DRAWING strength from adversity was something at which Barnsley’s promotion class of 2005-06 proved proficient as assistant head coach Dale Tonge can fondly recall.
He was part of the squad who went all the way and returned to the second tier following a dramatic penalty shoot-out victory in their play-off final with Swansea City at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on May 29, 2006.
No one could suggest that Tonge and his Reds team-mates did not do things the hard way in that epic 2005-06 campaign.
Similar backbone was shown earlier in an all-Yorkshire semi-final against Huddersfield Town when Andy Ritchie’s team – after being written off following a 1-0 first-leg loss at Oakwell – booked a date in the Welsh capital with a memorable 3-1 victory in the pivotal second instalment at the John Smith’s Stadium.
Fast forward to the present and the challenge for the Reds is to prove that any suggestions of their impending demise following the shock announcement that top-scorer Kieffer Moore is out for the rest of the season are greatly exaggerated.
The Oakwell faithful are still coming to terms with the news that Moore, who has scored 18 goals in all competitions this term, will not line up in a Barnsley jersey until the start of next season on medical advice after being stretchered off with a head injury late on in the win at Gillingham on February 9.
Just how much Barnsley will miss the services of Moore will be revealed in the coming weeks during the definitive part of the season.
Tonge admits it would be disingenuous to suggest that the news regarding Moore’s absence is anything other than an untimely blow – and is something that will serve as a boost for Barnsley’s promotion rivals.
Yet, equally, he is confident that the Reds can cast aside the unwelcome development and keep their promotion bandwagon on course.
If they want to achieve their season’s aims they simply have no choice and now possess an added motivation too.
As a group now, I think it has brought us closer. Kieffer is in and around the place and a character in himself , the boys are looking at him being within the group and saying: ‘Right, let’s do it for him.’ He is a good character and will be well valued for the rest of the season.Barnsley assistant head coach, Dale Tonge
Tonge, who confirmed that Moore is expected to be “fit and fine” and ready for pre-season following an extended period of recuperation – and will stay involved with the first-team group – said: “It may give other teams a boost. The boys are well aware of that and I think it has been evident in the last two games that the best teams are going to give their best performance against us. Ultimately we are a scalp at the minute.
“It is a massive loss in terms of personality and goals, of course it is. It is tough to replace Kieffer at this level and the one above in my opinion.
“But as a group now I think it has brought us closer. Kieffer is in and around the place and a character in himself.
“With him being a leader, the boys are looking at him being within the group and saying, ‘Right, let’s do it for him’.
“He can still do certain things and he loves the gym and there is a lot of stuff he can do. He is a good character and will be well valued for the rest of the season.”
On the importance of collectively holding their nerve, Tonge added: “Now more than ever, the fans need to be with us and get behind whoever is playing and pull together as one.
“I remember those Huddersfield play-off games vividly and it did not go so well in the first one and then we had 3,500 away and they sang Huddersfield out of the ground – the rest was history.”
While Moore’s contribution to Barnsley’s strong pitch for promotion cannot be doubted this season, any talk that the Reds are something akin to a one-man team is soon dispelled when the numbers are crunched.
In the seven league matches that Moore has missed so far this season, head coach Daniel Stendel’s side have picked up a creditable 15 points, including four points against league leaders Luton Town.
This should at least pacify the doubters somewhat, as should Barnsley’s current 14-match unbeaten run.
Twelve months ago all the talk was of another statistic, namely the club’s run without a league win at Oakwell that stretched back to early November, 2017 and was to last until last April.
Thankfully Barnsley’s more feted consistency and ability to cope with pressure have been reassuring features of the current campaign thus far – with or without Moore – and Tonge believes the squad has enough leaders and quality within its ranks to cope.
On the contenders to fill the void left by Moore over the coming weeks and months, Tonge added: “I think we are looking at all avenues, to be honest.
“We have a natural centre forward in Victor (Adeboyejo) and there are opportunities for players to come in and stake their place and, at the same time, see this as a great opportunity to become the talisman of this group.
“We see this as an opportunity to someone else can fill that void and as a group it is a case of can we fill those goals?”