Middlesbrough v Barnsley: Reds coach under pressure on Riverside

FOR the second successive October, the future of a Barnsley head coach is under the microscope ahead of an away game at Middlesbrough.

Although that is where the similarity ends.

Ahead of the Reds’ game at the Riverside on October 3, 2020, Gerhard Struber tried to straight-bat questions about his future – and specifically an approach from New York Red Bulls to take over – in the manner that Sir Geoffrey Boycott would have done when facing a particularly lively opening bowler in his formative years at Barnsley Cricket Club.

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Despite trying to be watchful in defence, the Austrian was far from convincing and Fitzwilliam’s finest would have shaken his head in admonishment.

Under pressure: Barnsley coach Markus Schopp. Picture: Tony Johnson

As most suspected, that game on Teesside was Struber’s last as Oakwell chief and he was heading ‘across the pond’ within days.

Just over 12 months on and his compatriot Markus Schopp is now the subject of fierce interrogation over his own position.

Unlike Struber, he is fighting for his future and to stick around in South Yorkshire.

Growing numbers of Barnsley fans may not be particularly interested in what he has to say at the minute – and only a couple of quick-fire wins will probably change the narrative – but the 47-year-old is clearly no quitter either and is certainly not feeling sorry for himself.

Schopp, a long way from home and in many respects on his own, observed: “This is a decision I make (to come). It is 24-7 and a situation which is a really, really tricky one.

“But I love this tricky situation and to get out of this is my goal and the goal for the lads.

“It is not hard to be focused. That is my job. It is all about having this under control and to see we are doing our best to make sure that everything is on the right side.

“It is not an easy one, but what is easy... It is all about getting the right answers.

“The answers right now are hard ones, but we’re going to find them. I am still positive and do not have a doubt that everything will go in the right direction.”

The fact that Barnsley are winless in their past 10 matches and are currently on a four-match losing sequence means that optimism is much thinner on the ground among the club’s fanbase – although Schopp has had precious little luck either in fairness.

Specifically on his own situation, he continued: “I am not the right person to talk about anything like that. But I have been (around) long enough in the business to know how it works.

“I am here and want to do my best. It is always the easiest thing to want to point at the coach and manager and you have to make the best of it.”

At the moment, Schopp is having to look at marginal gains. His side played much better at the weekend at Reading and narrowly lost and while it was another defeat, he has no other alternative but to take any positives available.

One potential one this evening is that Obbi Oulare could finally make his long-awaited debut from the bench, with the summer signing now fit enough to feature for part of the game.

When you are in Schopp’s position, you understandably grasp any semblance of good news which comes along.

He added: “The important thing for a player is that he is feeling fine and I think he is now in a situation where he can help us for part of the game and we have this in our mind and we have this added plan.

“When he came in, he wanted to help. He had to deal with certain problems he had at the begining with the visa process and not being able to work.

“It was a really, really tough time for him.

“To bring him on a certain level so that he can help us is a process (positive development) and he will probably be part of the team, although there is still a lot to do with him.”

The sight of Oulare making his introduction to Reds supporters would be a welcome one given a torrid autumn thus far at least.

The striker, his team-mates and their head coach are understandably desperate for a break or two amid a season which has seen the Reds not manage to muster a single second-half Championship goal since the opening day of 2021-22.

Last six games: Middlesbrough WLLWLW; Barnsley DDLLLL.

Referee: A Madley (West Yorkshire).

Last time: Middlesbrough 2 Barnsley 1, October 3, 2021; Championship.