A need for organization at Oakwell

barnsley 2Barnsley have some of the most technically gifted players in League One. They have a number of talented midfielders, such as Conor Hourihane, Ben Pearson and Daniel Crowley. All of those players have the potential to play in the Premier League, and indeed Pearson and Crowley are owned by Champions League clubs, Manchester United and Arsenal respectively. Therefore, it came as a shock to some people when this blog predicted in pre-season that Barnsley would finish 19th.

The reason for that verdict was a concern over the lack of leadership and collective organization in the team, which is something we are already beginning to see. Here is an analysis of the 10 league goals Barnsley have conceded so far this season:

Vs Chesterfield away

1 – For Chesterfield’s first goal, defender Marc Roberts (number 4) has to take some of the blame. At 1:10, he should have been quicker to cut out the left wing cross from Daniel Jones (3), and when the ball got to Sylvain Ebanks-Blake (9) in the box, he needed to sprint back with more urgency. However, Daniel Crowley (21) failed to track the run of the goalscorer, Jay O’Shea (10), and at 1:16, we can actually see him, bizarrely, running away from the goal, as if scared to get involved. Other defenders need to take some of the responsibility too, and one might argue that Conor Hourihane (8) should have made more of an attempt to close down the shot.

2 – Chesterfield’s second goal came from a corner. At 1:42, George Smith (3) and Marley Watkins (15) allowed the ball to bounce just outside the 6 yard box. Neither of them were marking Ebanks-Blake (9), Chesterfield’s lone striker, yet neither of them showed the initiative to attack the ball, so the front man had time to get his shot away from about 7 yards out.

3 – The third goal was a great strike from Sam Morsy (5). Chesterfield were not posing a threat until 1:50, when Barnsley substitute George Williams (22) headed the ball straight to Ebanks-Blake (9). This goal can be put down to a simple technical error, rather than poor positioning or a lack of organization.

Vs Millwall away

4 – The danger began at 0:20, when Lewin Nyatanga (5) spontaneously charged out of his position to close down Ed Upson (8), vacating space for Steve Morison (20) to run into. The man to apply pressure on the ball in that situation should have been Ben Pearson (19), because him and Alfie Mawson (26) were covering the same area, where there was no opposition attacker, as Lee Gregory (9) is marked by Marc Roberts (4). Conor Hourihane (8) should have looked to apply pressure on the ball, and in this scene he spends too long appealing for offside. At 0:25, Millwall broke into the box and Roberts made the mistake of allowing Gregory to get goal side of him. In a desperate attempt to correct that, he charged further back, and due to the momentum of his run the eventual cross went behind him, which meant the ball ran towards Fred Onyedinma (10), who eventually knocked it in. At first glance, goalkeeper Scott Davies and right-back James Bree (2) look at fault for that goal, but they could not have done much more once the ball got into the 6 yard box.

5 – Millwall’s second goal at 1:22 is more straightforward, as Sam Winnall (9) fails to win a header against Onyedinma (10) from a corner. The decision to hand the job of man marking a player at the near post to a 1.75m striker, however, may be questioned.

Vs Rochdale away

6 – For the first 12 seconds of the first clip here, Barnsley’s shape is perfect. However, problems begin to develop at around 0:22, when Rochdale’s Ollie Lancashire (6) gets towards the halfway line, and Conor Wilkinson (18) does not make enough of an effort to close him down. Lancashire continued his run into Barnsley’s half, and was given too much time to pick a pass into the feet of Peter Vincenti (7). At 0:25, Alfie Mawson (26) made an unrealistic challenge for the ball, when as a centre-back, it was his responsibility to hold his position, allowing other players to apply pressure on the ball. Ben Pearson (19) arguably does not show enough aggression when challenging Donal McDermott (12) at 0:28, but Barnsley’s main problem was that, with Mawson out of position, there was a sense of indecision in their defence. Without the insurance of 2 centre-backs behind them, no player could risk challenging for the ball, and so amid the confusion at 0:32, Rochdale’s Calvin Andrew (9) was given too much time and space to get his shot away.

7 – Rochdale’s second goal came from a corner. The delivery to the back-post was good, yet Lee Johnson can be frustrated that Peter Vincenti (7), a player who provides Rochdale’s biggest aerial threat, was not properly marked. At 0:43, we can clearly see that Lewin Nyatanga (5) was given the job of marking Vincenti. However, only a second later, Nyantanga actually moves away from his man, leaving Vincenti free to peel off to the back-post. The fact that an opposition player was allowed a free header, when Barnsley had 7 players in the 6 yard box, shows a severe lack of organization.

8 – For Rochdale’s 3rd goal, Conor Hourihane (8) was bullied off the ball in his own half by Jamie Allen (24) at 1:10. At this point, right-back Reece Wabara (32) should have raced back into defence to cover the gap on his side of the pitch. Instead, he is seen jogging back at 1:13, while Ian Henderson (40) rushes into the space with a much greater sense of urgency, and his endeavour is rewarded with a clear goalscoring opportunity, and he finishes well. Hourihane (8) will be blamed for losing the ball, but Wabara  should have reacted much quicker to the change of possession.

Vs Shrewsbury home

9 – This is the 4th league goal from a corner that Barnsley have conceded, which suggests a need for more practice at defending set pieces. As the ball came into the danger area at 0:35, 6 of the 8 Barnsley players pictured were facing their own goal. In fact, Alex Crowley (21) was facing the goal and not marking anybody. With such poor initial positioning, defenders are making their own jobs doubly hard, because not only do they have to get to the ball ahead of their opponents, they must also attempt to clear it from an unnatural position. Regardless of whether or not the ball crossed the line, Barnsley have to learn from the way they defended that corner when the initial ball came in.

10 – Shrewsbury were on top at the time they scored their second goal at 1:55. Given this, and the fact that Barnsley still had a point to respect with the scoreline at 1-1, their midfielders should have offered more protection. However, Barnsley’s defenders also needed to operate much tighter, to deny Jordan Clark (22) a chance to run into space. Alfie Mawson (26), and the full-backs to an extent, were too slow to move inside and offer support for Marc Roberts (4), who had the initial job of marking Jean-Louis Akpa-Akpro (26). Roberts was given an unrealistic task of filling the massive space between Mawson and Reece Wabara (32), whilst also keeping half an eye on the decoy run of Akpa-Akpro. Because of this, Clark’s change of pace and direction at 2:00 took Roberts out of the game, and Clark then had space to pick his shot from inside the penalty area.


The recurring theme that is evident from all of the goals, except perhaps Morsy’s strike for Chesterfield and Onyedinma’s header for Millwall, is that there is a lack of defensive organization in this Barnsley team. Part of the problem is a lack of reliable protection in midfield.

Hourihane, Pearson and Crowley, who have started most league games, all have natural tendencies to push forward and create. If either of those three were playing in front of two disciplined, holding midfielders, and were given the licence to consistently push forward, any one of them could become the best player in League One. At the moment however, Josh Scowen is the only midfielder Barnsley have who is predominantly defensive minded. As a result, there is a much greater responsibility on the attack-minded players to track runners and fulfil their defensive duties, which they are not so accomplished at doing. Furthermore, due to the number of young players in the team who are developing the physical side of their game, Barnsley look vulnerable when defending set pieces.

The strongest teams will have a core of 2 or 3 reliable, experienced players who understand the art of collective defending, yet Barnsley’s current transfer policy they employ does not allow them to bring in these types of players.

Under owners Ben Mansford, Patrick Cryne and Maurice Watkins, the club tends to sign talented but unproven youngsters. Most of the players they possess have either come through the academy, played in the lower leagues, or shown promise at an elite club who are willing to let them go out on loan. From a purely financial viewpoint, this transfer policy benefits the club (or indeed the owners). The value of a young player they bring in from a lower league club is likely to sky rocket if they do well, and no transfer fee is required for any player they bring in on loan, or develop through the academy.

However, promotion should be Barnsley’s objective, not financial gain. The club is averaging over 9,185 fans at home games, and only 3 clubs in the division average more – Sheffield United, Bradford and Coventry. Barnsley are not in the position of a club such as, for example, Walsall or Rochdale, who due to small attendances, have had to make progress over a long period by developing young players and selling them on. The money is, or should be, available.

It begs the question therefore, as to why the club have not been willing to address the lack of leadership in the team by investing heavily in one or two experienced players. As evidenced by Barnsley’s transfer dealings in previous years, there are financial risks that come with signing an older player: they may demand higher wages, be more prone to injury, and decline in quality and value quicker than others. However, the advantages are that they will tend to be physically stronger, they will have developed a better instinct for defensive positioning, and will know how to instruct those around them. Very few, if any, of Barnsley’s current players have these kind of qualities, and there appears to be a lack of balance in their squad.

At the moment, Barnsley are nothing more than a collection of talented individuals. To fulfil their potential as a team, and to stop conceding such poor goals, they must change their transfer policy. The club has to take risks on a few experienced defenders, who can lead the team to the success they are capable of.