Barnsley 0, Millwall 2
Barnsley’s new head coach Jose Morais keeps ringing the changes with his team selections but results remain depressingly the same.
Defeat by Millwall means that the Reds are now without a home win since November 4 – an unwanted club record run of 11 successive matches.
Add away fixtures and they have picked up all three points in only two of their last 23 fixtures, which have brought them a mere 14 points out of a possible 69 – stark statistics that have relegation written all over them.
In the previous home game against Norwich City there were some encouraging signs, but not here. It was a performance riddled with mistakes, most of them of the most basic kind, and it was not just the bitingly cold easterly wind and a succession of snow flurries that sent the home fans home chilled to the marrow.
While there was, not for the first time in recent weeks, an improvement of sorts after the break, when visiting goalkeeper Jordan Archer made several splendid saves, the fact is that Millwall missed other good chances and could have at least doubled their advantage.
For them it was a record-breaking performance to celebrate – six successive away wins – and deserved reward for their 3-1 home defeat at the hands of the Reds way back in September.
Morais admitted that his side had conceded the first goal in ‘a very childish way’ but went on: “We tried everything to score the goal we needed before they scored the second, but they had a good strike with the wind in their favour. When something like this happens you just feel sorry it was not a goal for your team, because it was a fantastic goal.”
And he added: “We need to continue the good things we did today and put in more concentration, more focus and more determination in certain situations.”
If his side are still lacking in all those three qualities, with a return to League One now staring them in the face, then there seems little hope of their Championship survival.
The Reds dominated the game from a possession point of view, but, as has been the case on countless other occasions, they were unable to convert that into goals.
They now rely almost entirely on Swansea City loanee Oli McBurnie to put the ball in the back of the net – and he again came closest with a header that was cleared off the line – but, good as he is, he cannot shoulder that burden alone.
At the moment there is no support – in terms of goalscoring – coming from his team-mates, and unless that deficiency is quickly remedied it is difficult to see where desperately needed wins are to come from.
Kieffer Moore did go close in the early exchanges, along with McBurnie, but it was Millwall who took full advantage of some extremely sloppy play by the home team in the 24th minute to open the scoring.
The recalled Stevie Mallan gave the ball away just inside his own half; Jed Wallace pounced, set Lee Gregory free and the latter applied the finish, steering the ball past the advancing Nick Townsend.
It should have been two just after the half-hour mark when George Saville again caught the hesitant Barnsley defence in no-man’s land only to send his shot wide from an admittedly difficult angle after rounding Townsend.
Millwall continued to threaten on the counter attack and there were one or two other moments of concern for the Reds, although the goalkeeper was not seriously tested.
With George Moncur (pictured) replacing Mallan at the break, Barnsley improved considerably and at last began to ask the strong Millwall defence some questions.
Liam Lindsay ventured forward for a dead ball situation and his shot through a crowded penalty area was heading for the bottom corner of the net until Archer, diving to his left, stretched out an arm to turn the ball round the post for a corner, and shortly afterwards he made an identical save from a Moore header.
The Reds, at this stage, were throwing caution to the wind, but they had it taken out of their sails in the 63rd minute when Ben Marshall arrowed an unstoppable shot into the top right-hand corner of the net to increase Millwall’s lead.
There was no way back for the home team after that. The Lions held firm as the Reds continued to have the lion’s share of possession, although the visitors did have an escape when Shaun Hutchinson cleared off the line from a McBurnie header with Archer this time beaten, and in the scramble which followed Mamadou Thiam had a well-struck shot blocked by the goalkeeper.
Moncur also brought a save from Archer, but, as in several previous encounters recently, it was a case of too little too late and Millwall, having switched to a 5-4-1 formation to hold on to what they already had, almost added a third goal five minutes before the end when substitute Ben Onyedinma shot just wide after a typically swift counter attack.
Striker Tom Bradshaw was added to Barnsley’s attacking options in the 66th minute and for the last ten minutes Morais dispensed with central defender Lindsay and sent on yet another attacker in the shape of Lloyd Isgrove.
It was all, however, to no avail. Another game without a goal. That’s nine times that the Reds have failed to score in the last 23 League encounters, during which they have scored more than one goal only once and have notched a mere 15 in total.
Not difficult to see where the biggest problem lies, is it?
Defeat means that the Reds are now relying on goal difference to keep them out of the relegation places. Birmingham City having drawn level on points following their 3-0 home victory over Hull City.
There is now an international break before Barnsley have another opportunity to break their winless home run on Good Friday when they entertain Bristol City, managed, of course, by former head coach Lee Johnson.
At least it gives Morais time to spend with his players in training and, hopefully, coming up with a winning formula.
There are only six more matches to come after that one – and the signs are looking increasingly ominous.
Barnsley (4-1-2-3): Townsend; Yiadom, Jackson, Lindsay (Isgrove, 81 mins), Pinillos; Gardner; Potts (Bradshaw, 66 mins), Mallan (Moncur, 45 mins); Thiam, Moore, McBurnie.
Millwall: Archer; Meredith, Hutchinson, Williams, Gregory (Shackell, 75 mins), Romeo, Wallace, Morison (Cahill, 90 mins), Saville, Cooper, Marshall (Onyedinma, 79 mins).
Referee: Peter Bankes.