Tiredness may topple Tykes bid

Thursday 18th April 2013 12:03

Chris O'Grady: Opened the scoring against Derby

Chris O'Grady: Opened the scoring against Derby

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FanZone's Sam Lawrence feels Barnsley are giving their all under David Flitcroft - but fears their efforts may take their toll on the squad.

It is a tired cliché to say that having two points snatched away courtesy of a last-minute equaliser feels like a defeat. But that was exactly the level of despondency around Oakwell on Tuesday as Derby's Paul Coutts stooped home a stoppage-time header, depriving Barnsley of what could have been an invaluable 1-0 win.

Those three points would have seen us jump to 20th, with a points' leeway between us and the dreaded relegation zone. As it is, we are second bottom and a point away from safety, with two out of our three remaining fixtures away from home. Promotion-chasing Nottingham Forest and Hull are the first of those opponents, before what is set to be a monumental final-day Yorkshire derby at fellow strugglers Huddersfield.

Those of us who can't help but scan the fixture list and pencil in potential forthcoming points had put this week's home double-header against reasonably comfortable mid-table teams (Charlton on the Saturday and Derby three days later) down as 'will-wins'. Or perhaps 'must-wins' or 'should-wins', depending on your level of optimism.

However, disaster struck on Saturday. A resounding thumping was dished out to us by Charlton, the Chinese Burn of a 6-0 defeat worsened by the Wedgie of the two red cards given to key players, Stephen Dawson and Tom Kennedy.

Switch forward to Tuesday, and the importance of the Derby game had inflated further. The nervousness on the pitch and in the stands was tangible right from the off.

We stumbled our way through the first half, until Chris O'Grady's well-measured volley instigated a raucous release of what was relief more than celebration when it hit the back of Frank Fielding's net in the 47th minute. As the half dragged on our lads tired, picked up knocks and suffered cramp, but most importantly, battled on. The palpitating hearts of the home fans were almost audible as Derby pushed forward with a string of threatening set-pieces, a continual defensive weak spot for us this season. And it was one such which proved our undoing, a late corner finding its way through to Coutts who duly broke those Barnsley hearts. A real blow, but by no means a haphazard relinquishing of vital points, a sentiment reflected by the appreciation shown from the exhausted home crowd after the game.

Whenever my club does anything right, togetherness seems to be the crux of it, and the abundance of it in the second half of this season has made it one of the most enthralling and pride-provoking in my time as a supporter. Since David Flitcroft became Barnsley manager in January, the commitment of his team cannot be questioned. The effort and intensity Reds fans have witnessed on the pitch has been quite phenomenal. Our players are clearly willing to push themselves to the limits of physical and mental pain for the club. They are genuinely fighting for the shirt, the town, us supporters, and probably most evidently, their manager.

As fans, that is all we can ask for, whether we stay up or not.

Unfortunately, this approach has its pitfalls. Whatever blokes in pubs may say, constant pressing and chasing of lost causes is difficult for any human being to sustain for two games a week over a series of months. Injuries have stacked up and players are running on close to empty, taking painkilling injections to get through games and forcing themselves to ignore bumps and bruises that would leave some of their peers rolling around screaming for a stretcher.

The squad is being tested to its very limit, and not after a Redknapp-esque 'only three international goalkeepers fit' fashion, but in a way that has left us barely able to name an XI comprising of senior professionals.

Against Derby, we were forced into playing a teenage winger at left-back and giving a Championship debut to Andrai Jones, a young right-back whose career experience comprises of fewer than 20 lower league games for Bury.

As the finishing line moves into sight, I can't help but think that our fatigued squad resembles a favourite old pair of shoes that seemingly every ounce of wear has been extracted from. The laces are frayed, the leather is cracked and we occasionally leak on rainy days. But we're holding together, just about enough to enable another few outings to be bled from us.

Whether we'll still have a place in the Championship wardrobe after the end of season clear-out is a question only time can answer.

By Sam Lawrence, one of FanZone's Barnsley bloggers.

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