Barnsley v Portsmouth: Germans go into the unknown as testing festive schedule looms

German Andreas Winkler is relishing his first taste of English football at Christmas.

Cameron McGeehan: Score to settle with Pompey. Picture: Tony Johnson.
Cameron McGeehan: Score to settle with Pompey. Picture: Tony Johnson.

In Germany, football takes a four-week break over the festive period, allowing players and staff time with their families.

But for head coach Daniel Stendel and assistant Winkler, they will be entrenched at Oakwell to experience their first winter in Yorkshire.

Winkler, the 49-year-old former Bayern Munich player, is used to family get-togethers and Christmas markets in December.

But today the Tykes will host League One leaders Portsmouth at a nippy Oakwell to kick-off a run of games which will test Barnsley’s promotion credentials.

They then travel to Blackpool – just a point behind sixth-placed Barnsley – and second-placed Luton, while welcoming Peterborough United and Charlton, fourth and fifth in the table, to Oakwell.

Winkler – whose family will fly over from Germany to spend Christmas in South Yorkshire – is looking forward to the challenge.

“I am very excited to see this for the first time in my life,” Winkler told The Yorkshire Post.

“Plus to savour the atmosphere from the people here in England. My family are coming over for one week so they can watch two home matches.

“In Germany you get four weeks off, so the players maybe get 10 days completely off, then start training. It’s totally different.

“We don’t watch football in this period. We go to Christmas markets, places like that. In Germany, it is family time, you spend it with your family. Here, you spend it with your footballing family, so it’s a little bit different.

“I have talked to our coaching staff, and they said previously they had to stay in a hotel on Christmas Day because the manager was afraid the players would drink too much.

“They had to stay in a hotel and couldn’t see their families.”

Barnsley have lost their last two league outings – at third-placed Sunderland and Wycombe – so will be keen to return to winning ways today.

But with Pompey’s visit today, the Reds will face five of the top eight in the next 17 days.

Winkler said: “It’s good, every player knows we face some really strong teams and need to show our best performance.

“There will be some hard weeks, but that’s how we like it.”

Barnsley have one of the youngest squads in the league, placing emphasis on home-grown talent.

Winkler hinted if results are positive over the festive period, the Tykes could avoid having to bring in new players during the January transfer window.

“I hope we are doing well and we don’t think about January (signings),” he said. “That’s how I try to think, although it’s not just up to me.”

Aged 23, former Chelsea youngster Cameron McGeehan is one of the elder players on the books at Oakwell.

The midfielder has history where Pompey are concerned, having broken his leg at Fratton Park.

Playing for Luton Town on January 2, 2017, McGeehan was stretchered off the pitch, with home supporters unhappy as they thought the midfielder was merely time-wasting.

“Obviously, I got booed off on a stretcher, which was a bit of a tough one at the time,” he said.

“I went back there last year with Scunthorpe and got booed again. They hold something against me there.

“I think about it with Portsmouth (visiting), it’s hard not to. It would be nice to score.

“It’s just football, it’s quite funny to look back at it and how it happened, they thought I was time-wasting.

“I got a few letters after it happened when I was injured, from fans apologising, saying they thought it was time-wasting. I appreciated that.

“Portsmouth is a massive club, my mum is from there, it’s just football.”

A goal from McGeehan and a Tykes win would certainly be a welcome tonic for the hosts as they were second-best at Wycombe last weekend, lacking that cutting edge in front of goal.

McGeehan is adamant Barnsley have a squad capable of challenging for automatic promotion.

“We have had a tiny dip in form the last couple of games,” he continued.

“It was a tough game at Wycombe, but we know we need to do better. You are going to have dips in the season, but it’s not about how you start it’s how you finish. We know we are in a good situation, we just need to put a run of wins together.

“It’s a massive game (today), but we want to be playing in massive games in the Championship next season.

“Portsmouth are a big club and it’s a game we are going to relish.

“We set ourselves the target of getting promotion and we need to be pushing for the top two now.

“We feel like we deserve to be in there and have the squad for that.

“It just hasn’t happened for us yet in terms of points on the board. We are learning all the time, keep pushing and we will get it right.”

Winkler is expecting a reaction from Barnsley today after a disappointing performance last weekend at Wycombe.

“That’s the first time this season we had a performance like that, in possession,” said the German.

“I am looking forward to Saturday because it won’t happen again. We thought too much about what could happen if we lost the ball. It was a different mindset of the team. The dressing room was very down, no-one wanted to talk for 20 minutes. I have never seen an atmosphere in our dressing room like that.”