Reading v Barnsley: Top-secret talks paying dividends for Reds

IT may have been a desperate Oakwell evening, but what happened after Barnsley’s wretched home defeat to Birmingham City on February 11 could yet prove to be the seminal event in the Reds’ roller-coaster season.

Whisper it gently, but a ‘Great Escape’ plan is starting to be seriously hatched for the second time in seven years, with the Reds seeking a fourth successive league win at this level this afternoon – something they last achieved in those unforgettable days under David Flitcroft in the second half of 2012-13.

Then, as of just a few weeks ago, Barnsley looked down and out for a time, but somehow managed to find the wherewithal to haul themselves off the canvas and discover some resolve, fight and raw defiance from a seemingly bereft situation.

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Maybe it really is just a plain old case of: ‘What does not kill you makes you stronger.’

Barnsley head coach Gerhard Struber: Not concerned with others.

The process began with some frankness and home truths following the painful loss to the Blues – with the penny seeming to drop that it was now or never in the club’s bid for survival.

Gerhard Struber is reluctant to go into specifics as to what was said and formulated amid the wreckage of Birmingham.

Given events since, it has certainly been healthy therapy, with the Austrian highly likely to have laid things on the line to his charges.

The Reds head coach said: “It is complex and not so easy to give a question of one thing we changed.

“After the Birmingham game, I had special talks with the boys. We got a good trigger to bring a good performance in the next games.

“We have had a change in mindset. Not for all players, but some players, who needed a change.

“What we have had in the last few games is that we are very clear in our defence.

“We spoke very trustfully together and had an exchange together and talked very deeply.

“This is not a topic to go outside. It was a discussion between me and my players. For us, it is top-secret.”

Just as Barnsley’s last two games against struggling fellow Yorkshire duo Hull and Middlesbrough looked to have fallen kindly, given the poor runs of both in 2020, so opportunity presents itself ahead of today’s game with an under-pressure Reading side.

The Royals’ home record and tally of 20 points – with the Berkshire outfit having won just six and lost nine of their 17 league matches at the Madejski Stadium in 2019-20 – is the worst in the division.

Reading have not won in their past five league games on home soil and you have to go back to Boxing Day for their last success in front of their own supporters.

Yet Struber is adamant that Barnsley focus on self before the predicament of others.

He said: “For us, it is very important that we have a big focus on our style and performance.

“When we only look at the table at other clubs, this is not good motivation.

“What gives us a good motivation for a big fight is showing our style.”