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Encouraging signs at Oakwell – despite Rochdale!

There have been three different versions of the Oakwell Reds on view during the past week.

First of all there was the team which turned in a tantalising display of technical merit against Premiership side Everton in the Capital One Cup that bore more than a ‘passing’ resemblance to a side far higher up the Football League ladder than mid-table in League One.

Then there was the one which suffered an unsurprising reaction to the adulation poured on them on that occasion when visiting Rochdale last Saturday, that performance falling well below the standards expected of possible promotion chasers.

And finally we experienced the bouncebackability of the players called upon in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy victory at Scunthorpe on Tuesday as they enjoyed deserved success at Glanford Park for the second time this season.

Which team turns out at home to Shrewsbury on Saturday remains to be seen…

However, all this is to be expected from a young squad very much in the early stages of a learning curve.

Head coach Lee Johnson (pictured) is learning, too. He is not yet certain about his best starting line-up or the best system to employ.

But there is good reason to be encouraged. The Reds proved against Everton that they are capable of playing some excellent football. They proved against Scunthorpe that they have the character to bounce back after a disappointment.

It may be, with three central defenders of the quality that Alfie Mawson, Marc Roberts and Lewin Nyatanga have shown so far this season, that a wing-back formation may suit the Reds best, in which case there remains a question mark on the left flank.

It could be that the hard-working Marley Watkins is the one to fill that role.

Otherwise there is burgeoning midfield talent available in the shape of young loanees Ben Pearson and Dan Crowley plus the more experienced Conor Hourihane; priceless graft provided by the likes of Josh Scowen; an injection of pace from Kadeem Harris; an admirable spearhead in Sam Winnall, with backing from Conor Wilkinson; and plenty of competition from others, particularly the summer signings, keen to make a name for themselves at this level.

There is good reason to be encouraged. The Reds proved against Everton that they are capable of playing some excellent football. They proved against Scunthorpe that they have the character to bounce back after a disappointment.

Consistency is the key to what the future holds. And that will come only with as settled a side as possible playing together on a regular basis and therefore developing an understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

If there have to be changes – and injury, illness or loss of form makes that inevitable – then Johnson has now pieced together a more than useful first team squad which offers cover in all positions.

There will, no doubt, be many more ups and downs, but by Christmas we will have a good idea of whether or not the Reds are learning and improving quickly enough to make mount a serious challenge for a return to the Championship at the end of the current campaign.

 

 

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