Nightmare for sorry Barnsley FC who plumb the depths at Stoke City

SOMETIMES, it is the hope that kills you.

Impressive Stoke City forward Tyrese Campbell tussles with Barnsley full-back Ben Williams. PICTURE: NATHAN STIRK/GETTY IMAGES.

A new-look Barnsley with a newly-found defensive zeal, aptitude and spirit was the word on the Championship street, but unfortunately old habits die hard as they produced a disastrous rewind in a sorry 4-0 defeat at a direct relegation rival in Stoke City.

A pitiful rearguard performance made a mockery of the fact that the Reds had gone into the game on the back of three clean sheets - having not conceded a goal in just under five hours.

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Here, they contrived to let in two in two minutes and three in half an hour in a horror rewind to the back-four ineptitude which blighted their opening third of the season.

A late fourth from substitute Tom Ince applied the icing for the Potters.

As much as events in the reverse fixture at Oakwell were painful, this was far worse at the worst possible juncture of the Championship campaign. The start of a three-game date with destiny in their season against sides around them, no less.

It was an afternoon when victory would have hauled Barnsley - seemingly with wind in their sails after five wins in their past seven matches - out of the relegation zone for the first time since mid-September.

Sadly, they suffered a bad bout of stage-fright on an awful afternoon.

The talk were of all the pressure being on the shoulders of an expensively assembled Stoke line-up down among the dead men - and just one place above second-from-bottom Barnsley - and seemingly ripe for the taking.

You would never have guessed it on the first-half evidence in particular, although Barnsley did not half help them in a damning performance.

The tone was set early, with the Potters not overdoing it and hitting the balls into channels and playing off the burly Sam Vokes and a speedy powerhouse in the recalled Tyrese Campbell.

The tactics were sound and reaped a harvest.

The young striker, son of ex-Arsenal and Everton forward Kevin, wreaked havoc in the first half, with Barnsley's rabbits-in-headlights defending having to be seen to be believed.

Stoke's opener was a gift.

Vokes got the run on his markers, with Mads Andersen and Ben WIlliams both not covering themselves in glory and the much-travelled striker scored the sort of stock-in trade header which he has dined out upon his career in after latching onto Sam Clucas's eighth-minute corner.

Barnsley had barely time to compose themselves before conceding another lamentable goal.

A dereliction of defensive duty down the right saw the visitors switch off and James McClean cashed in on a week back-header from Andersen before teeing up Campbell, whose cheeky improvised flick flew past Jack Walton.

Shaken and cowed by Stoke, Barnsley did compose one moment of incision when Kilian Ludewig's shot was beaten away by Jack Butland after probing work by Marcel Ritzmaier and Conor Chaplin, but it was not the precursor. It was in utter isolation.

The hosts continued to win their battles across the park and every time they got into the box, Barnsley looked like conceding.

A mad scramble saw the ball cleared after the Reds switched off from a free-kick and Campbell fired in a cross-shot, but there was no respite for Barnsley, with Gerhard Struber, with his hands folded and looking visibly unhappy on the touchline, unable to believe what he was seeing.

Sadly it got worse when Barnsley again went to sleep following a corner, with McClean's low centre finding the totally unmarked Campbell, whose finish was low and clinical.

With their tails up, Stoke almost added a fourth when a fine reaction save from Walton kept out Vokes' downward header.

Struber made three changes at the interval with Jordan Williams, Callum Styles and Elliot Simoes coming on for Ben Williams, Ritzmaier and Jacob Brown.

Barnsley had more of the ball on the restart, but the game was all but over, with the hosts happy to sit in and wait for their opportunity, without any need to force the game.

It made for an uneventful half with there being little action of note.

A tame free-kick which flew over from Cauley Woodrow, whose run without a goal extended to six matches, was symptomatic of a forgettable afternoon for the visitors.

Mowatt's free-kick drew a reaction save from the underemployed Butland, while at the other end, a full-stretch Walton did well to keep out a low drive from Nick Powell.

Stoke applied the gloss to an afternoon that they would have been expecting to be a whole lot less straightforward when a shot from substitute Tom Ince took a slight deflection off Mowatt before flying into the top corner.

Stoke City: Butland; Smith, Chester, Batth, Indi; Clucas (Thompson 90), Cousins, Powell (Sorensen 85), McClean (Diouf 89); Vokes (Gregory 71), Campbell (Ince 71). Substitutes unused: Davies, Ward, Shawcross, Collins.

Barnsley: Walton; Sollbauer, Andersen, B Williams (J Williams 45); Ludewig (Oduor 55), Mowatt, Ritzmaier (Styles 45), Thomas; Woodrow (Schmidt 71); Brown (Simoes 45), Chaplin. Substitutes unused: B Collins, Bahre, Halme, Marsh.

Referee: A Woolmer (Northants).