Middlesbrough 2 Barnsley 0: Time running out for Markus Schopp after fifth straight loss

Middlesbrough's Matt Crooks heads in his side's late second goal in their 2-0 win over Barnsley. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.Middlesbrough's Matt Crooks heads in his side's late second goal in their 2-0 win over Barnsley. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.
Middlesbrough's Matt Crooks heads in his side's late second goal in their 2-0 win over Barnsley. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.
IN THE previous Riverside fixture between these sides last October, Middlesbrough manager Neil Warnock celebrated his landmark 1,500th league game as a manager with a victory.

Just over 12 months on, his besieged Barnsley counterpart Markus Schopp was not afforded his own fulfilling milestone on Teesside. Just the same old familiar and depressing story.

Gerhard Struber left Barnsley for New York Red Bulls shortly after the Reds’ defeat in the north east last autumn. His compatriot is still at Oakwell, but few would bank on Schopp remaining there for much longer.

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Now eleven matches without a win and without a goal in the second half since the opening match of the season, Barnsley's tortuous campaign reached a new low on Teesside following a thoroughly lamentable performance.

Last season, Barnsley were a nasty team in a good way and now they are a nice team in a thoroughly bad way as they slumped to a fifth straight loss.

Boro showed a bad habit themselves in lacking the clinical edge to see off Barnsley and make it a much more comfortable evening than it should been in a game which saw Duncan Watmore produce a contender for miss of the season just before the hour mark when he somehow scooped the ball over of an empty net after being picked out by Andraz Sporar, who helped himself to his first Riverside goal in the first half.

But a late second from the impressive Matt Crooks, the sort of strong, mature, seasoned and Championship-ready player and leader who Barnsley really are crying out, sealed the deal as the Teessiders secured back-to-back wins for the first time this season and can start looking upwards.

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It may only still be October, but Barnsley look bang in trouble.

Their inability to close down people and do the basics was alarming, even if they briefly but tantalisingly hinted at something in the opening stanza of the game when they looked alive and caused problems with their first-time passing and movement and showed vestiges of identity. It proved the falsest of dawns

It should have been crowned by a fifth-minute goal, only for visitors to spurn the sort of opportunity that all sides on such a desperate run surely crave.

Sol Bamba’s wretched slip let in Clarke Oduor, but his finish was weak and he hit the outside of the left-hand post when it looked easier to score.

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Sadly, Barnsley were never quite the same after and produced a tepid response in keeping with that lame finish for most of the remainder of the game when they were careless in possession and lacked the appetite to do the ugly side of the game - and looked palpably soft.

The visitors gave Marcus Tavernier and Isaiah Jones far too much space on the flanks and Crooks was first to most things in central midfield, while Schopp’s side looked decidedly flaky at the back.

The upshot was that Barnsley trailed at the break, although they should have been grateful that the game was not out of sight, with Boro - not for the first time - lacking the ruthlessness to finish the job early.

That said, Boro’s opener was well-taken by Sporar, even if it owed a fair bit to a dereliction of duty at the back.

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A corner was not cleared and there was minimal pressure on Paddy McNair’s cross from the left, with Sporar nipping in between Helik and Callum Styles - and coolly heading home ahead of the Barnsley players holding a brief inquest.

While Helik was strangely out of sorts, thankfully Brad Collins was not.

He got his angled right to grasp Sporar’s low shot early on and also was well stationed to block Tavernier’s shot after he cut inside on the right.

Collins also beat away a blockbuster from Watmore, with he and Sporar also prevaricating when sent clear and leaving the ball to each other after Barnsley were carved open.

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A last ditch challenge from full debutant Will Hondermarck also denied Watmore, with the French-born player - plating on the right-hand side of defence - one of the few Reds’ players to escape criticism.

The scoreline at least kept the game alive, but a reminder of Barnsley’s inadequacies in the final third was not long in coming on the restart.

Bamba redeemed himself from his early faux pas to make a fine last-ditch challenge to deny Aaron Leya Iseka, who delayed too long in getting his shot off after racing clear following an error from Crooks, who kissed Bamba’s forehead in gratitude after.

Ieska then blazed a rebound over after Joe Lumley spilled a low shot from Cauley Woodrow and blocked a follow-up from Callum Brittain, while at the other end, a second home goal was stubborn in coming.

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The reflexes of Collins got into the way of Payero’s blistering drive and Tavernier soon fired over as Boro's inability to put Barnsley to bed reaching new heights, courtesy of Watmore's incredible miss.

That wastefulness was surely enough to keep Barnsley interested before Boro made the game belatedly safe when Crooks powered a header home.

Middlesbrough: Lumley; Howson, McNair, Bamba, Peltier, Tavernier, Crooks (Lea-Siliki 90), Payero, Jones, Payero, Watmore (Hernandez 85), Sporar (Ikpeazu 65). Substitutes unused: Daniels, Olusanya, Kokolo, Coburn.

Barnsley: Collins; Moon, Helik, J Williams; Brittain, Gomes, Hondermarck (Oulare 76), Styles (Palmer 61); Iseka (Adeboyejo 71), Woodrow, Oduor. Substitutes unused: Walton, B Williams, Vita, Frieser.