Throw-in chaos, Alex Neil’s selection migraine and those talented Tykes – Six things we learned from Norwich City’s Barnsley bodge job at Oakwell
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
After a high five against Brentford, it was familiar Championship failings at Oakwell for Alex Neil’s Canaries. Michael Bailey sifts through the latest damage done…
1 – Oakwell has no hiding place
I’ve covered a lot of away trips – and as is the case with Norwich City, there is always the odd no-show.
But what the City players and staff can often get on the road, is a buffer. The away fans may be tucked in a corner or up in the gods, drowned out by the home support or unable to effectively vocalise their displeasure.
City’s recent record had been so good against the Tykes, but they now know in no uncertain terms, that there isn’t such a hiding place at Oakwell.
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Their travelling support made up 10pc of Saturday’s crowd, and all 1,287 fans were the last thing the travelling players and management saw and heard as they disappeared down the tunnel. Only a matter of yards separated them.
It gave the supporters the opportunity to let everyone know how they felt – apoplectic at half-time, and marginally more mixed come the end. But they knew about it – to the point Alex Neil referenced it in the visitors’ dressing room during half-time.
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The press box is also a couple of rows behind the directors’ box, as City’s key personnel watched on. The question is, how much were they listening?
2 – It takes more than five minutes
The official timings said Kyle Lafferty came on for Robbie Brady on 85 minutes at Oakwell. He was Alex Neil’s third and final change, after a double substitution at half-time.
For the record, there’s no rule that says if you start with the wrong XI, you have to wait until the first half is completed to change it.
Lafferty was sent on with five minutes plus injury time – another five, in this case – to do something positive. He had five touches of the ball – two in the Barnsley penalty area – and won one aerial challenge. To be honest, that’s not bad for such a cameo.
This is not a new learning. I’ve stated before how ridiculous it is to make any sort of change – other than for injury or time-wasting – with so little of a game to go. Alex Neil has been guilty of it before, and shows no sign of getting better at it.
In terms of really affecting the game, Barnsley and City effectively shared possession in the first half – although the hosts had almost twice as much in the final third.
After the break and its changes, City had almost three times as much.
At least those two got longer to make an impact.
3 – Game two is always a tougher ask
I mentioned it a few times before kick-off and certainly in the little two-minute preview video I do: game two is the real killer.
As was written on these very pages this time last week, Ivo Pinto and Jonny Howson made such a clear difference on their returns to action following reasonably lengthy injuries – and in Howson’s case, surgery.
But as has been proven in so many instances across football and other sports, the first game back is the ‘easy’ one. Sure, you’re blowing after a few minutes, but the thrill and hunger of being back plus the extra dose of adrenaline it brings, more than gets you through – probably beyond what you should manage. Second time round however, that fuel doesn’t flow as much.
Neither Pinto or Howson were particularly bad at Barnsley – City’s real problems laid elsewhere. But both looked more as they should – two players still short of fitness after weeks away.
A word for Alex Pritchard here – subbed at half-time, yet in effect he never stood a chance given City’s starting XI.
4 – City don’t know the throw-in rules
Every game has a fiddly moment. On Saturday, they kept occurring on the touchline. Numerous times City would be awarded a throw-in and like in most games, City would try to steal a few yards when they took it with a bit of a cheeky run up.
Everyone does it. If you get away with it, fine.
However, the Oakwell crowd seemed to feel particularly hard done-by in such circumstances – and referee Andy Woolmer all too often agreed. The ridiculous part came when City’s players were warned about it, then still took a 10-yard run-up to steal some territory – the sole result was giving possession to Barnsley with a throw of their own. It’s stupid ill-discipline that summed up where City were during Saturday’s game – especially the first half when in the words of Youssouf Mulumbu, they were “going through the motions”. Not sure the City fans who paid good money to attend at Oakwell will appreciate that sentiment.
Away from flippancy of this, was the undertone of the Barnsley fans – they applied the pressure, City buckled when it mattered.
That takes us on neatly to number five...
5 – By Heck, Conor and Paul get it
Maybe it’s unreasonable for Alex Neil to know what Barnsley did in League One last season – but it’s worth knowing.
After 20 games, the Tykes were bottom of the third-tier table before manager Lee Johnson started to turn things back in his favour. Bristol City headhunted him, Paul Heckingbottom was promoted – and he led Barnsley to Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and later play-off glory at Wembley.
It was dramatic stuff – even for a season in which Leicester won the Premier League – and it was led by a manager in ex-City defender Heckingbottom, who has a young side buzzing with energy and endeavour, while playing some nice football along the way.
And key to all that is going well at Oakwell, is the captain. Conor Hourihane arguably wasn’t at his best on Saturday – but he still scored the winning goal and showed what he had in his left foot. He is out of contract in the summer – but could yet find better options than Norwich on the table.
Things seem to be ticking on well enough for Barnsley – and as a newly promoted side, they have a good platform to build on.
6 – Same mistakes equals being dropped
There was a positive on Saturday – the performance from Nelson Oliveira.
Having been unconvinced by his early appearances, it’s been a different matter in recent games with Oliveira covering the ground, keeping the ball and causing a goal threat.
He was City’s man of the match on Saturday, and was deserving of praise after the break.
But like any player, if he kept making the same mistakes, running the same incorrect channels or making awry decisions, no doubt Alex Neil would look to replace him. Well we had Newcastle little more than a year ago, when gung-ho meant 6-2. We had the decision not to start Nathan Redmond at home to an ailing Sunderland in the Premier League spring.
And now we have Saturday, when Alex Neil acknowledged he picked the wrong side again.
Look at City’s starting XI and you can argue only three players, including the goalkeeper, were truly defence-minded – and Tom Bradshaw ran past two of them for the opening goal.
On his bench, it was four out of seven and six regular internationals this year.
The same mistakes. Only one plausible outcome.