BARNSLEY have set the standard Bradford City must quickly reach to challenge for promotion this season.
The point was forcibly hammered home at a vibrant Valley Parade where a crowd approaching 19,000, including over 2,500 from Oakwell, made for a cracking atmosphere.
Gegenpressing may be the watchword at Barnsley this season under their German coaches but there was something remarkably old-school English about their approach which sunk the new-look Bantams.
A simple 4-4-2 structure allied to a pragmatic defensive approach which illuminaries such as Mick McCarthy, Malcolm Shotton and Peter Shirtliff would have purred over was too much for the hosts, who are still getting to know each other’s game – they fielded 11 debutants in the previous week’s opener.
Barnsley, on the other hand, are determined to right the wrongs of relegation last season, having kept most of the squad intact, including front two Tom Bradshaw and Kieffer Moore, who will certainly trouble most League One defences.
Everton product Hope Akpan, snapped up by City coach Michael Collins after his release from Burton, knew that lessons had to be learned after a seventh-minute diving header from Wales international Bradshaw was followed by a 70th-minute first touch of the game tap-in from substitute Victor Adeboyejo.
Midfield player Akpan reflected: “Barnsley are a powerful side. They play to their strengths well. They have the big man up top (Moore), they get it to him, get it out wide, get it in the box. They were together last season while we have a lot of new players coming together.
“We have done okay but it shows that we need some work and to gel together more as a team to really take advantage of different opportunities on the pitch.
“You can’t just flick a switch. It takes a lot of hard work on the training pitch which we have been doing. Today, we had good spells but we didn’t quite click
“We definitely needed to show a bit more composure. We flashed a few across the box but not enough and we were not ruthless enough. We got caught with a sucker punch for the second and that deflated us a bit but we have to learn from that and recover quickly.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game but the crowd produced a great buzz and created the energy which we failed to use to our advantage. Hopefully, over the course of the season, we can make Valley Parade a fortress. We will need to if we are going to do well. There is a lot more to come. We have exciting players and if we can give them good service and all of us learn each other’s game then we can get results.”
Despite Barnsley’s general dominance, Akpan beleives there will be plenty of teams in the promotion mix.
“It’s a tough division. there are no out and out favourites. Barnsley were strong and will be up there. A lot of teams will fancy themselves, though – it’s two out of 10, two out of 12 and we have got to be one of those teams. We have to fight and do what it takes.
“We have got to be aggressive, we have got to be ruthless. We lacked a bit of that in both sides of the game, defending and attacking, but with work we can do that and be better.”
Barnsley’s flying start and successive clean sheets has caught the coaching staff slightly by surprise, admitted Reds No 2 Andreas Winkler, not that he was complaining.
“We expected this (kind of performance) during the season but not at the beginning. In some ways, though, it didn’t surprise us because we see it a lot of it in training,” he commented.
Of the decision to keep pressing rather than sit back on their 2-0 lead away from home, Winkler tellingly added: “That’s not why we are here (to defend a lead). Daniel Stendel (head coach) came from Germany to England and we want to play our style in every stadium. It does not matter where we are.
“Our aim is to control the match and what the opposition does. For the second match of the season, this was very good from us. It was more comfortable after the second goal and we had a little more composure.”
Winkler admitted it had been crucial for Barnsley to fend off approaches from several Championship clubs for Bradshaw, even though they risk losing him for nothing when his contract expires at the end of the season.
“It was very important to keep him. He fits 100 per cent into the style of how we want to play. He works hard for the team and now everybody knows why we don’t want to transfer him.”
Winkler was alluding to Bradshaw’s flying header which gave the Reds the lead after towering partner Moore had seen three attempts repelled in quick succession.
Bradford City: O’Donnell, Mellor, O’Connor, Knight-Percival (Robinson 71); Chicksen, Wright, Akpan, Riley (Seedorf 46); Payne, Doyle, Scannell (Miller 78). Unused substitutes: Wilson, McGowan, Brunkler, Hudson.
Barnsley: Davies; Cavare, Pinnock, Lindsay, Pinillos; Potts (Isgrove 90), Dougall, Mowatt, Thiam (Moncur 68); Moore (Adeboyejo 68), Bradshaw. Unused substitutes: McGeehan, Walton, Jackson, Williams.
Referee: T Robinson (West Sussex).