A second comfortable victory against Barnsley this season saw North End move back into the play-off places. It was a straight forward win with Alex Neil’s side not really having to break out of first gear.
It was only the second time this season we have scored more than one goal away from home and gives us an aggregate scoreline of 8-1 against Barnsley this season. Can we play you every week? Anyway, here are five things we learned from the 3-0 win on Tuesday night…
A New Shape Worked Well
Alex Neil decided to match Barnsley on Tuesday with a diamond in the midfield. Ben Pearson was back in the side against his former club and sat at the base of the diamond with Josh Harrop at the top.
Daniel Johnson and Alan Browne then played either side of the diamond. This allowed Scott Sinclair and Tom Barkhuizen to play as the front two and it was a fluid formation.
Harrop practically played in a free role and moved out wide when needed. There’s a lot of pace in that team and Barnsley’s backline struggled. The second and third goals especially came from pressure on the back four and they were forced into mistakes that led to the goals.
Barkhuizen Can Finish
Barky was the clear man of the match at Oakwell and was a constant thorn Barnsley’s side. He scored his 8th and 9th goals of the season, his first since the famous comeback against Blackburn in October where he also scored a brace.
That run of games is too long for a man of Barkhuizen’s quality. However his finish for the first goal was instinctive and he made the most of a defensive error to get the third goal of the game and secure all three points.
He’s an important player for us and with Sinclair now providing added competition for the attacking places hopefully he can kick on until the end of the season.
Rudd Proving to be a Safe Pair of Hands
The North End custodian enjoyed another solid game despite some wayward kicking at times. He has looked a lot better since Jonathan Gould came in as goalkeeping coach, and with the Preston faithful coming up with a new song for Dec they are showing their support for him as well.
His competition has been limited with Connor Ripley not really covering himself in glory in the FA Cup but Rudd has had a good run of games now. He made a few good saves early on, on Tuesday night and he is clearly enjoying his time at the club. As much was clear with his celebrations for all our goals.
With just a few months left on his contract though, we’re unsure whether this will be his last season at Deepdale.
Speaking to lancs.live, Dec recently said: “it’s great playing here and it’s something I’d love to keep doing.” Let’s hope he gets his contract situation sorted out sooner rather than later. He’s vegan, you know, he only eats avocado!
— From the Finney (@fromthefinney) January 22, 2020
Our Experience Showed
Barnsley are a very young side and although they’ve got some talented players I feel our experience gave us the upper hand. Whilst we have some young players ourselves they’ve been playing at this level for a while now.
Many of our squad are now seasoned Championship pros and the likes of Alan Browne and Darnell Fisher are starting to look, too. Between them, they have almost 300 appearances at Championship level.
A few Barnsley fans commented on Twitter that it was men against boys. We took our chances and saw the game out with relative ease. It’s good to see and it shows how far this squad has come.
There’s a lot of experience there and they used that to their advantage making the most of some momentary lapses from the Barnsley players.
Neil Got his Subs Spot On
I’ve criticised his substitutes in the past but I think he used them wisely at Oakwell. Brad Potts and Sean Maguire came on at 67 minutes allowing some fresh legs that would help stretch the game.
This stopped Barnsley from getting back into the game and also allowed DJ and Sinclair to have an early night when the game was well won. Those two need to be treated carefully after an injury and some time away from first-team football respectively.
David Nugent then came on for the last 15 and played very well creating a great chance for Josh Harrop with some beautiful play. The former Manchester United player should have finished it to score for the fourth game in a row but he fluffed his lines.
All in all, it was a tactical masterclass from Alex Neil and the win was never in doubt after the first goal.
Finally, if you haven’t yet listened to Episode #29 of the From the Finney podcast, give it a listen now!