Barnsley FC v Stoke City: Oakwell stand key to survival hopes of Poya Asbaghi’s Reds

HOME form in late season proved the bedrock of Barnsley’s previous Great Escape’s in 2019-20 and 2012-13 and must do so again if they are going to be celebrating another survival act in May.

Two seasons ago, the Oakwell outfit – when football recommenced after shutting down following the Covid-19 pandemic – did not concede so much as a goal in four unbeaten matches ahead of some scarely-believable heroics at Brentford.

Under David Flitcroft nine years ago, the Reds won seven home matches in the second half of that feted campaign, with their escapology mission memorably starting with a 2-0 victory over Leeds United in January 2013.

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Fine recent Oakwell wins over QPR and Middlesbrough have provided nourishment for Barnsley followers in the present.

Rising to the task: Barnsley’s Carlton Morris, back, in action at Derby County on Saturday. (Picture: Nigel French/PA)

Part-way through their absorbing win last time out on home soil against Boro, the home faithful in the Pontefract Road end chanted ‘The Reds are staying’ up at second-half junctures alongside their classic Three Little Birds rendition: ‘Don’t worry about a thing because every little thing is going to be all right.’

It was certainly not all right at Derby on Saturday, but one blessing was that Barnsley now embark on three successive home fixtures, starting tonight against Stoke City.

After a tough follow-up against Fulham on Saturday, Bristol City also come to Oakwell next Tuesday. Before season’s end, Barnsley also welcome relegation rivals Reading and Peterborough alongside Blackpool and Preston.

Head coach Poya Asbaghi, whose side’s goals-against defensive record is better than nine other Championship sides, said: “We lost three points at Derby and did not lose 12 points.

Barnsley's Claudio Gomes (left) and Derby County's Tom Lawrence battle for the ball (Picture: PA)

“We have to learn and bounce back as we have before and it is good for us that we have three home games coming up. We have won our last two home games and I am certain we can mobilise and bounce back against Stoke.”

Barnsley paid the price for a sluggish passive opening at Pride Park, in marked contrast to the way they flew out of the blocks in thrilling fashion recently against Boro, setting about the Teessiders from the off.

It was assertive and intense and also served as a template to follow in all future home games.

The press was admirably led by Carlton Morris. On Saturday, the big striker was one of the few Reds players who showed up and again showcased his leadership credentials.

Barnsley's Matthew Wolfe (left) and Derby County's Ravel Morrison compete (Picture: PA)

If Barnsley are to stay up, Morris is likely to have done a fair bit towards achieving that.

Asbaghi added: “Morris solves a lot of things and (Domingos) Quina, but with the decision-making, we didn’t have more players to step up.

“There are some positives with his (Morris’s) game. There are some players who try to take responsibility and show this quality that we need on these kind of games.

“Last week was one where more players came up to a good standard and as a collective, we were also good in knowing where to play the ball faster in our decision making.”

After making just one enforced change in the club’s last three matches, Asbaghi must decide whether to give those who performed well against the likes of Boro and Hull another chance, or freshen it up a bit.

A particular issue surrounds midfield where two young players in Claudio Gomes and Matty Wolfe struggled on Saturday and looked what they are: two young players still finding their way in the Championship and prone to inconsistency given their lack of experience at this level.

The game ended with Callum Styles and Josh Benson operating in the centre of the pitch.

Last six games: Barnsley LWLWWL; Stoke DDLLLL.

Referee: L Doughty (Lancashire).

Last time: Barnsley 2 Stoke 0, February 24, 2021; Championship.