Familiar problems resurfuce at Barnsley to frustrate Gerhard Struber

Tykes' Alex Mowatt nicks the ball away from Luton's Luke Berry.  Pictures: Tony JohnsonTykes' Alex Mowatt nicks the ball away from Luton's Luke Berry.  Pictures: Tony Johnson
Tykes' Alex Mowatt nicks the ball away from Luton's Luke Berry. Pictures: Tony Johnson
GERHARD STRUBER’S post-match levels of stress were not quite the same as his predecessor on the previous occasion that Barnsley were rumbled on home soil by Luton Town, but there was palpable concern.

While a visibly exasperated Daniel Stendel bemoaned the Reds’ lack of Championship experience after Luton’s early-season victory at Oakwell last August, Struber’s issue revolved around his squad’s deficiencies in terms of physical stature and not being able to compete with powerful visitors who got under their skin.

Some would say with justification that it represents a variation on a theme after a streetwise and robust Luton side containing four ex-Reds players who started and eight in their match-day squad again did a solid job on subjugated hosts who turned in another weak and listless performance.

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The evidence again pointed to the fact that to win games, Barnsley must play well and have plenty going for them. When it is an arm-wrestle and things are not so good, they are far more susceptible.

Substitute Dominik Frieser puts a golden chance wide.Substitute Dominik Frieser puts a golden chance wide.
Substitute Dominik Frieser puts a golden chance wide.

The Championship may be a gloriously unpredictable league, but it is also a battleground.

In an era when the games will come thick and fast – from football’s recommencement on June 20 until the end of 2020, Barnsley will play at least 33 matches in all competitions in just over six months – standards will wane and doing the basics well, competing and winning ugly has its place.

Compact throughout at the back and with tenacity and bite in midfield, Luton earned the right and afforded themselves two big chances and managed to take one on an afternoon which will not live long in the memory.

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It should have come as no surprise regarding who delivered the game-breaking moment.

It arrived at the feet of James Collins. After spurning comfortably the game’s best opportunity in the first period when he blazed over with the goal at his mercy following Harry Cornick’s cross, he persisted and emphatically got his rewards 19 minutes from time.

Luton won the scrap and Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu – a strong influence in the engine room – nodded the ball into the path of Collins, whose rasping drive flew past Jack Walton into the top corner.

It was the striker’s fourth goal in his last three matches at Oakwell.

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Aside from a golden opportunity to level from substitute Dominik Frieser, who headed wide at the far post from Alex Mowatt’s centre, Luton were not overly troubled as the clock ticked down. Their work was done.

The questions were Barnsley’s. This evidence again reinforced the need to bring in a striking targetman option to play off – with Sandro Kulenovic being the chief name doing the rounds.

The Reds certainly need something as at the moment, for all their excellence when they hit the heights and play ‘on their limit’ as Struber puts it, they do not seem to have a Plan B when things are not so rosy.

Beforehand, the talk was of Barnsley equalling a club record of six successive clean sheets at Oakwell – last achieved under Allan Clarke during his second spell at the club in 1989.

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After it, talk of numbers did not stack up so nicely. In their last 11 home matches in all competitions, the Reds have scored just six times.

Offering a players’ perspective, Jordan Williams – whose steady performance at the back in his 50th game for the club was one of the few substantives on the day –observed: “They came here with a game plan and stuck to it. We need to stick to our game plan of playing out from the back.

“The goal was a sucker-punch and tough. It was a second ball we lost and they have put it in the top corner. We were not thrown off by their style, it was just a tough game.

“You have to dig deep and win second and first balls. We needed to do better at that in games like that. It was small margins. On another day, it could have been 0-0 or we nick it with Frieser’s chance. But it was the first game of the season. Last season, we won the first game and then went 17 games without a win. We will definitely bounce back and show we are up for the fight.”

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Before the game, the optimism was abundant. Resplendent on the front cover of the match programme, Struber – who confirmed that he had turned down recent offers to leave the club in an extensive interview – looked the embodiment of cool.

After the match, the mood was flat and Struber mulled over a performance that was not so assured - and far removed from intoxicating victories in the club’s previous two league curtain raisers at Oakwell against Fulham and Oxford United. This time, the fans were absent and so was the quality.

Barnsley simply could not get going. Cauley Woodrow was just off target with a low drive early on, but that was as good as it got for last season’s top-scorer, booked for an elbow on Sonny Bradley.

Across the pitch, Luton won more battles than Barnsley and had a bit of speed and devilment in Cornick, more snap in midfield and someone to play off up top in Collins.

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It was a slow-burner, but as the away side, the visitors were not rattled.

Break us down, they effectively said to Barnsley.

Unfortunately, Barnsley couldn’t and did not look like they were ever going to. Bracket this under ‘one to forget’.

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Thank you

James Mitchinson

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