Barnsley 0 Wolves 0

The phrase ‘it’s grim up north’ could have been penned for this very occasion.

On a dull afternoon in Yorkshire, Wolves couldn’t find a rhythm on a tight, bobbling pitch, so returning south with a point is a more than palatable outcome.

After all, it’s one game and one point closer to the objective. 14 matches unbeaten I might add.

We mustn’t grumble.

Barnsley are a young team of upstarts and they set about the league leaders from the first kick and remained disciplined throughout. It was nigh on impossible to break through.

Their tight defensive shape came at the expense of any real attacking menace and with Wolves equally content to remain deep, much of the contest was duked out in the middle third of the pitch.

They could have won it for though.

A few loose balls dropped for onrushing players on the rare occasion they ventured into dangerous territory but Ruddy remained untested.

Wolves for their part were in the ascendancy the longer it went on but too often laboured in and around the box.

The quick counter was seldom an option either, with the home side defending in numbers and the ball constantly getting stuck under feet at the crucial moment.

Jota was culpable of poor decision making and somehow contrived to miss from under the crossbar in one of his less illustrious outings to date.

Down the opposite flank I remain steadfast in my belief that Cavaleiro offers more than Costa and would certainly be restoring him to the starting lineup for the Forest game next Saturday.

Without him, the team lacks tempo, particularly when the impetus is on Wolves to break down the wall. It’s no use saying ‘he’s good off the bench’ if we have to wait half the game to get things moving.

On a heavy pitch, Bonatini’s legs have never looked, well, heavier. Mir was quicker across the ground and did enough in his first league appearance to suggest he can influence proceedings. Still early days for him of course.

If it was an off day for the attacking unit, we were again convincing at the back. Certainly not much to fault Coady or Bennett on as they collected another cleansheet.

But Boly is the difference maker. The way he so routinely wins everything in the air and on the deck before casually sauntering up the pitch marks him out time after time. Today was no different.

We’ve waited nigh on 15 years for a center back of his ilk. Keep him and a few of the others fit and firing for the 19 games remaining and the rest becomes moot.

Onwards and upwards.

Barnsley Vs Wolves Preview

I’m feeling particularly bullish at present.

Along with everyone else I’ve predicted wins for most of the games since November, but there have been a few that I’ve looked at and contemplated ‘Is this the stumble?’.

Blues and Sheffield Wednesday away just before Christmas could have been nasty. Similarly Bristol and Brentford back-to-back.

But we won them all and it wouldn’t have taken much to shift those draws against Sunderland and Millwall into maximums either.

We’ve beaten four of the five teams immediately below us, competed against all Premier League opposition we’ve come across in the cup and all playing our way.

Nothing is done yet. I’m wise enough to know that. But there’s no reason to think it won’t carry on.

Barnsley

The Tykes gave us a right good game back in September, matching Wolves in every sense of the word until Alfred N’Diaye’s 93rd minute winner.

You have to admire what Paul Heckingbottom continues to do at Oakwell, nurturing young players who inevitably get picked off by clubs higher up the food chain.

All that might be about to change though, after they were taken over by, you guessed it, a Chinese billionaire. The consortium now in control includes Chinese money but also Billy Beane (of Moneyball fame), so expect an influx of signings based on statistical profiling.

It will be mighty interesting to see what happens to the club in the coming years once that team get their feet properly under the table.

In the immediate Barnsley are slipping. They’re bottom of the Championship form table with just one victory in their last 10 matches, making their task tomorrow look all the more daunting.

They did get that win last time out though and it was a big one against Sunderland. Without it, they’d be sitting in the bottom three.

Wolves

The much changed side for Swansea last weekend allowed Nuno to rest key players like Boly, Neves, Saiss and Jota. All should be back in tomorrow.

As the team more or less still picks itself I’ll use this space to comment on something else – central midfield.

I said last season that the club were overloaded with average midfielders and that area of the pitch required the most attention.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think we’d offload every single one of them, with the exception of Coady who moved into defence and Saiss who is transformed alongside Neves.

Price, Evans, Saville, Edwards and Oniangue all offered different qualities but none were good enough as a complete package.

Price was the best technical player so it’s logical he clung on the longest. I’m a touch surprised they’re allowing him to leave now given we only really have N’Diaye as cover. Perhaps that signals another arrival is imminent?

Speaking of new signings Rafa Mir should make the bench tomorrow and it’s good to have a genuine alternative to Leo or someone that can play alongside him if things are going Pete Tong.

Predictions

The only logical prediction is an away win. The league table, the form table and the obvious gulf in class between the players dictates the most likely result.

Barnsley were arguably the better side in the game earlier in the season, but I think Wolves have developed since then, so should be better equipped for this challenge.

They’re a young side so you’d expect them to get around the pitch and put our possession-based game to the test, but ultimately I think we’ll catch them out.

2-0.

Up The Wolves!

Wolves 2 Barnsley 1

For half an hour I was convinced Barnsley had an extra man.

Every single loose ball spilled out to a white shirt and the fluency we’ve come to expect was lacking.

It wasn’t anything so underhanded. The Tykes just played a high line, suffocated Wolves in possession and cut off the supply to their most potent attacking weapons.

This was an uphill slog and although the visitors never once tested John Ruddy from open play, their possession and territory kept forcing set pieces where vulnerability was again exposed.

The problem doesn’t seem to be dealing with the initial cross, more a failure to clear the knock downs and remaining organised when the ball is recycled. Barnsley and Bristol City have both reaped the rewards and others will target such an obvious frailty.

You couldn’t have begrudged Barnsley a point if they’d managed to hold on after that injury time heartbreaker.

The possession stats were split right down the middle, as were shots (Wolves one better off) and they forced 8 corners to our 5.

Numbers don’t always reflect the game but it did feel like they were in the ascendancy for much of this game, albeit lacking a killer instinct.

Wolves by contrast rarely found a rhythm but did create chances throughout. Cavaleiro shot wide in the first half, Bonatini fluffed when clean through and Douglas saw a powerful effort pushed wide.

N’Diaye and Enobakhare were eventually dispatched to make things happen and boy, they certainly delivered.

Bright couldn’t be more different to Cavaleiro. While the Portuguese man always seems to be in forward motion, bending and twisting away from tackles, Enobakhare rarely exits walking pace.

There was divided opinion over Cavaleiro’s contribution yesterday. I thought he did some decent things and was one of the few players to drive us forward but there were loose passes and sloppy moments too. It was a big drop from his level against Bristol City and I wasn’t surprised to see him hooked.

Enobakhare’s controlled, almost indifferent finish was sublime and worthy of winning what had been a forgettable game up to that point.

But the Nigerian needed one more moment of inspiration after Barnsley had spoiled the party, sliding a neat through ball for Bonatini to put it on a plate for the onrushing N’Diaye.

The big midfielder couldn’t miss after his perfectly timed run and having put over the cross for the first goal, his contribution was perhaps the most telling.

If his purpose is to offer a different approach to Neves and Saiss it’s mission accomplished. His battering ram cameo was something to behold and exactly what was needed.

Special mention too for Bonatini, who looked classy again and is exceptional at bringing others into play. He has to score that one-on-one in the second half but it’s tough to question his overall efforts.

I also thought Batth was tremendous, making crucial blocks and tackles when Barnsley had us stretched.

Overall, it’s pleasing to see the team come away victorious despite the opposition being so effective with a high pressing game.

But Wolves needed to demonstrate greater enthusiasm and more invention in that first half. Too many players looked off the pace and those small percentages add up to a big difference.

It won’t always be a cruise and this get out of jail free was a timely reminder.