BLADES SLASH THEIR ODDS
Clough’s men 14-1 ON to make play-off cut
BARNSLEY’S players have been warned to get nasty or get out by manager Lee Johnson after a limp surrender to Yorkshire rivals Sheffield United.
Unbeaten in seven (nine in total) since Johnson arrived from Oldham on February 25, the Tykes began the afternoon with genuine designs on usurping Nigel Clough’s men for a place in the top six.
But a performance bafflingly devoid of fight, energy or any real threat saw the high-tempo Blades cruise to victory courtesy of goals from loan duo Steven Davies and Jason Holt.
It was a dispiriting return to reality for a packed Oakwell and Johnson – who remained locked in his dressing room for a good 45 minutes after the final whistle – says his players must become “dirty winners” if they want to remain part of his plans.
“It was majorly disappointing,” said the 33-year-old. “We failed to perform on an occasion that was very important to us. Over the 90 minutes, we were second best by a distance.
“The players have been excellent since I came in, and I said that to them. But I also said, ‘Look, I’m the nicest guy in the world when we’re winning. But I’m a dirty winner, and I have been all my career’.
“My team has to reflect that personality. And if my team isn’t reflecting my personality, that team will have to change.”
Rarely in recent years has Oakwell bounced as it did at kick-off, testament to the belief and pride that Johnson has imbued in his formative reign. What a shame, then, that his players failed to feed off it.
For 20 minutes or so, the home side flitted and buzzed. Josh Scowen fired wide, Conor Hourihane fired a free-kick into the wall, then picked out Martin Cranie who couldn’t quite stretch to make a good contact. There was, however, nothing you could call a ‘real’ chance. The same could not be said for United, who hit the bar through Davies and then saw a shot from Chris Basham – in total command of central midfield throughout – well cleared by Cranie. Both chances were created by left-back Bob Harris, whose marauding runs had Barnsley in pieces.
But it was fellow full-back Kieron Freeman who did the real damage, whipping in a free-kick that Davies headed powerfully home for his first Blades goal since arriving on loan from Blackpool.
Nigel Clough has taken plenty of pelters from Blades fans for his excessively defensive instincts, generally centering on his perceived devotion to defending a 1-0. Here, though, his side bristled with attacking intent, kept coming forward and got their reward with 20 minutes left.
Matt Done’s long throw somehow landed in the six-yard box, and panicked Tykes defenders then added to the mayhem by hacking a bobbling ball to the edge of the area.
Holt, waiting in the D, wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth and struck a crisp volley into the bottom corner for his third goal in as many games.
Barnsley offered nothing more, and by the time the final whistle sounded to give the Blades a seven-point playoff cushion, Oakwell was half empty.
“We just didn’t give it a go and that’s what’s disappointing,” added Johnson. “I feel for the fans because I wanted to give them a lot more than they got. There was a lack of experience and a lack of savvy. Four or five players were everywhere the ball had just been.
“But we haven’t become a bad side overnight and we’re not out of it. There are a lot of young players in that dressing who will learn a lot from that.”
Blades assistant Andy Garner said: “It’s a local derby and we wanted to get into their faces. We said before kickoff, ‘Go out there, get at them and don’t let them settle’.
“I thought we did that very well and, after the first goal, we were very comfortable.”
TYKE TAMERS: Steven Davies celebrates scoring Sheffield United’s first goal at Barnsley with John Brayford
BREAKTHROUGH: Sheffield United’s Steven Davies opens the scoring with a looping header
PUMPED UP: Steven Davies celebrates opening the scoring with the impressive Chris Basham
STAR MAN CHRIS BASHA