Bristol City 3, Barnsley 1
A fifth successive opening day defeat for the Reds was what most Barnsley fans – and also, one suspects, head coach Paul Heckingbottom – had feared.
There may have been nothing to choose between the teams, as Heckingbottom suggested, until City took the lead after 17 minutes, but from then on Barnsley were very much second best, especially in the remainder of the first half as three goals in the space of 14 minutes put the game way out of their reach.
Following on from the 4-0 pre-season drubbing away to a League One Rotherham side who were cast adrift at the bottom of the Championship last season, this was further evidence that the repeated chopping, changing, selling and loaning by the Oakwell Club in the last few years has finally caught up with them.
This is no reflection on Heckingbottom (pictured) who has worked wonders with the extremely limited finances at his disposal, but no-one can continue to generate success for any great length of time in the circumstances in which he has found himself.
Reds’ fans must be wondering what has happened to the money that has poured into the club from the numerous transfers in the last two or three years – John Stones, Mason Holgate, Alfie Mawson, Conor Hourihane, Sam Winnall, James Bree, Marc Roberts for example.
This summer, as more experienced players have left – the aforementioned Roberts, Josh Scowen and Marley Watkins to name but three – they have been replaced by signings from lower leagues for nominal fees and on-loan youngsters from Premiership clubs with bright prospects but no Football League experience.
City, who finished lower than the Reds last term, fielded a side which included their record £5.3 million signing, Famara Diedhiou, who celebrated his Ashton Gate debut with the second goal.
Need one say more!
And the scoreline could have been even more damning had it not been for Adam Davies in goal.
Of course, some might argue that it is too early to press the panic button – this was only the first game of the season for goodness sake – but it was obvious, from his post-match comments, that Heckingbotttom is well aware of the massive problems which need to be sorted if the Reds are to avoid a fate similar to the one suffered by their Rotherham rivals last term.
“It’s tough to take,” he reflected, “but we know where we are and how hard we’ve got to work to put it right. It’s concerning. We had a team that knew how to win games; now it’s down to these players. These are not small issues if they consistently happen.
“With every chance they (City) created something was fundamentally wrong. Our problem is that with 11 new players we are still way short of where we want to be. Things need to change.”
The fact that the City head coach Lee Johnson was Heckingbottom’s predecessor at Oakwell hardly helped lighten the post-match gloom, nor the fact that former Reds’ midfielder Josh Brownhill played a significant role in the defeat.
It was Brownhill who almost opened the scoring with a long-range strike that rattled the bar, but the Reds responded with a woodwork shaker of their own from George Moncur, and in those early exchanges there was little to indicate the iron grip that Bristol were soon to take on the proceedings.
Local lad Bobby Reid put the home team in front in the 17th minute; Diedhiou added a second eight minutes later, and Reid completed a personal double to make it 3-0 a minute after the half-hour mark.
Barnsley were better after the break, but that was partly because City, who had been so much sharper and more energetic in the first half, took their foot off the accelerator to a certain extent, and the Reds never looked remotely like staging a come-back, although substitute Ryan Hedges did notch a consolation goal in stoppage time.
However, Heckingbottom took a little hope from the second half improvement. He said: “We were much better second half. We grew into the game and we’ve got a goal at the end. So we’re going to get better.”
They will have to!
Bristol City: Fielding; Pisano, Wright, Hegeler (Flint, 82 mins), Bryan, Brownhill, Pack, Smith, Paterson (O’Dowda, 73 mins), Diedhiou, Reid (Engvall, 81 mins).
Barnsley (4-4-2): Davies; McCarthy, Jackson, MacDonald, Yiadom; Potts (Hedges, 64 mins), Moncur, Williams, Mowatt; Bradshaw (Hamill, 46 mins), Ugbo (Payne, 78 mins).
Bookings: Pack (Bristol); Hamill (Barnsley).
Referee: Andy Davies.
Attendance: 18, 742 (1,220 Barnsley fans).