Ipswich Town v Barnsley: Tom Bradshaw hoping to help fire Reds to safety

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A weekend is a long time in football. Long enough for moods to change markedly, for divisions to unite, for a ray of light to illuminate a darkened room.

Just ask the players and management of Barnsley Football Club.

Reds hero: 'Tom Bradshaw.

Reds hero: 'Tom Bradshaw.

Five days ago it emerged team-mates had been fighting with each other in training, resulting in goalkeeper Nick Townsend being ruled out for the rest of the season.

The fractious atmosphere behind the scenes compounded the misery on the pitch where Barnsley had not won on home soil for five months amid a run of form that had seen them slip to five points adrift of Championship survival with games running out.

Sheffield United were next in town, full of purpose and play-off intent.

Come Saturday tea-time, however, and the mood could not have been more different. Barnsley had won at last at Oakwell, clinching three points against their South Yorkshire neighbours in a game of wild momentum shifts.

Above them Bolton had lost and Birmingham had been held. Suddenly Barnsley were alive, the fighting on the training ground having been transferred to the football pitch.

So it was no surprise on a foggy morning at Oakwell yesterday that, ahead of tonight’s trip to Ipswich Town, there was optimisim in the air once again.

Granted, dutiful media interviews with head coach Jose Morais and striker Tom Bradshaw offered only a glimpse into the mood, but the shift was noticeable.

Morais, the club’s Portuguese head coach thrust into his first managerial job in English football in the middle of a Championship relegation scrap, was sticking to the same script to which he has alluded through much of his tenure, about belief, improving his players, and a shared vision.

But the sense was he was speaking yesterday with a little more conviction.

Bradshaw, on the other hand, was more effusive, speaking as a man who had found the net for the first time in over three months when he stepped off the bench to score the winner against the Blades in front of the fans in the Pontefract Road end.

“It was one of the best moments of my career, certainly here at Barnsley,” beamed the 25-year-old. “To come on and score a goal to win a derby in front of our fans, it was insane.

“It’s been a little while since I’ve scored so to get back on the goal trail, to get my 12th of the season in that way was a special moment for me.”

A ‘little while’ is underplaying the frustrations the former Walsall striker has had to endure.

Despite figuring in a team that has struggled all season, Bradshaw had managed to lead the line admirably under Paul Heckingbottom in the first half of the campaign. He scored eight league goals before Christmas and a further three in the League Cup before the rot set in.

His dip in goalscoring form could not have come at a worse time, with Heckingbottom having some luck in the transfer market with the six-figure capture of rangy striker Kieffer Moore and the loan signing of Swansea City’s Oli McBurnie.

Then, when Heckingbottom left for Leeds United and Morais came in, Bradshaw found himself further down the pecking order due to the new man’s tactics.

“Jose likes to play 4-3-3 with the big target man up top. I’d like to think I’m six foot-odd like Kieffer, but the reality is I’m probably five foot, eleven and a half,” joked Bradshaw.

“So you could say I’m a victim of the system. Different managers have different styles and preferences, that’s part of football and I understand that.

“Kieffer has done really well since he’s come in; he’s got a few man-of-the-match awards and scored a few goals, so I’ve had to be patient and wait for my chance.”

“It was always going to be the case, even under ‘Hecky’. He told me at the start of the season he wanted to have four strikers and that’s pretty standard across the Championship, so I knew there’d be strikers coming in, in January.

“As a striker you’ve always got to have that self-belief that you can score goals, that you can affect the game when you’re on the pitch. I knew I had to take my chance when it arrived and fortunately I did that on Saturday.”

Having done so to such effect against the Blades, Bradshaw will be hoping to be elevated to the starting XI tonight at Ipswich although Morais reports all 18 members of the match-day squad against the Blades came through unscathed, including McBurnie, who ran for 90 minutes despite a niggling injury.

On Saturday Bolton visit Oakwell for a huge game in the context of the season.

Quite how the situation will look by then is anybody’s guess, but at least for now there is hope.

Last six games: Ipswich Town DLLLDL Barnsley LLDLDW.

Referee: J Linington (Isle of Wight).

Last time: Ipswich 4 Barnsley 2; August 6, 2016; Championship.