As much as he has praised his players several times over for their relentless qualities and character this season – often in coming from behind in games – other less edifying details do not escape his attention either.
While hailing his side for a strong second-half response against Reading on Friday, the Reds head coach also provided a warning. It was no surprise.
As he correctly observed, it was another home game in which his defence showed charity with Michael Sollbauer and Callum Brittain not covering themselves in glory when Ovie Ejaria left unchecked to open the scoring for Reading in the 1-1 draw.
It was a well-executed goal, but a soft concession all the same.
It came after two errors in the Reds’ previous Oakwell appointment with Sheffield Wednesday.
A mistake from Callum Styles proved key in the build-up to Jordan Rhodes’s second goal in the Owls’ 2-1 win and the Reds’ young talent was the most relieved person in the ground on Friday when his mistake was the catalyst to a chance that was somehow missed by Reading’s Lucas Joao with the game on a knife-edge.
Ismael has noticed the errors, not just from Styles, that have crept in of late. Mads Andersen was also fortunate to escape when Yakou Meite did not take advantage of his early blooper against the Royals.
As the saying goes, there are lies, damned lies and statistics. Barnsley have kept just two clean sheets in their past eight matches, which by their high standards – and Ismael’s – is a touch disappointing.
At a time of the season when games are often tight and low-scoring, their astute head coach has delivered a timely message.
Speaking ahead of today’s game with Luton, he commented: “Now it is going quicker and quicker and everything is clinical and in every game, you have to be aware. Don’t make the mistake, force the mistake and every game can be a big decision.
“We need to avoid mistakes. This is the game-changer. Now, the way is up or down.
“It is not about desire as every team in the top eight or nine has the same desire and every team is well prepared and has quality. Now it is about the mentality and details.
“Friday was the second mistake in the second game now and it followed the Sheffield Wednesday game. That is why I told the guys that it has to be a warning now because there are less games and everything counts; every detail.
“If you want to make the next step, you have to stay clinical.”
Not for the first time, some canny changes turned the tide for Barnsley on Friday with the arrival of Daryl Dike and Carlton Morris at the interval and the later entrance of Aapo Halme wrestling back control of a hard-fought game with a play-off rival who were the better side at the break.
Three changes took the Reds’ total of substitutions in league games this season to 155, which is the most of any team in 2020-21.
The only safe prediction is that the policy will continue in the club’s next seven matches as Ismael utilises his squad resources.
He added: “We have personality and mentality and know that at any time we can have an impact on the game as long as we keep all the players together. This is our strength this season.
“We knew that for Dee-Kay [Dike], it was maybe difficult from the beginning after the trip with the [USA] national team and he came back with a slight problem with the hamstring. That is why we did not want to take any risk, but I thought in the second half we needed to do something and the team reacted very well and the impact from the substitutions was brilliant again.
“We brought Carlton on for Cauley [Woodrow], who was booked and it was the same situation with Romal [Palmer]. He got a yellow card and we knew we wanted to change something and Aapo put a lot of energy into the second half and it meant a lot of intense duels, so you could not take any risks.
“We knew with the way that Reading were making long balls, we needed more bodies in the middle to win the second balls and the headers and it was the right choice with Aapo.
“Every game is a fight and the Championship is a high quality league and you have to adapt everything with the way to play, the pitch, the weather and everything. We are more ready now and are looking forward with seven games left.
“We have a lot of energy and, so far, we have done our job really well and you can see the improvement. You saw it against Reading and we came from behind with a big mentality and were really strong.”
Last six games: Luton WLLWWL; Barnsley WDWWLD.
Referee: M Donohue (Greater Manchester).
Last time: Luton 1 Barnsley 1, July 7, 2020; Championship.
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