Proud Valerien Ismael sets new target for Barnsley FC after victory

PROUD BARNSLEY head coach Valerien Ismael has set a new challenge for his buoyant Reds side after they passed the fifty-point mark for the season with a 2-1 victory over Millwall at Oakwell.

Barnsley FC head coach Valerien Ismael remonstrates with referee Leigh Doughty in today's win over Millwall. PICTURE: TONY JOHNSON

In the process, the Reds eclipsed their points tally for the whole of last term in the process - with 14 games of the season still remaining - as they secured a fifth straight win at second-tier level for the first time since 1996-97.

That of course was a season which ended in promotion to the big time for Barnsley.

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Ismael is loathe to speak about play-off talk and is keeping focused, but has revealed that Barnsley now have a fresh mission after moving up to 51 points - with the first aim of the season having been to reach a half-century of points which is usually enough to clinch Championship safety.

With that secured, the focus now for the Reds is firmly on the top end of the table, with Ismael’s side just one point behind sixth-placed Bournemouth with a game in hand.

Regarding top-six talk, Ismael says that his side must see how many points that they amass in six games before the next international break at the end of March to see if they have a genuine chance of the play-offs in the season’s run-in.

He said: “Fifty one points at this stage of the season is a great feeling. It is for everybody and not only the players.

“Yes, the players first because they have showed a lot of hard work with their work ethic to keep going.

“But it is for all the staff, people who work for the club behind the scenes and for our fans. Last season was really tough for Barnsley and now we have a better feeling.

“What is the next step? The next step is clear. We have the next block in March of six games and that means 18 points.

“We need to see how many we can get and we want to keep going.”

“At the end of March, we will have a clear picture of where we are and where we can go or if we have to stay where we are.

“Congratulations to the guys for their performance and mentality on the pitch. It was a tough game and exactly what we expected against Millwall.

A rapid start saw Barnsley take the lead with a second-minute strike from top-scorer Cauley Woodrow, who has now reached double figures for league goals in 2020-21.

But Millwall, who came into the game on a nine-match unbeaten run in the league, soon levelled through a goal on six minutes from Mason Bennett.

The game was hard-fought for the rest of the first half, but Barnsley were the better side on the resumption and earned the points thanks to a fifth goal of the season from Michal Helik, who blasted home from close range just before the hour mark.

Ismael added: “I told him before the game that against Bristol (City), he missed a big, big chance and this afternoon, he made the winning goal.

“We have possibilities from set-pieces to make a difference and it is a big increase in the guys and we can compete at this level. Set-pieces are the base of the Championship.

“We knew that maybe they would change their way to play football and we were prepared for their direct game today and that is why we put a lot of bodies and physicality in the starting 11 today to compete.

“We started very well and scored very quickly to give us confidence. But the goal we conceded was really poor and our last defence was poor and it was a concentration failure.

“After, it was a fight and a 50-50 situation on the game. In the second half, we made some tactical changes to have more pace behind.

“We brought Aapo (Halme) on to have more control in the area of duels and the second balls and Aapo came in and played like a beast in the second half. It was a brilliant performance from him.

“It is a great feeling to see that for all situations, we can adapt our way to play and change our philosophy.

“Today was a great team effort to show desire and keep moving in the table and stay in the winning way. It is a great feeling.”