Barnsley FC v Middlesbrough: Callum Styles fronting up to give Reds a flicker of hope

WHEN you hit rock bottom, the only way to go is up.

Callum Styles’s own personal low point – in a bruising 2021-22 from a Barnsley perspective – arrived at Ewood Park on December 29 after the visitors lost 2-1 to Blackburn Rovers.

The end of an old calendar year is often a time for reflection and Styles and Barnsley had plenty to think about following a contradictory 2021, which ended on the pitch in his native Lancashire on a sour note.

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Defeat left the Oakwell outfit with a derisory 14 points from 24 league games amid a brutal campaign which was only heading one way at that moment.

Beating heart: Callum Styles in action on Tuesday night after scoring in the priceless win at Hull City. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

It compared starkly with the joyride of 2020-21. For statistical context, the Reds amassed 15 points in the second half of February 2021 alone.

Not too long after the final whistle at Blackburn, there was a welcome and revealing semblance of fight, pride and character from Styles which did not go unnoticed among a core of journalists who cover Barnsley.

Rather than lick his wounds in private, the midfielder, a young lad at 21 and by no means a veteran, fronted up and spoke to the press when most professionals would have taken the easy option and not bothered.

His own hurt was plain to see. Amid the pain, there were hints of defiance. What doesn’t kill you sometimes makes you stronger.

Callum Styles celebrates his opening goal at Hull City (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

Almost two months on and the heart is still beating.

Crucially one or two results are now finally starting to make Barnsley feel more alive.

After five Championship losses by a single goal since the end of last year, two wins have arrived in the club’s last three games. It is a start.

Redemption – and safety – is still an extremely tall order, but at least Styles and co are still swinging a few punches.

Callum Styles celebrates his opening goal in a huge win for Barnsley (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

He said: “After the Blackburn game, personally I just felt very low.

“After that, our performances improved, but we just weren’t getting the results to match the performances.

“Everyone involved in the football club, the players and fans have been hurting. The players who play for the club all support the club and are affected by results.

“We want to win for everyone and succeed for everyone and when we lose, it is ugly feeling to have.

“It is not a nice feeling and nice knowing you are letting people down in a sense.

“We are tight-knit as a team. But sometimes, a bit of disbelief can seep through. But we always thought it would be a matter of time before results would match performances and it is coming, finally.”

Barnsley’s long overdue first away win of the season arrived in Hull on Tuesday evening with a strong and balanced display – the club’s most complete 90-minute performance of the campaign – matched by the result.

It was the Reds’ first success in front of their travelling supporters since a victory almost two years to the day in East Yorkshire.

The second anniversary of the success is actually today.

Three points against another White Rose side in Middlesbrough would be similarly feted. It would see the Reds record back-to-back wins for the first time this term, but galvanise their survival fight more importantly.

During their ‘Great Escape’ campaign of 2019-20, Barnsley got themselves back in the game two years ago with victories over Fulham, Hull and ironically, Boro.

For those involved in the incredible late-season rally, including midweek scorer Styles, it provides a kernel of hope.

Styles, whose own stellar moment came when he brilliantly set up Patrick Schmidt for a last-gasp winner in the club’s penultimate game of that 19-20 campaign against Nottingham Forest at Oakwell, continued: “Very occasionally, it comes into the conversation.

“We all know what we did then, but need to live in the present moment.

“We need to do it now and it is now or never and we need to keep performing and not think too much in the past as we can’t change that.”