Portsmouth v Barnsley FC: Neill Collins will resist temptation to ask too much of Fabio Jalo

Portsmouth v BarnsleyTuesday could be a milestone night for either Barnsley or Portmouth. Fabio Jalo’s came on Saturday with his first league goal.

The Portuguese youth international has been in Barnsley's academy since he was 14, and the subject of increasing excitement since.

Forward Jalo had scored before, twice in the Football League Trophy at Doncaster Rovers in October 2022, then in this season's FA Cup. But to find the net in the 2-2 draw with Reading was another significant step forward, in his mind as well as others'. He would have had another, but for a pesky post.

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It was only one step on what should be a long career path, though.

With Devante Cole having lost – or more likely temporarily misplaced – his touch in front of goal, stuck on 17 for the season for 14 games, and the team stuttering to two wins in nine, the temptation to heap everything on the young man's shoulders is there, but coach Neill Collins will resist.

His team has been in a bit of a holding pattern since the run which effectively ruled them out of contention for automatic promotion started to take shape.

Victory at Fratton Park will ink them in for the play-offs but they will have a second chance at chasers Blackpool on Saturday and if needs be a third at Northampton Town on the final day of the campaign.

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They should be glad it is not all on Tuesday because a Pompey team who have only lost twice on the south coast in the league will not be chasing the point to confirm their promotion, but three for the title.

TALENT: Teenage Barnsley forward Fabio JaloTALENT: Teenage Barnsley forward Fabio Jalo
TALENT: Teenage Barnsley forward Fabio Jalo

So although Collins will never say as much, his team is basically grooving itself for the play-offs, looking for the form – and the players – to get them to a second final in as many years then go one better.

Although Jalo gives him something different Collins is rightly loathe to ask too much of an 18-year-old yet to start a league game.

"We know that Fab can score and create goals," says Collins. "That's his biggest strength, for me, his ability to create and score. To have someone like that in the squad at this stage of the season is great, especially someone that's young and fearless. He certainly excites the fans.

TUNNEL VISION: Barnsley coach Neill Collins says he cannot look long termTUNNEL VISION: Barnsley coach Neill Collins says he cannot look long term
TUNNEL VISION: Barnsley coach Neill Collins says he cannot look long term
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"As always we need to temper expectations given where we're at in the season and the type of games we've got and not put it all on his shoulders. If anything, the other players are there to support him and help him and I'm sure they will."

It does feel, though, as if heading a bit of leather against the inside of some netting elevated Jalo's worth.

"A league goal is something I've been looking for for a long time,” admits a player who thought his season had been ended by a knee injury picked up against Sheffield Wednesday's under-21s in January.

“Last season I scored in the cup, the same this season, but the league goal is special. There's a different feeling, a better feeling.

DRY SPELL: Barnsley top-scorer Devante ColeDRY SPELL: Barnsley top-scorer Devante Cole
DRY SPELL: Barnsley top-scorer Devante Cole

"I'd say it's a big step forward for me."

Collins concurs.

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"You never know until they've played at that level just what they can and can't do," he argues. "It's still a small sample size with Fab but he's certainly carried on what he's shown (at junior levels), that he going to be threat around the goal."

If Jalo's first league start does come this season, it will be no act of charity. Barnsley have doubts over Jon Russell and Luca Connell but Collins will not make his selection with second and third chances in mind, only three points. He could do with some form into the play-offs.

"We'll always do what we think's best for the team," he explains. "Sometimes that's the short-term, sometimes it's long-term but at this stage of the season you can't look too much past the next game.

"I'll pick the team I think is best suited to win the game. I'm not thinking about play-offs at all, I'm thinking about winning the next league game.

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"What's difficult is missing key players. If they were available they'd play because they'd want to play and we want to put out our strongest team but with the issues we've got we need to look at alternatives and that might bring up something we've not previously thought of."

The bumper book of football cliches tells us the biggest thing Jalo should bring is the fearlessness of youth. At a time when some supporters are starting to get angsty about the manager's ability to see the job of winning promotion through, it is not to be underestimated.

"There's no pressure around me, I just enjoy playing football," says Jalo. "I just love to express myself on my pitch. I don't really focus on what people outside say, I just focus on what the manager says and what my team-mates say and enjoy it.

"I've seen the likes of Marshy (20-year-old striker Aiden Marsh) in and around the first team and it t makes you believe you can do it too.

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"Everyone helps me feel normal, so I just feel comfortable. Every time I'm with the manager or about to come on he tells me to go out there and enjoy it."

Overburdening him now could be a backward step.

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