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Opposition Lowdown: Neill Collins’ Barnsley

Reading return to league action chasing their third league win in a row, when they take on Barnsley this Saturday. Join us as we take a closer look at the opposition. 

Horsham v Barnsley - Emirates FA Cup First Round Replay Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

Form

Barnsley finished fourth in League One last season, securing a place in the playoffs. They beat Bolton Wanderers over two legs in the semi finals, but lost the final 0-1 to Sheffield Wednesday. Their three-year stay in the Championship came to an end in 2022, when they finished bottom of the league.

The Tykes are fighting at the right end of the table again this season, currently sitting in seventh place following nine wins, four draws and five losses. Their recent form has been relatively strong, seeing two wins, two draws and one loss in their last five games. Barnsley’s away form has been stronger than their home so far this season, with the Tykes having the third-strongest away form in the league.

The two sides last faced each other in the 2021/22 season, when Reading beat Barnsley 1-0 at the SCL, with John Swift scoring the winner, before playing out a 1-1 at Oakwell.

The boss

Neill Collins: Collins became Barnsley manager in July this year, taking over from the departing Michael Duff, who joined Championship Swansea City. Collins had a playing career as a centre-back representing the likes of Dumbarton, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Sheffield United. He ended his career in the US, where he played for the Tampa Bay Rowdies.

It was Tampa where Collins started his managerial career, taking the hot seat in May 2018. The Scotsman spent five years in Florida and was named the NSL Championship Coach of the Year in 2021. He returned to England this summer after signing a two-year deal with Barnsley. Collins likes his sides to play aggressive, front-footed football.

Squad

12 players came through the door at Oakwell this summer, with eight signing permanent deals and four joining on loan. The Tykes signed forward Max Watters from Cardiff City for an undisclosed fee, following a successful loan last season. They also paid a fee for French defender Mael de Gevigney, who joined from Nimes Olympique.

Barnsley also brought in goalkeeper Ben Killip, defenders Kacper Lopata, Corey O’Keefe and Kyren Lofthouse and forwards Sam Cosgrove and Andy Dallas on free transfers. Goalkeeper Liam Roberts (Middlesbrough), defenders Jamie McCart (Rotherham United) and Owen Dodgson (Burnley) and forward John McAtee (Luton Town) all joined on loan for the season.

10 players left Oakwell, with Barnsley securing transfer fees for defender Liam Kitching and Brad Collins who joined Coventry City and centre-back Mads Andersen, who signed for Premier League Luton Town.

Forward John McAtee is an injury doubt for this Saturday’s game, having come off injured mid-week. Midfielder Luca Connell is also doubtful, while goalkeeper Liam Roberts will definitely miss out through injury.

Expected lineup

Killip, Williams, de Givegney, McCart, Cotter, Cadden, Kane, Russell, Styles, Cosgrove, Cole

Key player

Devante Cole: Striker Cole joined Barnsley in 2021, signing following the end of his contract at Motherwell. He started his career in the Manchester City academy, but his first spell of first-team football came at Barnsley, when he joined the club on loan in 2014.

A loan move to MK Dons followed before he signed a permanent deal at Bradford City. Less than five months later he moved to Fleetwood Town, where he stayed for two years, scoring 22 goals.

A move to Wigan Athletic followed but he found first-team appearances hard to come by and spent time on loan at Burton Albion and Motherwell. He made permanent moves to Doncaster Rovers and Motherwell before signing for Barnsley in 2021.

Cole has gone on to score 29 goals for The Tykes since his return to the club with 11 of those goals coming this season. The 28-year-old has represented England at every level from under-16 to under-19.

Son of former Manchester United striker Andy Cole, Devante is a pacey striker with strong finishing skills.

One to watch

Luca Connell: Midfielder Connell joined Barnsley in June last year, following the end of his contract with Celtic. He started his career at Bolton Wanderers, graduating from their youth team, before making 12 appearances for the club.

He joined Celtic on a permanent deal in 2019, but he never made a first-team appearance for the club. While at Celtic he had two separate loan spells at Queens Park, representing the club 42 times and scoring 10 goals.

Since joining Barnsley, Connell has made 53 appearances for the club and has 10 assists to his name. The 22-year-old has represented the Republic of Ireland at under-17, under-18, under-19 and under-21 level. He is a defensive midfielder who is a strong passer of the ball, while also being an effect set-piece taker.