Barnsley v Rotherham United – Reds reaping benefit of learning quickly under pressure

ACROSS the football fraternity, the goodwill that Barnsley are receiving amid a promotion tilt which no-one would have predicted at the start of the season is in abundant supply.

It is a truly heartwarming story, especially in this of all weeks when the greed of six club owners right at the top of the English pyramid has been exposed for what it is. The Reds’ tale is good for the soul.

The Oakwell outfit are a wonderful example of how, at Championship level, money does not always buy you success.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

They are firmly in the mix to go up alongside four clubs who possess the benefit of parachute payments and another well-financed outfit – in the shape of Brentford – who bought a £10m striker last summer.

The fact that many of Barnsley’s players have either cut their teeth in the lower-leagues or overcome some sort of adversity makes their exploits all the more admirable.

Callum Styles’s story takes in rejection at Burnley at 16, while a few seasons ago, Romal Palmer was playing on loan at Darlington in the National League North.

Carlton Morris had life-enhancing experiences on loan at the likes of York City and Hamilton Academical in a nomadic journey in his early career. This time last year, Toby Sibbick was on the mend following a bout of glandular fever, while seemingly unwanted by then Reds head coach Gerhard Struber.

Before the start of the 2018-19 season, captain Alex Mowatt’s career seemed to be at a crossroads, while this time last year, Mads Andersen was left to do a bit of soul-searching in his native Denmark after a bruising first eight months at the club.

LOOKING UP: Brad Collins in action for Barnsley at 
Middlesborough earlier this season.  Picture: Bruce Rollinson
LOOKING UP: Brad Collins in action for Barnsley at Middlesborough earlier this season. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Barnsley’s first-choice goalkeeper in Brad Collins has also handled vicissitudes.

During his time coming through the ranks at Chelsea, his father passed away and the help of some good people at the club helped him cope with a very difficult time in his life.

Among that number was former Blues development squad manager Adi Viveash, who is now the assistant boss at Coventry City.

Collins caught up with Viveash ahead of Barnsley’s game against the Sky Blues at St Andrew’s last weekend.

DEFT TOUCH: Barnsley manager Valerien Ismael. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA

Understandably, Viveash may have been keen to see Coventry temporarily halt Barnsley’s bandwagon, but he was quick to wish Collins well in his particular mission after it. Many other solid football people will be feeling the same.

Collins said: “I was delighted to see him. He was a fantastic guy and helped me through a lot of things in my career – not just on the field, but off it as well and he is a brilliant guy and someone I look up to.

“He will definitely be fighting my corner and hoping for the best for me and we will have to see where we end up.”

For the second year in a row, Barnsley face a Yorkshire derby with three matches in their season still remaining.

Barnsley goalkeeper Brad Collins shakes hands with Chelsea manager Frank Lampard after the Carabao Cup third round match last September. Picture: Alastair Grant/NMC Pool/PA

This time, the team fighting for their lives and in need of something special are opponents Rotherham United, while Barnsley’s aims are grander – just as Leeds United’s were when they hosted the relegation-haunted Reds at Elland Road towards the end of 2020-21.

Should Barnsley win today, they will stand on the precipice of clinching a play-off spot with two matches remaining. That will be sealed if nearest rivals Reading drop points against Swansea City.

It has been quite a transformation, with the catalyst seen by many to be a narrow FA Cup exit to a well-heeled and assembled Chelsea side back in February, when reservoirs of belief rose even in a losing cause.

The collective mantra after that game among Barnsley’s players seemed to be this. If we can play like this against Chelsea, why should we be scared of facing any Championship rivals?

Collins, who lined up against his old club on that February night, would agree by and large. But his point about the importance of the character-building experiences of last season in staving off relegation is also a valid and shrewd one.

He added: “It does look like the Chelsea game was a turning point in the season. We have always had belief and had belief in each other. But maybe just after that game, we kicked on a little bit more and went on a long unbeaten run.

MANY THANKS: Coventry City assistant manager Adi Viveash, right, was a big help to Barnsley goalkeeper Brad Collins in his time of need.. Picture: John Walton/PA

“We are all young and hungry and just want to play games and do the best we can and this year, we have done that pretty well compared to last year, which was a massive learning curve.

“There were a lot of new players and not many of us had been Championship players and this year, we are reaping the benefits of a tough year.

“As a team, we learned a lot in terms of togetherness and the way we did it on the last day, you have to be together.”

Central to the rise of Barnsley this season has been the man whose impact since arriving at the club in late October has been colossal in Valerien Ismael.

A strong, impressive figure who instantly commands respect, Ismael is someone who does not suffer fools gladly. Question him and it’s his way or the highway.

But to view him as a ‘sergeant major’ is simplistic. Ismael is a perceptive individual also able to employ deft man-management. A clever commander.

Just as he brought Sibbick in from the cold following a tough time in his own career and made him valued, so the Frenchman kept Collins’s spirits intact when he was out of the side in the first half of the season and Jack Walton was preferred in goal.

Collins continued: “It took me a while to get my chance and I fully understand that and he has been fantastic and gives me a lot of confidence and lets me play my own game and it is what you want in a manager really.

“He treats everyone the same, even if that are not in the side.

“There is a real togetherness in the team and in Barnsley at the moment, which is fantastic for us. But the job is not done.”