style and work on positioning. I spend a lot of time with my boys doing video analysis and we show them on the training field the right position for them.
“It’s been very helpful over the last two months to find the right players for the right position, and to find the right squad to deliver the performances I need.
“I think we have a good mix and the next step is to work more on the detail, but that needs more time.
“When we have a longer week (ie one with no midweek match), we can work more on that and do more high-intensity work because I need players who can sprint very often in a game.
“We are making good steps in the right direction and there is a good focus on my style. Also, the boys have a good spirit, they’re hungry to make the next step with the team and every single player feels he can develop.
“It’s very important we go step by step.
“In the game against Bristol (City) we were very synchronised defensively. It’s not so easy for opponents to score against us and in many (previous) games, this was a big problem.”
The players Struber has signed so far this month, right-back Kilian Ludewig and midfielder Marcel Ritzmaier, have worked under him before and while that will not be a prerequisite for the “one, two or three” more Barnsley want this month, they will have to already be playing the Struber way.
“It’s very important that we bring players into the camp who are used to playing with a high intensity and who understand what I want from football,” he says. “We have no time to teach only the basics.”
One player who has run out of time, at least for now, is forward Mallik Wilks, loaned to Hull City for the rest of the season.
“Mallik is a player with a big talent but he must learn the game has four parts – on the ball, off the ball and the transition offensively and defensively. He must learn that always when we lose the ball we have to work together and always stay in a structure when the opponent is on the ball,” insists Struber.
“At this moment I think other players have a bigger education than Mallik when it comes to the work they have to do out of possession. “I hope he can learn these situations off the ball, grow and improve his skills in this part of the game.
“Maybe, we will see in the summer, what is coming.
“The Hull coach is a very big fan of his and this is always very helpful for a player when there’s a big trust between coach and player.”
Cauley Woodrow will return from the bench after hamstring trouble, and goalkeeper Sami Radlinger is back from illness but Clark Odour’s ankle makes him a doubt and Bambo Diaby’s knee is unlikely to be risked.
Mike Bahre is one of those with ’flu.
Last six games: Barnsley DDLWWL; Preston North End DLLLDW.
Referee: J Simpson (Lancashire).
Last time: Barnsley 0 Preston North End 0, December 26, 2017, Championship.