THE body language of bruised and bereft Barnsley head coach Jose Morais spoke volumes late on Tuesday evening.
The ebullience and animation of many of his previous Press musings was conspicuous by its absence. In the dying embers of a brutal night in Nottingham, he bore the haunted look of a gambler who had put all his chips on red and seen the ball land on black.
A beaten man, the more cynical may suggest.
Statistically, a situation of being two points adrift of Championship safety with two games remaining is critical, but not quite catastrophic.
Events at the City Ground left a clearly pained and demoralised Morais to somehow try and pick up the pieces following a poor 3-0 reverse. His decision to make six changes – including some fairly controversial ones – was left open to rebuke and it is increasingly difficult for fans to retain faith in his ability to provide the answers.
The understandably flat and disillusioned mood emanating from the away end at the final whistle – and in subsequent social media outpourings since – reinforced that message on a night when Morais’s stock took a battering and belief in the Reds’ survival mission drained.
His decision to make six changes – including some fairly controversial ones – was left open to rebuke and it is increasingly difficult for fans to retain faith in his ability to provide the answers.Leon Wobschall
You sense that deep down, Morais knows this only too well and that few were interested in a rallying call – even if he did try.
Morais said: “I can feel it was a difficult game to cope with. Until the last game, we have to believe we can do it. The task is more difficult now and to think we can do something different. But we have a game at home to play and we have to believe this (survival) is possible with two games to play.
“The confidence side will exist when we have a team who can fight for things. The second half was a little bit better and more like this. This is the willingness and energy but I know this is a difficult situation.”
After such a raft of changes – with four of his back five replaced from the weekend loss at Leeds United – Morais’s questioning of his side’s lack of fight in the first half at Nottingham Forest was deeply worrying in particular.
It laid the Portuguese open to the charge that his changes plainly backfired. Although, as he justifiably said, those who were demoted from the side after the weekend loss at Elland Road did not exactly cover themselves in glory either.
Morais will have to do the equivalent of rearranging the deckchairs again in Saturday’s home game with play-off candidates Brentford – when a loss combined with a win for Bolton at Burton would relegate the Reds.
It is hard to see quite where he goes in terms of selection, although the smart money is on captain Andy Yiadom and Zeki Fryers, both controversially ‘rested’ for the Forest encounter, certainly returning for starters after both full-back replacements, Dani Pinillos and Dimitri Cavare, had painful nights.
Sides down among the dead men at the bottom like Barnsley are there for a reason. Primarily, a deficiency of quality.
Yet Barnsley’s lack of joined-up thinking in terms of team selection also points to an absence of a strong collective mindset and organisation, which is rather more reprehensible.
These are qualities which the Reds’ two direct rivals in Burton and Bolton seem rather more abundant in.
Aiming to justify his changes, Morais said: “The opponents also made many changes. Players are tired and I had to make changes. I thought it was best for the team. I believe, that with the other players, no-one can say they were not supposed to be better.
“I feel these players (who played) were good enough to get the result we wanted. We did not because the opponent was better. The other players who were not here could not win in other games and the same has happened.
“We played with (Adam) Jackson and (Liam) Lindsay, players who normally play, and Cavare, who is a player who has already played, and Pinillos. We have already played with this back four and there was no reason for this not to happen. I did what I felt was the right thing.”
Ironically, Morais’s most striking call in handing a shock debut to goalkeeper Jack Walton, just a day after his 20th birthday, was his one relative success on an otherwise grim night.
Brought in for Adam Davies, the Lancastrian may have conceded three goals, but was afforded scant protection and could do little about Forest’s two first-half goals when the game’s outcome was still in the melting pot.
Morais observed: “I was happy for Jack and he did what he had to do. I believe the other players could have been doing what Jack did. This is the reason why we changed. When it is not happening for the team, you change to give the team more energy.
“It is a bad situation. We have been conceding goals. Jack is a young goalkeeper with quality and very good skills in terms of reactions. I think he played well.”