Promotion clashes don’t get much bigger than this.
A play-off place is still in Reading’s hands, but only if the Royals win at Oakwell on Good Friday. That’s no mean feat against a Barnsley side in red-hot form, having stormed up the table from 22nd in the fifth match of the season to now sit one place above sixth-placed Reading. The Tykes were mid-table as recently as February, but a hugely impressive run of nine wins in their last 13 has put the cat among the pigeons.
Barnsley started this season poorly but have made a late charge into the playoffs - what’s been behind that surge?
I think there was a few factors at the start, Gerhard Struber wasn’t happy which I think probably unsettled the players whilst there was likely to still be a hangover from the exhilaration of the ending of last season.
The surge is down to the fact we have suddenly found a formula that works and works brilliantly. All of a sudden teams cannot deal with what we are doing even though it is a very simple thing – win the ball, hit it long, chase after, close down the opposition, make them make mistakes. A lot of opposition players and managers have criticised it and I fully admit it’s not the easiest thing to watch but its taken us from the relegation zone to the play-offs so I cannot complain. We can also play good football too mind as we did in the second half at Bournemouth.
What have you made of Valerien Ismael since his arrival in October?
Well what can you say, he’s taken us from relegation candidates (like we have been at this level for 20 years) to promotion contenders. I don’t think his influence throughout the club can be overestimated. Even when we win he’s not happy – he rollicked the players at half time at Bournemouth, his standards are incredibly high and he won’t let anybody drop below them. Unless we do go up I cannot see him being here next season – he’s an ex-Palace defender and Roy Hodgson probably hasn’t got long left in the game…
How does he set his side up tactically?
To literally suffocate the life out of the opposition. We get the ball, hit it long and then press press press until the opposition makes a mistake, eventually it wears them down and once we get ahead it’s almost a guarantee we will win. Prior to his arrival we went 63 games without winning at this level when conceding the first goal (losing 51), since he arrived we’ve won FOUR times when conceding first.
What are the main strengths and weaknesses of this Barnsley team?
The fitness is a major factor, we look so strong late on in games, which is probably why we have started to come from behind to win. Look out for him changing all three forward players around the hour mark and then a defender not long after. The starting front three wear out the opposition defence and then the replacements take advantage. Carlton Morris has scored six goals since arriving in January, five from the bench.
Also after many years of set-pieces being the most pointless thing for us to win we have suddenly become extremely prolific at them. Michal Helik, our new Polish international defender, has netted his six goals from them.
Weaknesses are we always liable to the odd mistake and when we make one it usually ends up with a goal being conceded. Our high line often leads us to look susceptible to a quick ball over the line or down the line, Sheffield Wednesday exploited that well in our last game. Keep an eye on our goalkeeper Brad Collins too, he’s suddenly started thinking he’s Manuel Neuer – the ultimate sweeper keeper – however tends to come flying out and get nowhere near the ball. He was VERY lucky against Bournemouth and Wednesday that it didn’t lead to a goal, I can’t imagine he will get away with it for much longer.
Which players should Reading be most wary of?
Daryl Dike, our American loanee with the alleged $20m buy out clause has been a revelation since coming from Orlando, bullying defenders and scoring some great goals. Morris as mentioned before is a major threat when coming off the bench and Helik will need to be marked well at set-pieces.
How do you see your season, and the wider promotion race, panning out?
Honestly…. who knows, never in a million years did I expect us to be in this position, especially when we failed to win any of our first seven games before Val came in. We are all pretty much living a dream and I still expect us to drop out. However,, win this Friday and maybe… just maybe!
How do you see the game going and what will the score be?
It will likely be a war of attrition, all our games are – even on that long winning run there was probably only the second half at Bournemouth where we played really well, I can see it being incredibly tight but I am hoping for a 1-0 Barnsley win so we can dream a little longer... until Monday at least!