Can Barnsley break the glass ceiling?
Loan. Free. Undisclosed. Loan. Free. Half a million pounds. Not Henry VIII’s balance sheet but a glimpse into the challenge facing Mark Robins at Barnsley. This snapshot of the Oakwell club’s January transfer window dealings speaks volumes about the constraints that a side like Barnsley must overcome. Are Blackpool the exception rather than the rule?
There are two P-words that every football club strives for. But while promotion may sometimes be out of the question, progress is always a possibility. On Saturday, Barnsley made the trip south to take on Sven-Goran Eriksson’s Leicester City. Not a fixture that would usually fill the Tykes with hope – Leicester had won eight of their previous nine meetings – but those two loans (Frank Nouble from West Ham United and Jacob Mellis from Chelsea), two free transfers (Matt Hill from Wolves and Garry O’Connor from Birmingham) and one undisclosed fee (Danny Haynes from Bristol City) appear to have given fresh impetus to Mark Robins’ men.
This was not the same Barnsley side that Leicester have become used to seeing, the one that have scored just one goal in those nine past clashes. Suddenly there was confidence in the way the visitors passed the ball patiently around midfield and an attacking threat too, primarily through wide men Haynes and Nouble. Leicester struck twice and looked to be heading into the break with a comfortable lead before a startling injury-time onslaught resulted in the ball ending up in Chris Weale’s net on two occasions. A neat sidefoot finish from the impressive Mellis made it 2-1 after the offside flag had curtailed Nouble’s celebrations when he prodded home from close range. The Hammers loanee then had an effort cleared off the line by Kyle Naughton after he had skipped past Weale.
Barnsley’s belief stretched into the second half, with plenty of possession play that frustrated the hosts. In the end, however, it was their undoing. Kieran Trippier’s misplaced pass presented Andy King with the ball just inside his own half. Just seconds later, Barnsley goalkeeper Luke Steele was picking it up while King celebrated his second strike of the afternoon. Kyle Naughton’s late 30-yard rocket supplied gloss to the scoreline, which failed to tell the whole story.
Where Barnsley are concerned, this was a definite improvement on their previous visits to the Walkers Stadium. Not just because Mellis had struck their first goal there at the fourth attempt. This time, they did not roll over and they posed a significant problem for long periods. The difference was mainly Leicester’s high quality finishing. So loan, free, undisclosed, loan, free, half a million pounds. The first five refer to Barnsley’s incoming business during the transfer window but the last is the fee received for the services of Adam Hammill, who has, in Barnsley colours, produced plenty of finishes like those struck by Gallagher and Naughton on Saturday. This is where the glass ceiling comes into play.
There is unquestionably a financial issue for clubs like Barnsley. While Blackpool may have struck gold with the arrival of Ian Holloway, Charlie Adam and company, this is as much of a long shot as the typical Hammill blockbuster. Defenders Jason Shackell and Bobby Hassell’s combined weekly wages would likely pay for a day or two of Yakubu, Reason or excuse, it is an understandable card to play. Nevertheless, if you could bottle Blackpool’s belief then clubs like Barnsley would be buying in bulk. And, without wishing to names, there are other examples of poorly-supported clubs making a fist of it in the Premier League.
In close proximity, Barnsley supporters have plenty of yardsticks by which they can measure their own club’s progress and potential. South Yorkshire is also home to Doncaster Rovers, one of the models to follow for successful lower league sides on a budget. Rotherham United, currently third in League Two, have somehow managed to retain their star name Adam Le Fondre and appear to be building up to promotion this summer. The peril of financial mismanagement is the lesson that can be learned from Sheffield Wednesday, who look increasingly likely to be joined in the third tier by their cross-city rivals unless Micky Adams can halt the slide of the Blades.
At the risk of mixing metaphors, perhaps keeping heads above water is not to be sniffed at after all. If Barnsley finish in the top half this season, surely it must be seen as a success. If they can achieve it by continuing to play good football, all the better.