Barnsley caretaker Adam Murray has steadied the ship - here’s what he can do to land the job permanently
Oakwell has staged some heavy-duty games of colossal importance for Barnsley over the past few seasons and Saturday’s Championship ‘six-pointer’ against their relegation rivals from the Potteries is the latest instalment.
For caretaker manager Adam Murray, who can reflect on making a decent fist of his interim time in charge at the club so far, the fixture also surely has significant ramifications, should he be handed the reins for a fifth game.
If the second-from-bottom Reds end their 14-match run without a league win with three cherished points, Murray’s hopes of landing the position for an extended period will be enhanced.
His four games at the helm thus far may not have delivered the points tally he would have been hankering for – three from a possible 12 – but displays, by and large, have improved since Barnsley’s desperate 5-1 Roses defeat at Preston in Daniel Stendel’s final match in the Reds’ dug-out on October 5.
But Saturday is one of those occasions when points and not performance is quite simply the be-all and end-all.
A run of four draws in their last six outings may have lifted sagging spirits, but confidence levels will only be replenished by the exhilaration of a win or two.
The most ugly of victories will be viewed as something akin to treasure for Barnsley and Murray, whose disappointment and frustration after the recent 2-1 loss to fellow strugglers Huddersfield Town in the most high-stakes appointment of his tenure so far was self-evident.
Conversely, a loss or a draw would intensify the pressure for a permanent replacement for Stendel to be brought in from the outside in time for the run-in to the end of the year – with the forthcoming international break affording the Reds’ hierarchy the time to resolve the head coaching issue once and for all.
Just as Barnsley’s weekend appointment is critical, a three-game week on the resumption also needs no dressing up – headlined by another huge relegation encounter against Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium on November 27.
December fixtures against sides nervously looking over their shoulders in Reading and Millwall will also be circled in red with Barnsley effectively in a mini-league alongside teams around them – something that Murray has referred to on several occasions.
On a key time in the season for Barnsley – starting in four days against Stoke – Murray duly acknowledged: “With that opportunity will come pressure because I think when we have looked over the course of the season, November and December are big months for us.
“We have got to pick points up.
“With the teams around us, it puts more of an onus on it to the outside world. But we have got to get as many wins as we can.
“We are better off winning one and losing one now. Draws are great to get the ship settled and momentum going and people feeling a little bit better about themselves. But we need wins.”
Last Friday’s brave comeback in a see-saw 2-2 draw against Lee Johnson’s Bristol City at least showed that Barnsley’s competitive heart is very much beating – which represents a starting point for the next man entrusted with the heading coaching role in a full-time capacity, whoever that may be.
That was also manifested in game performances against the likes of Derby County and Swansea City on home soil, while the Championship’s predilection for the unexpected was never better exemplified than the Reds’ recent showing at West Brom a fortnight ago.
Barnsley strongly hinted at securing the shock second-tier result of the campaign after racing into a 2-0 lead at The Hawthorns, thanks to a double from top-scorer Cauley Woodrow, a player whose importance to the Reds cause is simply inestimable.
The hosts may have arrested a potentially grave situation to salvage a draw, but it was still a result that will have made the Oakwell outfit’s rivals take note.
For those who have expressed an interest in the vacant head coaching position following Stendel’s exit, it was also firm evidence that there is something to work with, with the South Yorkshire outfit’s situation being far from irredeemable.
Murray continued: “Whoever takes on the job is taking on a really tough challenge. But they are going to get a group of people who will run through brick walls for you.
“The one thing the players have given me is everything. They have bought into what I have asked of them and you cannot coach that togetherness and it is something that is just there.
“I think whoever does come in, it is important for them to take that forward.”
Time is still, just about, on Barnsley’s side if they are to rescue their season.
But the clock is unquestionably ticking.