Barnsley v Sheff Wed Preview: contrasting moods

Carvalhal’s Owls out of form –

There might only be three places, four points and 12 South Yorkshire miles separating these two clubs, but the mood in the two camps contrast.

At Barnsley there is a sense, not dissimilar to Dunkirk Spirit, of the whole fanbase uniting behind the club in their attempts to compete with bigger budgeted outfits. One of them is Sheffield Wednesday who, understandably, hold a greater sense of expectation due to the money spent and their capacity to retain key players.

Carlos Carvalhal crumbled up a £20 note after the derby defeat to Sheffield United, then unfurled it to suggest that the quality in his expensive squad remains. He has not necessarily helped himself, because it is the manager’s job to get the best out of the individuals the club spends money on. Huddersfield’s squad last season didn’t cost anywhere near as much as what the Owls’ squad does now, but it is not hard to decide which one a fan would prefer.

One of the few strong performers for Wednesday has been Gary Hooper, who has not only scored eight goals in 14 appearances, but also offers the mobility and movement to influence build-up play. Hooper played well in the 2-0 defeat at Derby County, where they were a goal and a man down within the first three minutes.

Barry Bannan also played well that afternoon and, having played more passes (820) than any Championship player this term, he has always tried hard to engineer attacks. The problem is that he sometimes does so single-handedly, such is the lack of movement from players ahead of him baring Hooper.

While the ex-Scunthorpe striker plays just behind Steven Fletcher, it is the exit of another ex-Scunthorpe striker to Hillsborough that has allowed Tom Bradshaw to thrive. At Walsall, he was more impactful on his own up top with midfielders joining him from deep, than when he was joined by a strike-partner from the outset. Bradshaw was praised at the Bescot for his work rate and movement, as well as his goalscoring ability, and he has replicated all three qualities in the Championship with Barnsley.

Initially he struggled to get in ahead of Sam Winnall, but when he controversially left for Wednesday in January, Bradshaw has benefited from increased game time as a lone striker. The question now is whether Paul Heckingbottom needs Ike Ugbo, who was signed on loan with Chelsea expecting him to get first team football, yet the youngster is merely a back-up right now.

Barnsley have started two up top twice so far this year and it may not be the greatest coincidence that they lost on both occasions. Bradshaw and Ugbo both played in the 1-0 home defeat to Hull last week, even if the Tykes might have snatched a draw with better finishing.

Their attack will hope to get the better of Tom Lees and Joost Van Aken, who didn’t have the best time in their last South Yorkshire derby with Sheffield United. Lees was excellent for a few years at Hillsborough but, recently, he has lost his form, not helped by the decline of Glenn Loovens. Adam Reach has previously been played at left-back, in hope of utilizing the width he provides, but he has struggled with the defensive side of the game.

The Owls, right now, look divided and disjointed: Barnsley might just profit from the disarray if they can raise their game on derby day.

The Football Lab’s Verdict: 2-1