Whatever happens in Barnsley’s Valentine’s Day visit on Sunday, it can’t possibly be as emotional and historic as the last time they came to Brentford in the summer.
The Tykes were originally due to be the last-ever visitors to Griffin Park on 2 May. It was a date marked in every Brentford fan’s calendar as the day we would say a fond, and probably tearful, farewell to our beloved stadium and Barnsley found themselves unwitting guests at our party.
The coronavirus pandemic changed all that, ruined the planned celebrations and pushed the match back nearly three months into late July.
When it did come round, it was no less significant though, with the Bees having a chance of automatic promotion to the Premier League with victory, and Barnsley trying to avoid relegation by winning.
As we all know, and has been well-documented, the Tykes pulled off a famous 2-1 victory – thanks to goals from Callum Styles and Clarke Oduor, and despite Josh Dasilva’s equaliser, to secure their Championship safety for another season, with Wigan going down in their place.
And, after a shaky start, they have made the most of the opportunity so far as, before the other weekend matches, they sat 13th in the Championship table – eight points clear of the relegation zone and nine away from the play-offs.
They had to contend with a change of manager early in the season when Gerhard Struber left the club in early October to become the new head coach of New York Red Bulls.
He was replaced by Valerien Ismael, who has inspired an upturn in fortunes. Taking over with the club winless and 21st in the table, they won 10 and lost eight of his first 18 games in charge, and then drew the last two to climb away from the wrong end of the table.
However, they will arrive in west London winless in all five of their Championship matches in 2021.
Barnsley have a much better home than away record this season, with six wins and three draws in their 13 home games, and four wins and three draws from 14 on the road.
The Tykes have had some big moments in the two cup competitions this season – playing Chelsea in each one.
They lost 6-0 at Stamford Bridge in the third round of the Carabao Cup, after beating Nottingham Forest and Middlesbrough in the first two rounds.
And then on Thursday night, they lost 1-0 at home to the Blues in the FA Cup fifth round, after victories over Tranmere and Norwich.
Barnsley have been either promoted or relegated in four of the last seven seasons and also won the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy in 2016. That was the first of two trips to Wembley that season as they also won the League One play-off final.
WHO’S IN CHARGE
As mentioned earlier, Valerien Ismael was appointed as Barnsley’s head coach in October.
Ismael had previously been in charge of Wolfsburg (Germany), Apollon Smyrnis (Greece) and LASK (Austria).
He has previous experience of English football with a brief spell as a player with Crystal Palace in 1998.
A centre-half, he also played for Strasbourg (France), Werder Bremen, Bayern Munich and Hannover 96 (Germany), winning one French title and two Bundesliga titles.
WE’VE MET BEFORE
Brentford don’t have a great record against Barnsley in the Championship with only two wins and two draws from our seven meetings.
Barnsley proved to be party-poopers on their visit in October 2016 – as they spoiled celebrations of our 4,000th league game with a 2-0 win.
A goal in each half from Adam Armstrong and Sam Winnall stretched our winless run to four matches.
Florian Jozefzoon scored his first Bees goal in the return on Easter Monday, but it wasn’t enough to earn us all three points as we had to settle for a 1-1 draw.
FloJo equalised Marley Watkins’ opener just before half-time and we missed a chance to win it in the second half when Jota’s penalty was saved by Adam Davies.
The Tykes’ next visit to TW8 came on the Saturday before Christmas in 2017 and the two sides provided little festive cheer as they played out a goalless draw.
The point stretched our unbeaten Championship run at Griffin Park to 10 matches and ended a run of five league defeats for Barnsley. It left the Bees 13th in the table – seven places ahead of the visitors.
The return in April ended our slim play-off hopes and boosted Barnsley’s bid to avoid the drop as the Tykes won 2-0.
Goals from Kieffer Moore and Oli McBurnie early in each half ended our seven-game unbeaten run and dropped us down to ninth – four points adrift of the top six with one match remaining.
The result also took Barnsley out of the relegation zone on goal difference, but they ended up being relegated.
In September 2019, a hat-trick of headers from Ollie Watkins earned us a 3-1 televised Sunday lunchtime win at Oakwell.
Cauley Woodrow put Barnsley ahead with a curling 25-yard shot in the first minute, but Watkins headed in Mathias Jensen’s cross to equalise 10 minutes before half-time.
Sergi Canos created Watkins’ two second half efforts – 60 seconds after the restart and in the 68th minute to end a run of three successive away defeats.
We moved up to 14th in the table, while Barnsley stayed 22nd.
Last season’s home game is mentioned in the introduction to this article.
BBC Radio Sheffield’s Barnsley reporter and commentator Adam Oxley assesses Barnsley’s season so far, discusses whether they can make a play-off challenge, and recalls some previous matches between the sides at Griffin Park.
Q – How would you assess Barnsley’s season so far?
A – It’s been a much improved season for Barnsley after escaping relegation to League One last summer by the narrowest of margins – something I won’t need to remind Bees fans about. There was an expectation under Gerhard Struber that the Reds could have a better season, but since Struber departed for the MLS and Valerien Ismael arrived, Barnsley have gone from strength to strength and they’re now exceeding expectations, both in terms of results and performances.
Most Barnsley fans would have been happy to survive more comfortably this campaign, but the Reds are right in the mix for a top half finish, which would rightly be viewed as a success given the head coach change and the club’s relatively low budget.
Q – What changes did Valerien Ismael make to improve their form?
A – Valerien Ismael is the third straight Barnsley boss for whom we knew little or nothing about when he arrived, but once again, the board’s data-driven model has unearthed an exciting coach who has moved the team forward, after Daniel Stendel and Gerhard Struber.
Over the last few seasons, Barnsley have been a high-energy, attacking side, but Ismael has taken this to a whole new level, asking the players to work even harder, press higher up the pitch, and the biggest change, to get the ball from back to front as quickly and effectively as possible.
Q – How realistic is a late challenge for the play-offs?
A – A tough run of fixtures in January, from which Barnsley took just two points from five league games, has left the side in mid-table, having come within a few points of the play-off places. The club and the fanbase are still focused on getting the necessary points for survival first and foremost but, like so many in the division, the hope is that the Reds can continue to pick up points and remain in the hunt for the top six.
A play-off place would be a a remarkable achievement and isn’t seen as a realistic expectation with the quality and resources of most other clubs in the second tier, but with the way the side has performed against the best in the Championship – and against Chelsea this week – there’ll be many hoping for a strong finish to the season, which would of course put Barnsley in contention.
Q – How likely is it that the club can keep their key players over the summer to challenge for promotion next season?
A – I think it’s fair to say, given many sales in previous transfer windows, we all expected at least one big hitter to leave in January. There was rumoured interest from Brentford for Callum Styles, there’s always interest in Cauley Woodrow, and with skipper Alex Mowatt’s contract up in the summer, he was the most likely player to leave. All three are still at the club, and only fringe players departed, which is seen by the fans in particular, as a positive step.
It will always be difficult though for #TeamsLikeBarnsley to keep their best players. The club’s model is to buy young, develop and sell, and for this reason, while key players didn’t leave this January, I’d always expect one or two to leave if clubs with bigger budgets offered enhanced wages and decent transfer fees.
Q – What do you remember about the final day of last season?
A – My main memory of Barnsley’s last visit, and final visit, to Griffin Park, was listening to it back at BBC Radio Sheffield and following the drama across the division ahead of presenting our Praise or Grumble phone-in after the games. I covered Barnsley’s match the previous weekend when they beat Nottingham Forest with a late goal, and I remember thinking that while survival was still a possibility, it was such a tough ask given Brentford’s push for promotion themselves.
Nobody could have foreseen how the evening would pan out, either at Griffin Park or elsewhere, but after Clark Oduor’s now famous goal, we had some amazing calls, notably from a young Reds fan called Brandon who stole the show with his youthful passion and excitement. Given how far Barnsley were adrift, it was an incredible achievement by Gerhard Struber and his team to keep Barnsley up.
Q – Do you have other memories about past Brentford-Barnsley games?
A – Barnsley’s 2-0 victory at Griffin Park in October 2016 will always have a special memory attached to it, as it was one of the games my Dad attended with me, to provide some company on a long away reporting trip. My Dad passed away in July 2019 and those father-son trips to games now mean everything to me. On that particular day, my Dad watched in the away end while I commentated as Sam Winnall and Adam Armstrong got the goals to take all three points back to South Yorkshire.
Q – Which Barnsley players should Bees fans watch out for?
A – The whole team has been performing well but two to note are the two Callums, Styles and Brittain, who operate in the left and right wing/wing-back roles, respectively. Styles is naturally a central midfielder who initially got his chance for regular football last summer in Project Restart, helping the Reds to survive. Valerien Ismael has used him on the left and he’s flourishing. Still only 20 years old, he’s fearless, with bags of pace and quality on the ball.
The same can be said about Brittain, who was a largely under-the-radar signing in October from MK Dons. He’s made the right side his own, performing at a consistently high level, and will still be kicking himself from the Chelsea game on Thursday, having had two great chances to score in the first half and write his name into Barnsley folklore.
Q – Finally can you give me a possible Tykes line-up and formation for Sunday’s game please?
A – Valerien Ismael has played a high-energy 3-4-3 since arriving at Oakwell.
Brad Collins has been preferred recently in goal to Jack Walton but either could start.
The back three is likely to be Toby Sibbick, Michal Helik and Mads Anderson.
Callum Styles and Callum Britain will be the wide men. Skipper Alex Mowatt and Herbie Kane have been the main central midfield pairing since Matty James returned to Leicester and then went on loan to Coventry.
Up front, it will be interesting to see if Ismael gives a first start to new American loan signing Daryl Dike (pronounced Dee-Kay) but if he sticks with a usual three, it could be Conor Chaplin and Dominik Frieser supporting Cauley Woodrow in the central role.
HOW TO FOLLOW THE GAME
The match is being played at the Brentford Community Stadium at 1pm on Sunday, behind closed doors, having moved from its original Saturday date, because of Barnsley’s FA Cup tie with Chelsea on Thursday night.
Season ticket holders who have frozen their tickets have free access to watch the match on iFollow, and others can buy a match pass for £10.