A 10th defeat of the season for North End on Tuesday night. Despite taking the lead through Sean Maguire in the 2nd minute we somehow managed to slip to a 2-1 defeat to Barnsley and in the end, truth be told, it was a deserved victory for the Tykes.
Here are five things that we learned from the Barnsley game…
Abject, Lifeless and Lacklustre
It was another display that we have become all too used to seeing from North End this season. We started the game off well with Josh Earl winning a corner early on and Seani did well with a low header which just crossed the line.
We were in the ascendancy and had clearly started the more positive and then Emil Riis missed a golden opportunity to double our lead before half time. After that Barnsley took control. We let them back into the game and every time we had possession we wasted it. We couldn’t string more than a few passes together and a lot of our 131 long balls upfield just came straight back at us.
A tough game on Friday against Bristol City follows and we must be seriously looking over our shoulders now as there’s only one way this team seem to be heading.
The Tables Have Turned
Last season our results against Barnsley were two of the most dominant of the whole campaign. We easily dispatched them 5-1 at Deepdale with Ben Pearson also scoring a rare goal. At Oakwell, we comfortably beat them 3-0 with a strong first-half display.
Barnsley now have a different manager in charge in Valérien Ismaël and have enjoyed a good run under him having won 8 of their 12 games so far and they played some good football on Tuesday night. They were far and away the better side despite not having too many clear cut chances in the 90 minutes.
The tables have turned massively since our last meeting at the start of the year in January. Our players looked devoid of confidence and ideas. At one stage when we were level at 1-1 Alex Neil made a couple of substitutions. It resulted in us having zero strikers and four full-backs on the pitch. It was a strange decision which left Scott Sinclair and Tom Barkhuizen up front with no real service from elsewhere.
Joe Rafferty was then playing right wing-back with Josh Earl on the left and Darnell Fisher and Andrew Hughes as part of a back three. It didn’t work and clearly wasn’t the right choice from the manager.
A Welcome Return For Josh Earl
The 22-year-old made his first start in the league for us since April last year and in my opinion, he was by far our best player. In fact, he was probably the only one to come out of the game with any credit.
He seemed up for the battle and was strong and powerful going forward down the left. With our problems in defence well documented this season, it was a welcome sight to see Josh back. For me, he will be a good option for us for the rest of this season and could end up doing a job in the centre of defence as well.
Hopefully, over the next few weeks, we will see that his loan spells at Bolton Wanderers and Ipswich Town last season have served him well.
It Looks Ominous For Huntington and Storey
Alex Neil started with a back three on Tuesday night, although you could be forgiven for wondering what formation we were playing at times. Fisher and Hughes, two full-backs, played either side of the left-footed Ben Davies.
After Paul Huntington and Jordan Storey endured a torrid time against Luton Town, the gaffer decided to leave them both on the bench and you would imagine it was tough for them both given that we only have three fit central defenders in the squad.
Alex Neil trusted Fisher and Hughes more and to be honest didn’t have too many problems but the second goal was bad defending all-round, namely Joe Rafferty.
Riis Has a Secret Weapon
Emil Riis has shown plenty of different attributes in his short time in a Lilywhite shirt since joining the club in October. Pace, strength and power to name a few but on Tuesday we saw something new.
He took the ball into his hands and delivered a long throw-in. We’re used to seeing Barkhuizen deliver a long throw from time to time but seeing the big Dane step up for one was unexpected to say the least. Almost as much as when Jon Parkin came out of nowhere in the game against QPR in 2009 to launch a huge throw into the box which led to a goal from Sean St Ledger that snuck us into the play-offs.
That was the last time we reached the Championship play-offs, too. Ah the play-offs, remember them?
Don’t forget you can listen to episode 23 of the From the Finney podcast which is available to stream now on all the major streaming platforms or you can just press play below. Finally, if you aren’t already, we would appreciate a follow on twitter here – @fromthefinney.