Barnsley v Middlesbrough - Reds confident of increasing pressure on relegation rivals

GERHARD Struber was under no illusions about the difficulty of the task facing him when he took the reins at Barnsley but admits he has been surprised by the “financial power” in the Championship.

The Reds head into today’s all-Yorkshire affair with Middlesbrough aiming to build on a confidence-boosting victory at Fulham last Saturday.

Barnsley made a handful of signings during the January transfer window, with the likes of Michael Sollbauer, Marcel Ritzmaier and Kilian Ludewig agreeing deals at Oakwell.

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But it is the transfer activity of rival clubs that has raised Struber’s eyebrows.

Important win: Barnsley's Michael Sollbauer celebrates victory at Fulham.

“I knew the situation at Barnsley, with them being in the relegation zone, was very difficult,” said Struber.

“A small surprise for me is how big the investments were from other teams in the January transfer window.

“They also have a great network and connections to bring in loan players from the Premier League.

“It is a surprise for me that other clubs have this big financial power and big network.”

The Tykes are six points adrift of safety, but following last weekend’s win at Fulham there is a feeling of real belief within the Barnsley squad that they can get out of the bottom three.

Middlesbrough are among a cluster of clubs who sit above the relegation places and are without a win in their last seven league outings.

Four of Barnsley’s next five fixtures are against teams placed 15th or lower but Struber insists his side can’t focus on the fortunes of the clubs above them.

“The league is very tough and all teams are fighting to stay out of the relegation zone,” Struber continued.

“Some teams who were dreaming of being in the play-offs are near the relegation zone.

“It is very, very close but we have the chance to get out.

“For us, it is not good to always look at the table. For us, the only consequence on the table is to put in a big performance and make sure the points are coming.

“Many teams are engulfed near the relegation places, everyone needs big performances.

“In this moment, when these big teams, like Middlesbrough, have this pressure of being near the relegation zone, we have more experience in this situation right now. We will see what will come.”

Struber hailed Boro’s strike force as “Premier League quality” as he anticipates a difficult afternoon for his defence, who have kept just two clean sheets since his arrival in late November.

Middlesbrough’s top scorer, Ashley Fletcher, who has 10 goals in 35 games this term, came through the academy system at Manchester United – when he had a loan stint at Barnsley in 2016 – and had a spell in the top flight with West Ham United.

Lukas Nmecha joined Jonathan Woodgate’s squad on loan from Premier League champions Manchester City at the beginning of January and Rudy Gestede – with over 200 appearances in the top two tiers – has been a constant feature off the bench in recent weeks.

But Struber feels that Barnsley’s high-pressing style gives his side a decent chance of earning back-to-back league wins for the first time since December.

“In the last few games, they had some problems in the compactness of the team,” said Struber.

“I think we have a good chance against Middlesbrough with our style. We need a big attitude within our defence. The strikers from Middlesbrough have the quality from what you would see in a Premier League team.

“This is a big task for us but a good challenge to show what we can do against a big opponent.

“We need to show our fans a good performance at home, it is time for that.”

Boro are the first club Struber has already faced as Barnsley head coach, something which gives him further confidence of picking up three points.

He added: “I have seen the opponent live before, this is one reason more that we can win.

“The only focus is on our performance. We have to create the right atmosphere with, I hope, big support from our fans.

“We had nearly 1,500 fans travel to Fulham to support us, that was amazing.

“At this moment, they are important for the whole team.”

Barnsley’s last victory at Oakwell was in another all-Yorkshire fixture, when they defeated Huddersfield Town 2-1 at the beginning of January.

But Struber is hoping for a partisan atmosphere this afternoon following the victory at Fulham.

“I hope that many fans come and support us,” he continued.

“In the last home games they have no big reason, especially after Birmingham, to have a party after the game.

“I hope we can produce a big performance. We need it.”

The stunning 3-0 victory over promotion-chasing Fulham has injected belief back into Barnsley.

The Reds were nine points adrift of safety seven days ago, but Struber knows that picture could begin to look very different if they can find some consistency.

He added: “We have had a brilliant week at training with the right self-confidence.

“I think that every single player knows that we have a chance to stay in this league, when we work with the right attitude.

“When we work together and have the concentration on the topics of set-plays and when we do things in the same way we did against Fulham, then it is not easy for any team to play against Barnsley.

“If we reproduce this style in the next game we will get consistent performances.”

Struber felt Barnsley’s high press was the key to victory over Fulham, as his side forced their hosts into a number of mistakes to earn the victory.

He admitted it was exactly what his players needed after the disappointing defeat against Birmingham.

“After the Birmingham game, it was difficult for me and the whole team to find the right words,” added Struber.

“It wasn’t easy but in the end I think I found the right words and the right plan against Fulham.

“But with our style, it caused Fulham big problems. In the second half, we had so many chances to score more goals.”