Sunday, 29 April 2012

End Of Season Review

With a 7th successive season in the NPower Championship being secured last week - and rather fortuitously due to Portsmouth's points deduction - The View From The Red Zone looks back on what has proved to be yet another anti-climax of a season for Barnsley, or has it?

Pre-season saw Barnsley appoint Keith Hill and David Flitcroft, otherwise known as Hillcroft. They brought something different to the table that past managers hadn't - a mesmerising brand of neat passing football that had gained them recognition from a host of Championship clubs. There was no hesitancy in changing the squad around as eight new faces came in and nine players departed. The most notable signings were undoubtedly Craig Davies, whose 25 goals last season earned him a place in League Two's PFA team of the year, and Ricardo Vaz Te, who had so far had unsuccessful spells in England, Greece and Scotland. The notable, yet unsurprising outgoings were 2009-10 player of the year Hugo Colace, and 2010-2011 player of the year Jason Shackell. Barnsley won every pre-season game, including a comfortable 2-0 win over neighbours Sheffield Wednesday and a 5-0 annihilation of Scunthorpe.

Apart from Keith Hill, no manager was willing to take a gamble on the Portuguese 25 year old.

Cast your minds back to August. A warm summer day in Nottingham and Barnsley were again on their travels for the first game of the season. A huge level of anticipation could be felt throughout the club and its fans for the coming season after the appointment of Keith Hill, along with assistant David Flitcroft. The match kicked off, the air filled with optimism from the 2,000 travelling fans who were in full voice from start to finish. A valiant performance from a Barnsley side that were expected to be heavily beaten by promotion hopefuls Nottingham Forest resulted in a 0-0 draw and a share of the spoils.

The following couple of games for Barnsley prompted a small section of the fans to call for Hill's head after a cup exit at the hands of League Two Morecambe and two consecutive league defeats at home to Southampton and Middlesbrough. These shouts for Hill to be sacked seemed to make something click as The Reds went on to record a 2-1 victory away at eventual champions Reading and finished off the first month of the campaign at Millwall with a mirrored result of Forest away. Manchester United youngster Daniel Drinkwater was brought in on a three month loan deal and had an instant connection with central midfield maestro Jacob Butterfield.

September saw The Tykes go unbeaten, yet winless all the way through the month. Four 1-1 draws against Leicester, Watford, Birmingham and Derby respectively saw this little unbeaten run extended to six games. Jacob Butterfield started to show his true quality chipping in with three goals in four games whilst veteran striker Andy Gray netted the only other goal of the month.

October proved to be a better month points-wise as Barnsley picked up six points from a possible fifteen. They started the month in fine form with a 2-0 victory over lowly Coventry which extended the unbeaten sequence to seven - the longest run without a loss since the 8 games in November and December of 2009. Unfortunately this was followed by a 2-0 defeat at Portsmouth in Barnsley's first televised game of the season. This also ended the Oakwell outfit's unbeaten away record. Barnsley showed great resilience to bounce back in to the next game at home to Burnley in which they recorded at 2-0 win with Ricardo Vaz Te getting off the mark. Continuing in typical Barnsley fashion, they succumbed to defeat in the next game away at Cardiff City. The only positive to be taken from the game was the Jimmy McNulty strike which happened to be the 4,000th league goal scored by Barnsley.

The October fixtures came to a close at Oakwell with the visit of bottom of the league Bristol City. Exciting summer signing Craig Davies showed his predator instincts to react quickest to a slot home the equalizer before Nicky Maynard kept up his rich vein of form against Barnsley to fire home a 93rd minute winner in front of the Bristol faithful - his 5th in his last four outings against The Reds.

Just like October, November started just as well with Luke Steele saving a penalty in a 2-1 victory over Hull in the first game of the month. Barnsley kept up their consistent inconsistency by going on to suffer a 2-0 defeat at Brighton on Bonfire Weekend. The international break came at just the right time for South Yorkshire's number one club as they bounced back from defeat on the South Coast to win the first Yorkshire derby of the season, against Doncaster Rovers at Oakwell - Craig Davies getting his 2nd and 3rd goals of the season. Was this the start of a run of sensational results for The Reds? The final weekend of November saw Barnsley claim Leeds United's scalp on Leeds' own turf in a game that Barnsley fans will remember for a long time to come.

London Road was the first destination of December and Barnsley knew it would be tough to get a result at free scoring Peterborough, despite having a brilliant record against the Cambridgeshire club. The match fought out provided goals galore in a 4-3 success for Barnsley. A very high thrill factor indeed as Peterborough scored three goals in six minutes to make up a 3-0 deficit, only for Craig Davies to smash home a goal of the season contender with 12 minutes remaining to steal the points. Swiftly following that encounter came a 2-1 win at home to Crystal Palace - Ricardo Vaz Te scoring inside 7 seconds. This run of four wins on the bounce sparked talks of a play-off place between Barnsley supporters, which unfortunately never came to fruition. Another televised match, against Ipswich at Oakwell saw Barnsley lead 2-0 at half time, only to be humiliated as Ipswich ran riot in the 2nd half scoring five times. Defeats to West Ham and Blackpool came and the boo-boys were again in full voice. Barnsley rounded off 2011 with a scintillating 4-1 hammering of Leeds United.

The four scorers against Peterborough. From left to right: Vaz Te, Davies, Butterfield, O'Brien.

The half-way point of the season came and Barnsley were twelve points above safety sitting comfortably in 13th place, in contrast to last season when the club sat in 16th position hovering only six points above the dreaded drop zone. A slight improvement yes, but not all the fans were on Keith Hill's side yet and that wasn't about to change. Craig Davies and Ricardo Vaz Te had showed the understanding they had of each other as they contributed with 19 of the 35 goals that Barnsley had scored so far. An injury sustained against Leeds meant that influential captain Jacob Butterfield would miss the remainder of the season.

2012 started off in awful fashion. Rumours circulated that hat-trick hero Ricardo Vaz Te had rejected a new contract offer, Barnsley lost 2-0 to local rivals Doncaster Rovers, and more rumours circulated about vile chants from Barnsley 'fans' towards Billy Sharp about his late son, Luey. I use the term 'fans' very loosely. The 3rd round of the FA Cup was the next test against another free-flowing passing team in Swansea. Barnsley were once again valiant, but bowed out with a 4-2 loss. Marvellous performances against Leicester and Derby sandwiched a lacklustre performance against Millwall. Keith Hill brought in several lower league players, much to the disapproval of many Barnsley fans. This was a poignant reminder of the club's financial difficulties.

February brought misery to most Barnsley fans. Four defeats and only one win lead to a slump down the table. The only points came against administration bound Portsmouth. The result was identical to the reverse fixture, with the home side taking the points again. Defender Scott Golbourne opened his account on his debut away at Watford after being signed in January from Exeter City.

March was another very bad month for Barnsley, as they picked up a mere four points from seven games. They started with the visit of Nottingham Forest and recovered from a goal down to rescue a point and secure their first draw in 25 outings. Up next was a trip to the Riverside Stadium to face high flying Middlesbrough, but to no avail. The subsequent game echoed the result of the Middlesbrough match as Barnsley went down 2-0 at Southampton's peril. Keith Hill tried to shake it up by bringing in four loanees; Frank Nouble, Lee Collins, David Button and Kallum Higginbotham. It appeared that the 42 year old was running out of ideas and this shone through with an embarrassing 4-0 home defeat to Reading. A single goal loss away at Crystal Palace was the next step in the chapter. What followed though was an astute performance at home to Peterborough after going a man down to win 1-0, in which Stephen Dawson put in a masterful shift. His effort and commitment to get the job done in a professional and highly effective manner got people talking about possible captaincy and a future Barnsley legend. The Reds ended March going down 1-0 at Portman Road to a rejuvenated Ipswich side.

The final month of the season was in no way better than the past few months and Barnsley failed to register a maximum in any game. This was also the worst points total for an individual month since August 2009 - the month of Simon Davey's sacking. The team started off with their 3rd televised game of the season at home to West Ham United and someone somewhere struck a self-destruct button as Barnsley found themselves 3-0 down after only 35 minutes. Old boy Ricardo Vaz Te capped West Ham's scoring with an easy finish and a muted celebration to go with it. Barnsley's run in looked seemingly difficult and it looked as though they could be dragged into the relegation mix. After the West Ham debacle, a changed Barnsley team travelled to play-off certainties Blackpool a grabbed a fantastic point, courtesy of a fluke goal from David Perkins. Three games followed, no points gained and only one goal scored.

Highlights of the 4-0 thumping at the hands of West Ham United.


Barnsley faced Brighton on the final day and both teams served up a pretty dour game. A few of the youngsters started the game and showed signs of promise - Jordan Clark, in particular. Academy graduate John Stones missed a gilt-edged chance to win the game for the home team in the dying seconds.

On the whole it's been a successful, yet unsuccessful season in ways. Club general manager Don Rowing stated that at the beginning of the season Keith Hill's aims were to keep the club in the league and to break even. The first aim was achieved a couple of weeks back against Hull due to Coventry's defeat to Millwall. However, it is only by default that the club has stayed in the division. Had it not been for Portsmouth's inability to only spend what they could afford then they would not have been deducted the ten points which took us above them. Don Rowing has come out to say the second aim of breaking even is on course to be achieved.

Looking back at where the club has finished since its promotion back to English football's second division, this has been the 2nd most successful season with the club finishing in 21st place and eight points above the relegation zone. Compare that to the season of 2007-08, where we finished the nearest to the play-offs we've been, yet only stayed up by three points.

Squad changes aplenty have already taken place with six players being released when their respective contracts end in June. These are; David Preece, Alistair Taylor, Jay McEveley, Nathan Doyle, David Cotterill and Andy Gray. Keith Hill has already stated his intentions to sign four or five Championship standard players on permanent deals, as well as three trialists and in addition to these, a couple of loan players.

Andy Gray (above), and Nathan Doyle (below) have both been great servants to the club.


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