Barnsley show appetite for promotion challenge

IT MAY only be mid-November, but when it comes to choosing Barnsley's most memorable matches of 2018-19 so far, the shortlist is already a lengthy one.

George Moncur impressed for Barnsley against Bradford City in midweek.

Regal performances in the Reds’ opening two League One fixtures against Oxford United and Bradford City set a high bar at an early juncture, with similarly sublime away displays at Rochdale and especially Peterborough United also possessing the stamp of excellence.

A pristine televised showing against Luton Town made a wider audience sit up and take notice too.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

But sometimes it is defeats – and more pertinently, the reaction to them – which stick in the memories of a club’s management the most.

Barnsley assistant head coach Andreas Winkler is certainly of that view.

He and head coach Daniel Stendel may be still learning on the job regarding English football, but they are sage enough to realise that casting aside adversity, which inescapably arrives during the nine-month EFL marathon, is a key facet in having an ultimately successful campaign.

After a run of four successive victories at Oakwell – five if you include the penalty shoot-out ‘win’ over Everton in the Checkatrade Trophy – Barnsley head into tomorrow’s Roses trip to Accrington in a good place.

Yet it is not so long back that some questions were being asked following back-to-back setbacks at Charlton and Shrewsbury Town, with defeat in the latter being compounded by the loss of influential midfielder Kenny Dougall to injury.

Admirably, Barnsley have dusted themselves down and found some compelling answers.

It has come at an opportune moment with key games against play-off candidates Accrington, derby rivals Doncaster Rovers and divisional big guns Sunderland on the immediate roster.

Crunch tests also await before the end of the year against Portsmouth and Peterborough – and after showing their resolve and character over the past month, now the Reds must do so again in order to emphatically show that they are the ‘real deal’ in the automatic promotion stakes.

Winkler said: “In the whole season, there will always be a period when you lose. This is maybe the most important period as then you can see how the squad comes back and how the lads happen the situations.

“And they have handled it brilliantly and now we are very pleased with the situation.

“Right now, we know where we are and every match is a fight. It does not matter if you play Bradford, Accrington or Sunderland. At the beginning of the season, everyone told me that every squad can beat you and that is right.

“I think these big games at the end of the year come at the right moment. If you have a strong side like we have now and everyone stays like that, it is the best moment to play these matches.

“It is not the end of the season, but at this moment, we are really happy with the situation.”

Winkler’s sense of well being is likely to be augmented by the proliferation of outfield options at the club’s disposal.

The Reds made 11 starting changes to their line-up for their qualification-clinching Checkatrade Trophy group victory over Bradford City, but there was no trade-off in terms of quality.

A convincing team performance against a strong Bantams line-up pointed to a squad in robust health, with the likes of two-goal George Moncur making a compelling case for being handed a starting slot on Saturday.

It will ensure the Reds, who thrashed Notts County 4-0 in the FA Cup last Saturday, have some welcome selection headaches, although they could face one enforced change in tomorrow’s game at Accrington.

Number two keeper Jack Walton is a doubt with a knee problem picked up in midweek and the Reds are considering bringing in a short-term keeper as cover if he misses out – with first-choice custodian Adam Davies on international duty with Wales.

But elsewhere, the selection issues are plentiful, with Cauley Woodrow pushing his case to start following his maiden Reds goal last weekend.

Speaking ahead of tomorrow’s trip to Lancashire – where Barnsley will be backed by just under 2,500 fans – Winkler observed: “We have to find the best squad for Saturday. There will be a lot of disappointed players, but it keeps our performances, competition and training at a really high level, which is good for the whole club.

“On the one hand, it is not so easy as you have to tell some players they are not in the squad after doing a good job.

“But on the other, it keeps the pressure up and competition in training. Normally, that is good for the club.

“When I see Tuesday’s match and see all the players – who have not regularly played in the starting 11 – show a performance like that, it makes me very happy and makes sure everyone in the squad is aware that they have to fight for their places in every training session.”