Barnsley v Reading - Oakwell double-header will be true test of Gerhard Struber

JUST three weeks into his tenure at Barnsley, many in Gerhard Struber’s shoes would be forgiven for thinking that they are a long, long way from home.

After all, the Austrian left a comparatively safe and stable situation in his homeland at Wolfsberger AC, third in the Austrian Bundesliga, for the volatility of a club propping up the Championship in Barnsley – in what most viewed to be the bravest of moves.

Background music surrounding a worrying disconnect between sections of the Reds’ support and the club’s hierarchy adds to the degree of difficulty for Struber.

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At the start of a critical week in the Reds’ campaign – perhaps the most important one of the 2019-20 campaign thus far – attention instead switched to an fractious dispute between Barnsley and Heart of Midlothian regarding compensation for the services of former Reds head coach Daniel Stendel.

We have a plan: Barnsley manager Gerhard Struber has seen his preparations for tonights game disrupted by off-field issues with former boss Daniel Stendel. (Picture: Tony Johnson)

It followed a statement issued by the Oakwell club which claimed that part of the reason that they decided to sack Stendel was because he spoke to a rival Championship side without permission earlier in the season.

In comments made in response, Stendel, unveiled as Hearts manager on Tuesday, expressed his disappointment at the statement from his old club and claimed that it contains a ‘number of factual inaccuracies.’

Whatever the whys and wherefores, the timing of the whole incident is lousy and it is hard to think that just 11 days ago, Oakwell was on its feet to applaud an outstanding 3-1 home victory for the Reds against Hull City, the most uplifting moment of a troubled season so far.

To his credit, Struber is controlling only what he can. Attacking displays have been cogent and encouraging under his watch and players have bought into his way of working on the training ground and speak highly of him.

As for the man himself, his demeanour remains calm, clear and positive. Smiles were abound in his pre-match press conference ahead of tonight’s game against Reading – the first in a key home double-header with QPR arriving on Saturday – and even a wise-crack about the British weather.

The 42-year-old has been through worse, not necessarily in football, but certainly in life. What does not kill you makes you stronger.

He can cope and so, more important, will ‘his boys’ in his view. While he has been busy making assessments about his players’ abilities amid the daily training-ground environment and on a matchday, he has learned plenty about their characters as well –and likes what he sees.

Struber said: “It is a new situation for me. I have also had difficult situations in my life and it is very important in these situations to have a clear focus on the task and we have a good spirit and top communication together. This is my responsibility.

“The character to stay together in these difficult moments is the most important thing, although technique and tactics are very important as well.

“We have a plan together and feel like a big family, shoulder to shoulder. This team has very good character and they are very good boys.

“Hopefully, we can change this drama of results.

“I speak with my boys and spend a lot of my time with the boys communicating about what our style is.

“My job and responsibility is to create a top match plan, top feeling and atmosphere in the dressing room that we can win. With my staff and assistant coaches, together we have a very good spirit now. A win is coming.”

Must-win games do not usually arrive in December, but the pragmatics would venture that if Barnsley fail to win at least one of the next two successive fixtures on home soil, then their quest to truly turn around their campaign will be in mortal danger.

That Achilles heel of painful concessions continues to be the overwhelming bugbear – a situation prevalent for Struber, Stendel and former interim head coach Adam Murray.

Perhaps the cruellest moment arrived in Saturday’s bitter stoppage-time defeat at Cardiff and while Struber felt pain, he spared a thought for their stoic Reds followers who had travelled to the Principality on a cold December afternoon.

“It was very painful and not so easy to find the right words,” added Struber.

“But the good thing in the Championship is that the next game is very early and we can show what we can do.

“I hope we can give the fans a big present of a hard-working performance and three points on the end of it.

“We want to create three points and a good performance, so that when all the fans go home, they can say that we are very proud of this team.”

Last six games: Barnsley DLLLWL; Reading WWLLWL.

Referee: M Donohue (Greater Manchester).

Last time: Barnsley 1 Reading 1, December 30, 2017; Championship.