Derby County 4, Barnsley 1
Three thousand faithful fans, who descended on Pride Park to give their enthusiastic backing to Barnsley’s bid to pull off a final day escape act, deserved better than this.
Needing a victory to ensure their Championship survival the Reds capitulated shamefully, much as they had done in their previous away fixture against Nottingham Forest.
By contrast rivals Bolton Wanderers were meantime showing the never-say-die spirit to score two late goals against that same Forest side and therefore pick up three status-saving points; Birmingham City were pulling off a magnificent 3-1 home win against in-form Fulham, who were challenging Cardiff City for the second automatic promotion spot; and Burton Albion were putting up a brave, if ultimately vain, fight before going down 2-1 to ten-men Preston.
Barnsley rounded off a hugely disappointing campaign with one of their most disappointing performances. There was a lack of quality, yes, but more tellingly, there was a lack of fight. Apart from a short period in the first half it was almost as if they were resigned to the drop.
In the second half the defence was run ragged; there was again a glaring lack of creativity in midfield; and there was little to be seen of any attacking threat. Even Player of the Year Oli McBurnie, making his last on-loan appearance for the club, was strangely subdued.
Apart from young goalkeeper Jack Walton, who could not be faulted for any of the goals, only Adam Hammill, Gary Gardner and Brad Potts could be exempt from criticism.
Hammill, in particular, was whole-hearted in his efforts. He was the one player who looked as though he really cared about the outcome.
However, although Barnsley have not been good enough all season, it would be unfair to heap all the blame on the players.
No club can achieve success for any reasonable length of time by plucking promising young players from lower leagues and then selling the best of them when they have gained the necessary experience at a higher level.
Previous head coach Paul Heckingbottom built two good teams, winning the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and securing promotion back to the Championship. But he realised last summer that he could not possibly build a third, and when the opportunity arose he duly jumped ship in mid-February.
With the Reds already in a precarious position, just one point clear of the relegation zone, it was hardly the time to bring in a replacement coach with no experience of the EFL Championship.
But this is what the club did. While Jose Morais had a glowing CV highlighting his input at European football level as an assistant to Jose Mourinho at Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Chelsea, he had never been in charge of a team, and was totally oblivious of the capabilities of the kind of players he would be working with at Oakwell.
He did his best. But it wasn’t good enough. He managed to oversee only three wins in his 15 matches in charge.
Contrast his appointment with that of Gary Monk at Birmingham. City were also very much in the thick of the relegation battle when Morais arrived at Oakwell. But, when they decided to make a managerial change they opted for Monk, someone who had played at this level; someone who had managed at this level; someone who knew what was required to win at this level.
And Birmingham, in the end, sailed away to safety.
It is evident from all this that a catalogue of mistakes has contributed to Barnsley’s downfall. And clearly the new owners, who have not yet shown their financial hand, face a tough task in rebuilding the trust of the club’s disenchanted supporters.
The powers-that-be certainly acted with what was almost indecent haste to make a start to the re-organisation, with the departure of Morais being announced barely half-an-hour after the final whistle.
It soon transpired, however, that the move had been pre-planned.
The club issued a club statement which said: “Following a relegation clause within their contracts the employment of Jose Morais, Dimas Teixeira and Joao Cunha has been terminated with immediate effect.”
It went on: “Barnsley Football Club would like to place on record their thanks to Jose, Dimas and Joao for their efforts whilst in charge of the first team.”
It also stated: “The club acknowledges the disappointment of relegation and shares the view of supporters that this has been a disappointing season of results. The main aim now is to have a proactive summer both on and off the pitch in order to gain promotion back to the SkyBet Championship.”
That, however, will be far easier said than done.
Against Derby the Reds were not too bad in the first half, but still trailed to a 14th minute goal scored by Cameron Jerome after being set up by Bradley Johnson, and after the break they simply fell apart as the home team, needing a win to ensure a place in the play-offs, took total charge.
Within 10 minutes they had doubled their advantage through substitute Matej Vydra, who netted from close range, and Barnsley’s fate was as good as sealed. It seemed as if they did not have the heart, nor, indeed, the desire, to fight their way back into contention.
Vydra teed up David Nugent to head home a third goal in the 68th minute and the latter turned provider three minutes later, some classy approach play setting up Tom Lawrence for number four.
Ten minutes from time Reds’ substitute George Moncur curled in a consolation goal. As has been the case so often this season it was far too little and far too late.
Derby County: Carson; Keogh, Davies, Forsyth, Wisdom, Huddlestone, Johnson, Olsson (Vydra, 38 mins), Weimann, Jerome (Nugent, 66 mins), Lawrence (Ledley, 87 mins).
Barnsley: Walton; Yiadom, Pinnock, Lindsay, Fryers, Mahoney (Moncur, 70 mins), Potts (Thiam, 61 mins), Gardner, Hammill, Moore, McBurnie.
Bookings: Yiadom, Lindsay (Barnsley).
Referee: Simon Hooper.