Team bonding a piece of cake as Barnsley target sweet smell of success

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Rewind the clock to last Spring and any training-ground fines issued for breaches of discipline at Barnsley are unlikely to have involved shelving out on a consignment of cakes.

A troubled 2017-18 run-in famously culminated in ex-Reds head coach Jose Morais unconvincingly answer questions about a training incident which allegedly left goalkeeper Nick Townsend nursing a broken finger after an altercation with a team-mate.

To most observers, it gave the distinct impression of a coach struggling to command the respect of his squad or being in full control of it either.

Thankfully, it contrasts markedly with the sense of order and happiness under Morais’s successor, Daniel Stendel – who is proving that a healthy training-ground environment is often the precursor to a successful one.

From chaos to confectionery, as some might suggest.

After previous team bonding days which had seen Barnsley’s staff and players head to the Total Ninja obstacle course in Manchester, enjoy a go-karting trip and take part in a table-tennis tournament, a team day was organised on Wednesday, as a spot of light relief ahead of the business end of the season.

Barnsley head coach, Daniel Stendel. Picture: Dave Howarth/PA

Barnsley head coach, Daniel Stendel. Picture: Dave Howarth/PA

Footage was shown on social media of Stendel losing out in a game of head tennis – which came at a price the following morning when he was forced to pay a fine by buying a selection of sweet treats for his players and staff.

The German is likely to be happy to do so again and again if it means that the promotion-chasing Reds, second in League One and without a defeat in 15 league matches since December 8, continue their charge back to the Championship.

Assistant head coach Dale Tonge said: “We had the patisserie van here (on Thursday) and the gaffer bought the cakes as a fine, as he was horrendous ... again.

“You can see on certain things on social media or just walking around the place, the players have all got smiles on their faces.

We have got players who are more than ready to fill others’ boots. Going into every training session and game now, you can see that desire and hunger to not just win, but for the players to show how good they are.

Dale Tonge

“From my point of view, that is what has made it so easy to come in and enjoy my work here.

“Credit to the gaffer – and previously Andy (Andreas Winkler) – Chris (Stern) and the backroom staff such as Luke (Dopson) and Vaughany (John Vaughan). Even the medical staff in how they have bought the lads together as a group is a credit to them all.”

On the pitch, do not let it be said that the togetherness forged has not been tested in recent times either.

At the end of a week which saw the club come to the terms with the shock news that top-scorer Kieffer Moore would be ruled out for the rest of the season, Barnsley’s youthful crop produced a memorable performance to register a resounding 3-0 victory at Southend United last weekend.

CONFIDENT: Dale Tonge.'  Picture: Bruce Rollinson

CONFIDENT: Dale Tonge.' Picture: Bruce Rollinson

It was all the more commendable given that Jacob Brown was sent off after just 36 minutes, with the forward now facing three matches on the sidelines.

Further adversity could yet arrive, with midfielder Cameron McGeehan having been charged by the Football Association with violent conduct following an incident with home defender Sam Hart which was picked up by the TV cameras – and also facing a three-game ban if the decision is upheld.

It is a charge which Barnsley have robustly denied. But whatever happens, Tonge insists that the mentality, resolve and unity which has been carefully cultivated under Stendel will not break at the season’s key juncture.

He added: “With certain circumstances that have happened, such as with Cam, Browny and Kieffer, I think it just makes them stronger as a group. I think that will be evident moving forward.

“We have got players who are more than ready to fill others’ boots. Going into every training session and game now, you can see that desire and hunger to not just win, but for the players to show how good they are.

“That was more evident against Southend than I have seen in recent weeks.”

Meanwhile, Tonge is firmly casting aside talk that tomorrow’s home encounter with 15th-placed Accrington Stanley represents the ‘calm before the storm’ ahead of two huge dates with top-two rivals Sunderland and derby opponents Doncaster Rovers.

His cautionary tone is delivered with good reason ahead of the arrival of an Accrington side whose inability to punch above their weight precedes them.

Tonge said: “It is a big week coming up, not just in terms of the amount of games we are playing, but the opposition.

“We totally understand that, but our main focus is Accrington this weekend.

“We are not thinking about Sunderland. We will cross that bridge after Saturday.

“Accrington are a very dangerous opposition away from home because of how they play. They show no fear, which was evident against Sunderland live on Sky.

“There were nearly 30,000 people there and they played their own game and were very unlucky not to win.”