Barnsley v Reading: Lloyd Isgrove winning the mind games with Reds

AS the strains of Auld Lang Syne arrive on Sunday night, Barnsley winger Lloyd Isgrove would be forgiven for muttering two words to describe the passing of the outgoing year '“ '˜good riddance'.

With his 25th birthday arriving next month, it is fair to say that Isgrove has endured a catalogue of injury frustrations and vicissitudes in his career to date, the like of which many fellow professionals do not endure in their entire careers.

His experiences in 2017 are likely to have proved particularly galling.

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Offered scant game time to impress by former Southampton chief Claude Puel last season, a cruel bout of luck compounded his frustration early in 2017 when he picked up an injury in a rare Saints outing – an FA Cup tie with Arsenal at the end of January.

It scuppered his hopes of a loan return to Barnsley ahead of the last winter deadline in the process.

Thankfully, the summer fates proved a tad kinder with Isgrove – who made just eight first-team appearances for the Saints after first joining the club at the age of nine – signing for the Reds on a permanent deal.

Resident at a club where he felt genuinely wanted after being part of the Reds side who enjoyed dual Wembley success in a magnificent second half of 2015-16, Isgrove’s determination and desire to start penning a new and rewarding chapter in his career was there for all to see.

That circumstances dealt him another bad hand was untimely in the extreme.

Back in action: Lloyd Isgrove challenges Sheffield Wednesday's Adam Reach. Picture: Steve Ells

A nagging foot ligament injury meant that he had to wait until late October for his second Reds debut.

Then, in another luckless development, Isgrove – after helping Barnsley to a haul of seven points from three matches and being recalled to the Wales squad – suffered swelling around his knee which sidelined him for another spell.

Thankfully, Isgrove is back in harness and in the Reds line-up. But given his experiences, he is not looking too far into the future after a year which has been exceedingly fraught.

Offering his take on a disappointing year, Isgrove, who has featured in the Reds’ past two games, said: “Of course, it has been frustrating. But I have had setbacks before and it is about coming back stronger. I will take each day as it comes, train hard and make sure I manage myself and come into the games flying.

Back in action: Lloyd Isgrove challenges Sheffield Wednesday's Adam Reach. Picture: Steve Ells

“I cannot say it has not been frustrating as I want to be out there every week training and playing and it is not the way it has gone. But I am taking it for what it is and trying my hardest to get back every time.

“When I have been injured, the lads have been saying: ‘we need you back’ and that has provided more of an incentive for me to get back and help the lads and the team to get results.

“I am getting there. I think in this league it takes six or seven games in a row to get to proper fitness and I want to get towards that and I am building towards that.”

The seemingly endless grind of rehabilitation work to get fit again has been one thing for Isgrove during chunks of his career, but coping with the mental side of it has been just as problematic, if not moreso at times.

Short and sharp regular sessions with a team psychologist have at least been helping him to cope with seeing too much of the treatment room than he would care to mention since returning to Barnsley.

Underlining the importance of pursuing short-term goals and not making long-term predictions has been thoroughly sensible in the circumstances.

Yeovil-born Isgrove, whose family have also been helping to lift his spirits over the festive season after coming up from the South, added: “The mental stuff is the hardest. You work a lot harder when you are injured than you do when you are fit and you do long days and sessions. It is tough.

“The psychologist comes in every week and the players benefit from seeing him regularly. He is there to help us – especially when you are injured and not involved with the squad. It is a good option to have and I have used him a few times.

“The things he helps you with are a lot to take on board, but it is a case of a little and often.”

Without a win in nine league matches since November 4 and too close for comfort to the Championship relegation zone they may be, but if recent resolve and determination counts for anything, then Barnsley’s rewards may not be too far away.

Clean sheets in recent goalless draws against Preston and Brentford suggest that defensive organisation is improving, with the need now being to cultivate some ruthlessness at the other end.

If they need any further incentive Saturday, it comes with the arrival of a Reading side who comfortably beat the Reds 3-0 in Berkshire in late November, when the visitors produced their worst performance of the season.

Isgrove added: “To come away from Fulham without a point at least was gutting as the boys did well and we really did deserve something. On Tuesday, we performed well again and were a bit unlucky. But we are building and getting better.

“We have been lacking goals recently. But to get two clean sheets in the last three games is a good one for us. It is up to us at the other end to start chipping in with goals.

“Obviously, Reading beat us quite comfortably at home and we need to beat them here.

“We will be really up for the game. The family are staying up for the week and they go back after the game on Saturday and it would be nice for them to go back with a win.”