It’s the most wonderful time of the year
2017 was fast approaching, but there 5 games remained before the reverse fixtures, and 1 reverse fixture to be played on New Years Eve. For Barnsley, the hectic holiday time schedule would see us face some of the toughest teams in the division, but with us currently sitting in 14th place, I was quietly confident in our abilities. We’d face:
Birmingham City (away)
Norwich City (home)
Sheffield Wednesday (away)
Cardiff City (away)
Blackburn Rovers (home)
Birmingham City (home)
First up would be the visit to St Andrews, for what can only be described as the most dull game I have ever watched. 0-0 in the end, I’ll blame the come down from the League Cup exit on our performance, and Birmingham, well their season wasn’t going to plan, so maybe their form was behind their inability to put the ball in the net. Truth be told, I wasn’t complaining, as my inner Tony Pulis relishes any result away from home. Everton Loanee Tom Davies would begin a spell in the teams starting XI, and would prove himself to be a real gem of a player, controlling the ball and illustrating his passing ability. Unfortunately, Sam Winnall would be taken off injured, and despite it not being serious, he would be out for the home fixture against Norwich.
The Norwich game would be the complete opposite to the Birmingham match! We went behind 15 minutes into the game, a Norwich corner, which Tom Davies failed to clear, heading into his own net.
Norwich, who occupied the 7th position in the table, would prove hard to break down, but we’d continue to push them. It would take us until the second half to have success, as Hammill’s run down the right flank and cross met the head of Hourihane to give us the equaliser.
10 minutes later, Hammill would be involved again, this time on the score sheet as a Ryan Kent cross met him on the far side of the box. 2-1!!!! However, Norwich are good, and the fast feet of Cameron Jerome are to be watched carefully. Only a minute after taking our lead, Jerome would get on the end of a near post cross, heading past Adam Davies in goal, finishing the game 2-2. An exciting game, and to be honest, neither side deserved the loss.
If there is one game we wanted to win this season, it would be against Sheffield Wednesday. Occupying the playoff places, the Owls were a formidable force, and we would be in for a tough time, especially away at Hillsborough. In truth, I set up defensively, and the game would be poor as a result. Wednesday had chances, but nothing would come to them, and as is typical in these games, only the slightest of margins would decide it,…and decide it in my favour.
78th minute, a freekick given to us halfway inside the Wednesday half. Hourihane would take the looping kick, right onto the head of Farrend Rawson, whose effort is low, into the hands of the Wednesday keeper, and in. 1-0. DEFENSIVE, 5 DEFENDERS, WASTE TIME. You name it, there was no way I was letting them back into this one. And so it would be…Barnsley up to 11th, Wednesday down to 8th. Have it.
A potential storm
We’d soon be away to Cardiff, and much like the Birmingham match earlier in the month, we’d suffer from a case of the “borings”. 0-0, and not much to write about aside from another point, and a worrying outcome.
After the match, a question was brought to my attention by the media;
“With Conor Hourihane now being worth more than his buyout clause, will you consider offering him a new contract?”
Woah, woah, what? Sure enough, Hourihane, having signed a new contract earlier in the season with a £5m buyout for a higher division team, was now worth £6.25m. To make matters worse, we had no wage budget to play with, and he was not interested in signing a new deal. Bugger. The thought of a potential loss of Hourihane in the winter window was now apparent, and whilst no clubs from the Premier League were interested, I couldn’t help but think that the worst could happen. I begun drafting up a list of players I’d want to replace him, and all within our budget. To lose our captain would be a nightmare, but I would be prepared for all eventualities.
The traditional Boxing day fixture saw us up against the new and improved Blackburn Rovers, recently taken over by David Beckham (who must have given up on Miami? Or was creating an international franchise?), and with new manager Chris Powell. They had suffered in the league, and 10 places separated us from them in 20th place. The match however would not be a classic, with a Winnall goal on the 6th minute being the only highlight. Blackburn were poor, and we failed to take clear cut chances, and everyone went home feeling just that little bit less festive.
We’d play our final game of 2016 on New Years Eve, and it became quite clear that the teams minds were firmly on how they’d spend their evenings. It would be the first of our reverse fixtures, against Birmingham at Oakwell. A great first half display saw us 1-0 through Tom Bradshaw in the 39th through a lovely cross from Marcus Maddison (who was now getting regular game time). Birmingham were rubbish, and we knew it. Despite my best “Don’t get complacent!”, complacent we got. Birmingham fired back, equalising in the 56th, and winning in the 77th. Brilliant. Happy New Year everyone, here’s 12th place.
It would be an annoying way to end the season, but with an away match against Forest 2 days later, we couldn’t sit by and complain.
2017 was going to be our year, I was sure of it…