Barnsley still have 'a lot of room' for improvement despite extending unbeaten run with Bristol Rovers win

It is somewhat bizarre to describe a team unbeaten in nine league matches as unpolished but it is a word that springs to mind when watching Barnsley.

Neill Collins is building foundations at Oakwell, having inherited a bruised and changing dressing room last summer.

He is enjoying the fruits of his labour, as the Reds are well in contention for promotion post-Christmas. Collins, however, is aware there is still plenty of work to be done if Barnsley are to clear the hurdle they fell at last year.

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Speaking after the 2-1 win over Bristol Rovers, he said: “The players have trained fantastically and I thought in the first half, were really excellent, and in most parts of the game apart from the final cross.

Neill Collins is aware of Barnsley's need to improve - but the Reds are ticking along nicely. Image: Ben Roberts Photo/Getty ImagesNeill Collins is aware of Barnsley's need to improve - but the Reds are ticking along nicely. Image: Ben Roberts Photo/Getty Images
Neill Collins is aware of Barnsley's need to improve - but the Reds are ticking along nicely. Image: Ben Roberts Photo/Getty Images

"Once we did get that right, we scored. We probably should have done it a little bit more often and maybe took advantage of the first-half performance.

"Second half, Bristol [Rovers] were very aggressive, made us defend, and I thought we could have handled a lot of those situations better. I think when we look back, while Bristol [Rovers] forced some of the mistakes, I think they were self-inflicted. Poor clearances, poor decisions, deal with a long ball and then trying to dribble out of situations.

"I know there's been a lot said in terms of the four games over Christmas, second halves weren't our strong suit. Prior to that, we were the best team in the league in the second half. It doesn't just change, I think it's just very much the state of the game.

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"We just need to continue to show that concentration and quality, because when we showed that quality after losing the equaliser, we're a really good side.”

Devante Cole opened the scoring, adding to his incredibly impressive League One goal tally this term. Bristol Rovers hit back through savvy veteran Chris Martin, but Corey O’Keeffe restored the home advantage just five minutes later.

Purring over Cole is easy to do but a figure at the other end of the pitch was just as crucial for the Reds against the Gas.

Liam Roberts made some crucial saves to thwart the visitors, his presence made pivotal by the ease in which Barnsley were circumvented at times.

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Collins said: “We know how good Robbo is. I don't think he's had to make too many like that since he's returned but that's what he's there for and that's why he's been fantastic for us. Robbo will be pleased and take confidence from him being able to do that.”

Collins’ desire to strengthen defensively was underlined by the pre-match unveiling of USA-capped Donovan Pines. He will not be thrust straight into the action at Oakwell but has a CV – and physical stature – already exciting supporters.

Barnsley fans will be hoping the 6ft 5ins defender adds some steel to the Reds backline and Collins is relishing the prospect of working with him.

Collins said: “We all agreed we needed a dominant centre-back with what we've lost.

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"I think Donovan ticks a lot of those boxes. [We are] really excited to have him. I think that dominant presence will help, but equally, we all need to support him and help him settle in, and realise he's making a big jump from the MLS to a different style.

"I think he's got the attributes that will suit him to play here. He's a young player, him and his family coming over here, we're pleased to have him but we need to support him to get the best out of him.”

Despite all the talk of the need for improvement, it cannot be swept under the carpet that Barnsley saw off a side with their eyes on a play-off push in Bristol Rovers.

Matt Taylor’s men are no pushovers and had held Norwich City to an FA Cup draw in their previous fixture.

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Collins said: “It was a tough game and it was a game I knew was going to be very tough. The fine balance is always emphasising to the team how tough it's going to be without getting them scared and making sure we know it's about us.

"This was a big one because Bristol [Rovers] will still have an eye on the play-offs. They're good enough to do that, they've been on a good run of form.

"We're going to have a lot more games like that between now and the end of the season. The good thing for me is there's a lot of room for us still to improve, but also a lot to be pleased with.”

Barnsley: Roberts, Williams, de Gevigney, Shepherd; Russell (Cosgrove 61); O’Keeffe (Lopata 85), Styles, Phillips, Kane; McAtee (Cadden 85), Cole (Watters 90+3).

Unused substitutes: Killip, Cotter, Jalo.

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Bristol Rovers: Cox, Grant, Crama, Connolly (Gibbons 80); Thomas (Collins 80), McCormick (Hunt 66), Finley, Vale; Evans, Martin, Brown (Marquis 66).

Unused substitutes: Ward, Hoole, Sinclair.

Referee: Scott Jackson (Lancashire)