Forward thinking key for Barnsley boss Heckingbottom in January

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MUCH loved for his wise counsel, perceptive insight and dry humour, Norman Rimmington would probably have had a certain view on what this current Barnsley side are plainly lacking.

On the day when his club remembered the legendary Reds stalwart with fondness and affection on the first anniversary of his passing, you sense that ‘Rimmo’ would have offered a rather straightforward take on his beloved Reds’ deficiencies too.

Hard-working, energetic and exemplary in terms of attitude and willingness to learn maybe – but also youthful and palpably lacking in Championship know-how, ringcraft and attacking nous. Or words to that effect.

For another Barnsley lad in Paul Heckingbottom, those sentiments would have struck right to the heart of the matter, judging by his post-match utterances.

It was an afternoon when his Reds side showed commendable spirit, but also saw their winless sequence extend to a worrying 10 league matches as they were sucked ever closer to the relegation positions.

The relief at Ethan Pinnock’s stoppage-time strike which earned Barnsley a point may have been obvious to all and sundry, but it was a pyrrhic victory.

Paul Heckingbottom cut a frustrated figure.

Paul Heckingbottom cut a frustrated figure.

That it took a central defender, thrown up front towards the conclusion of the game, to end the Reds’ near eight-hour Oakwell goal drought which had stretched back almost two months to November 4 told a bit of a story.

Barnsley’s defensive display which saw their guard drop just once when Yann Kermorgant nipped in between Liam Lindsay and Zeki Fryers to nod the Royals in front midway through the half may have displayed conviction.

But at the other end, Barnsley’s lack of a ruthless attacking edge and propensity to make poor decisions in the final third was there for all to see at key junctures, as it has been for most of 2017.

It was a year in which the Oakwell faithful witnessed just four league wins on home soil – and in that respect, Heckingbottom would be forgiven for being somewhat glad to see the back of 2017.

I cannot get out of my head what has been evident for the last 18 months and what I have been banging on about for the past 12 months – there is a big deficiency in our squad.

Paul Heckingbottom

Yet without some new senior forward options, there is a good chance that the old habits will persist in the new year.

On another Oakwell story of a lost opportunity, Heckingbottom, with a fair degree of frustration, rued: “I have been saying that about (almost) every game.

“We had one (striker – Oli McBurnie), but it fell through in the last minute (in August) and all I am doing is seeing him scoring and playing at Anfield last week...

“But we cannot worry about it, we did not get him. We have got to make sure that we get the signings in January.

One that got away for Barnsley: Swansea City's Oliver McBurnie (back) celebrates with team-mate Tom Carroll after the Premier League win at Watford.

One that got away for Barnsley: Swansea City's Oliver McBurnie (back) celebrates with team-mate Tom Carroll after the Premier League win at Watford.

“I know when I watch the game back, I will be aware of lots of good stuff. But I cannot get out of my head what has been evident for the last 18 months and what I have been banging on about for the past 12 months – there is a big deficiency in our squad.”

That Barnsley at least ensured that they did not go a morale-sapping fifth successive home league match without finding the net was at least something – and given the club’s current sequence they will maybe have to be grateful for small mercies.

Their goal was a sweet moment for their best player on the day in Pinnock, with the ex-Dulwich Hamlet defender – who had endured a injury-hit first half of the season – bailing out the hosts in the nick of time with a downward header following a right-wing cross from substitute Lloyd Isgrove for his maiden Reds’ goal.

It prevented Reading from sealing a smash-and-grab raid which their uninspired efforts scarcely deserved – yet unlike Barnsley, they did produce a moment of clinical quality when it mattered.

It arrived when Kermorgant emphatically headed in his first goal of the season following a fine left-wing centre from Tyler Blackett and it would have been enough had it not been for Pinnock.

Before that, clear-cut chances were hard to find with Harvey Barnes and Mamadou Thiam off target in a low-key first half.

Despite renewed urgency on the restart and more work for Mannone, who denied Tom Bradshaw and Thiam, the saves were of the standard variety before Kermorgant found a way past Adam Davies at the other end.

Taking solace at least from his side’s spirit on show, which will be needed in the weeks ahead, Heckingbottom added: “Small moments change games and we have not got that know-how and knowledge and that is why we have to be on top to win a game. In games, a little bit of indecision or a bad decision has cost us. But we are learning all the time.

“We have not signed ready-made Championship players who we know will do a job for us. So you need to graft with every player and they must buy into it.

“When results don’t come, you wonder if they are going to get those doubts about coping with this level. But the spirit is a really good sign to show they will give everything to stay in this team.

“It looks like Ethan is adjusting to this level now, having just come from the Conference.

“But we believe in these players and they have a big opportunity to make a name for themselves and hopefully they will do that.”