Rotherham v Barnsley: mission impossible for Millers

heckingbottom

Hecky must replace key men

On the field, January has been a positive month for Barnsley with two league wins in three games, but off it, the club has lost some key players.

Sam Winnall is not too popular with fans after his move to South Yorkshire rivals Sheffield Wednesday. The striker has been a big part of the club’s success over the last 12 months, having scored 26 goals for the Tykes in the last calendar year, but the circumstances of his exit mean he leaves on a sour note.

By contrast, Conor Hourihane’s conduct prior to his move to Aston Villa means he instead departed with whole-hearted well-wishes. The emotion he showed after scoring an excellent strike in the victory over Leeds on Saturday showed it would be a wrench for the captain to leave for Villa Park, along with talented full-back James Bree.

It will be a tough task for Paul Heckingbottom to replace these players and the absence of Hourihane is made harder by Sam Morsy’s return to Wigan. However, he has acted quickly to bring in Matty James, who starred in Leicester’s 13/14 Championship title win prior to an injury that has hindered his career.

Today, Hecky has added another creative midfielder in Alex Mowatt, once hailed as the next prodigy at Leeds United, where he became a victim of increased competition. The careers of both players have dipped due to circumstances more than a lack of ability and could rediscover their form at Barnsley.

The Tykes now face Rotherham, who lost 4-0 at Newcastle last week. Nine points from Paul Warne’s first nine league games in charge is not exactly a bad return – they had taken seven from the previous 18 – but it does not help their survival prospects.

Rotherham have a loyal servant in manager Paul Warne, who it seems is the one man who doesn’t want Paul Warne to take the job full-time. He has the support of the fans and the respect of the players, which suggests he could be the man to re-build spirit within the camp for next season, even if that is played in League One.

Their reasonable goalscoring record of 27 in 27 – better than three Championship sides – is let down by a woeful defence. Under Alan Stubbs, it looked as though their poor record at the back was down to frequent changes. However, a consistent back-four of Darnell Fisher, Richard Wood, Aimen Belaid and Joe Mattock have not ended the club’s quest for clean sheets. The Millers have kept only two of them, remarkably, since 23rd April.

They need 26 points from 19 games to attain survival – a similar record to Preston North End or Norwich City – which looks beyond them right now.

The Football Lab’s Verdict: 1-2