A DEGREE of protection will prevent new Barnsley head coach Gerhard Struber from being exposed to the elements by the banks of the River Tees this evening – and it is not necessarily anything to do with the weather.
Both the Reds and Middlesbrough head into tonight’s meeting on the back of atrocious sequences of form – in common parlance, the pair simply cannot buy a win.
Boro are experiencing their worst run of results at this level since some pretty desperate days for the Teesside club back in the mid-Eighties.
It is 10 matches since they last breached the wins column in a scrappy 1-0 success over Reading on September 14.
You have to go back further, much further, to Barnsley’s last Championship triumph, a single-goal win over Fulham on the opening day of the season on August 3 when optimism was in plentiful supply on the back of a joyous promotion campaign under Daniel Stendel.
This is a very big club with other goals and their goal should not be about relegation.Gerhard Struber
How times have changed in 16 winless matches since with a new head coach now at the helm in Struber.
In mitigation, the fact that the 42-year-old is just one week and one game into his Barnsley adventure means that he will be insulated from criticism at the start of his odyssey in South Yorkshire.
Home supporters may have been patient regarding his counterpart Jonathan Woodgate thus far. But patience, especially in modern-day football, is finite and there will come a tipping point if things do not change soon.
It is one of the reasons why Struber believes that the pressure is all on the shoulders on Boro this evening.
If that fact needs reinforcing, the Austrian says it will arrive when he looks around the stands of a 30,000-plus capacity Riverside Stadium which was built for Premier League football at its opening in 1995-96 – back then, it was the largest stadium to be built since World War Two.
Adamant that the heavy-duty pressure will solely be the preserve of Boro, despite both sides heading into the game with double-digit runs without a league success, Struber said: “Yes, absolutely. This is a very big club with other goals and their goal should not be about relegation.
“But they have the same situation as we have. We need points and Middlesbrough do.
“I saw Middlesbrough live against Hull and this is a side with a clear counter-attacking plan with a very, very good striker who is dynamic.
“But we have a very clear plan against this team and the confidence to show what we can. Our goal is to win the game at Middlesbrough and have a very good performance.”
You have to go back to February 2018 for Barnsley’s last away win at this level – in a surprise 2-0 victory at Birmingham City.
That, incidentally, arrived in the second match in charge of one of Struber’s predecessors in Jose Morais, and how the Reds’ new head coach and all and sundry at Oakwell would take a re-run in his second game at the helm.
Despite having an offensive plan which he is keeping under wraps for tonight’s key tussle, Struber is the first to admit that most of his meticulous attention to detail on the training ground and in the video suite has focused on endeavouring to install some badly-needed defensive discipline, concentration and organisation among a rearguard who have shipped a staggering 36 goals already this season.
Early days, yes, but Struber is already likely to have seen more than enough to denote that Barnsley will fall someway short of achieving their declared aim of survival unless they stop haemorrhaging soft goals.
Struber, who was afforded a microcosm of Barnsley’s season when he watched on from the sidelines in Saturday’s self-inflicted 3-2 defeat at Blackburn Rovers, added: “In training, we have sessions where we need good concentration and a very high discipline in the position.
“Also when we have meetings and analyse, we want players who are very comfortable with the task.
“When we face set-pieces, we need the right attitude and a clear plan. We need to create better results. For us, it is very important that we have a high focus throughout the game in every second and every minute.
“It is our big focus on our task in every second in our personal task and together when the opponent is on the ball.
“When we have the ball, we have a clear match plan.”
Last six games: Middlesbrough LDDLDD; Barnsley DDLDLL.
Referee: J Simpson (Lancashire).
Last time: Middlesbrough 3 Barnsley 1, March 10, 2018; Championship.