FOR anyone who has been in the regular company of Barnsley head coach Gerhard Struber during his press conferences, the gushing phrase of ‘my boys’ has been omnipresent.
From day one, the Austrian spoke about the need to quickly get to know ‘the human behind the player’ and referenced the desire for his Barnsley side to play with ‘a big heart and a good mind.’
We are now growing up in the mentality, which is very important for young players. Now, we don’t speak about young players, but players with quality. This is what we need.Gerhard Struber
Under two months on from his unveiling in the East Stand at Oakwell and results and performances are displaying that.
After winning once in their opening 16 league matches of 2019-20, Barnsley have won four games in 11 outings under Struber. It represents substantive progress and has galvanised their Championship survival fight.
Struber can feel justifiably proud in building strong connections with his players, his boys, in a relatively short space of time with the Reds’ togetherness and collective team ethic now shining through alongside their improvement in form on the pitch.
Boys are showing signs of becoming men and Barnsley are developing a fresh identity. Imperfections remain, but these days, the Reds – Struber’s Reds – are hard-working and energetic and possess a beating heart.
That is manifested in the displays of the likes of Jacob Brown and Jordan Williams, outstanding in the weekend win over Huddersfield Town.
Others were not too far behind, with Williams’s display all the more impressive in a week which saw Barnsley boost their options at right-back with the addition of loan full-back Kilian Ludewig.
Struber said: “Completely, it is another mentality when I speak with my boys and what I see in the eyes of my boys. This is very helpful for our big aim.
“This work together and spirit we are creating with this performance and our work with each other is a special bond. At the end, this is our ‘X Factor’.
“We are changing the mentality. In training, we always have competition and this is what is important for the boys.
“We are now growing up in the mentality, which is very important for young players. Now, we don’t speak about young players, but players with quality. This is what we need.
“I am very happy with Jacob. He works so hard. Not only in the game, but always. In the training and in the games.
“He is very important for my style, team and whole club. He is a big talent with a top mentality.
“I (also) think it was brilliant what Jordan did in the game and I was very happy with him. Kily (Kilian) Ludwig is an option in this position, but I have to give a big compliment to Jordan. It was a top game.”
Saturday’s 2-1 derby success over Huddersfield was just the sort of occasion and game that Barnsley, by common consent, would probably have drawn or lost earlier in the season.
It was a game finely poised in terms of the scoreline and one which required concentration, character and defensive application in order to get over the line.
Barnsley did that amid a fair amount of late pressure from a direct Huddersfield side. It contrasted markedly with Struber’s first outing in charge at Blackburn Rovers on November 23, when defensive uncertainty and ineptitude proved the story of their 3-2 loss.
The Reds still remain a work in progress defensively – they are one of just three Championship sides to have conceded a half-century of goals this season – but seeing out a game like Saturday’s may prove significant in their development.
The ex-Wolfsberger head coach added: “This is a good next step. It is not so easy to defend against long balls. Always you have to focus on who is the player for the first duel and the second ball.
“It is hard work. For the whole team, our defending is clear and better.
“It is not top, but it is better. We can work and improve, but it is on another level to two months ago.”
Another thing which is on another level in Struber’s brave new world is home form.
After a seven-match winless streak prior to his arrival, the Austrian boasts a five-match unbeaten sequence, by contrast.
Wins have been registered against Hull, QPR and Huddersfield, with Barnsley having amassed a healthy ratio of 12 goals in five matches under Struber.
Needless to say that those encouraging statistics must continue if the Oakwell club are to be reflecting on a job well done in May.
Struber continued: “I spoke three or four weeks ago about Oakwell being a fortress. I think it is not ‘blah, blah, blah’.
“We have a team which is fighting and working hard and always with a good balance between fighting and a good mind.
“It is a good feeling. We had a big support from our fans and I am happy that we can show this performance to our fans and we have three points at the end. This is so important.
“Our fans went home having seen Barnsley is a fighting team and a team with hard workers. I think this is what we do every game and show a good style together and the right mentality.”