THE battle to retain their Championship status is a daunting one for Barnsley, writes Neil Goulding.
And it wasn’t helped by another poor defensive display, the Reds’ second in a row after last weekend’s 5-3 humbling at the hands of Bristol City.
Remember they were 4-0 down in that fixture until late goals from all three of their substitutes added some much-needed respectability to proceedings.
But, as Reds boss David Flitcroft knows only too well, positive results are the only way the club are going to avoid relegation.
Flitcroft believes the battle to avoid the drop could go all the way to the wire. And you wouldn’t bet against it.
“The battle won’t be complete until 46 games,” revealed Flitcroft, whose side trailed 2-0, bravely fought back to level, only to concede a poor goal which won it for the Trotters on their first outing at Oakwell for nearly 12 years.
“I’m a realist and I know where I’m at,” said Flitcroft. “We’ve got to keep moving in the right direction.
“We’ve got to keep some forward momentum - and that’s what I’m trying to do.
“After we shake off this defeat we’ll bounce back against Burnley.”
That match is tomorrow night, the last league outing before Saturday’s eagerly-anticipated FA Cup quarter-final clash with Manchester City at the Ethiad Stadium.
But Flitcroft denied that fixture has been an unwanted distraction from their Championship challenge.
“We’re not thinking about the City game, it’s completely unimportant to what we’re trying to achieve,” stressed Flitcroft.
“These two games [Bolton and Burnley] are massive. To have got a point against Bolton would be a nice buffer after last week’s defeat.
“But that’s my job now to pick them up, get round them and make sure they start feeling good about themselves.
“We’ve been in winning habits and good forward momentum habits, but in the first half [against Bolton] we weren’t on our front foot.
“We were rocking, on our back foot, and we’re not a team who can do that.
“We’ve got to win games and take the fight to the opposition.”
It was hardly surprising that Flitcroft shuffled his pack.
But the surprise was that he started with forward Kevlin Etuhu as a right wing-back and Tomasz Cywka as a left wing-back in the preferred 3-5-2 formation which yielded plenty of success in their recent nine-game unbeaten run.
Cywka played very well and Etuhu, back having missed the last two games with a broken nose, worked hard all afternoon.
But it was not until Flitcroft switched to a 4-4-2 formation for the second half that the Reds finally got into gear.
It was just a shame and, unfortunately ironic, that Craig Dawson - one of his former Rochdale players - stopped the hosts’ courageous comeback.
After Cywka and Chris O’Grady had cancelled out David Ngog and Jay Spearing’s first-half goals, the home crowd suddenly sprung into life and the momentum was with the Reds.
However, Luke Steele’s unfortunate spill allowed Dawson to swing the pendulum once again as the visitors grabbed the initiative.
The Reds were without defenders Rory Delap and Jimmy McNulty, both of whom started last Saturday against Bristol but were ruled out through injury late in the week.
Stoke City loanee Delap picked up a calf strain in training on Friday, while McNulty has a badly swollen ankle. They are both major doubts for tomorrow night’s clash with the Clarets at Turf Moor.
Stephen Foster and Marlon Harewood dropped to the bench with Sheffield Wednesday loan hitman O’Grady, Cywka, Etuhu and Scott Wiseman given the chance to shine with four changes to the starting 11.
And the Reds started well enough with Cywka, Manchester United loan midfielder Ryan Tunnicliffe and Jim O’Brien all having efforts blocked after a fast-flowing started.
But the Reds switched off and Chris Eagles teed up David Ngog for a 15th-minute opener, scored at the second attempt.
Keeper Luke Steele pulled off a fine point-blank save to deny Ngog, but the striker got a second bite of the cherry from the rebound and this time he didn’t miss.
O’Brien was thwarted by a fine fingertip save two minutes later and fellow midfielder David Perkins lashed over the bar.
Steele came to the rescue, saving well to deny Eagles at close range, while former Reds striker Craig Davies shot over from the edge of the box.
Then, after the Reds failed to close him down, Liverpool loan midfielder Jay Spearing had time to pick out the bottom-left corner with a pinpoint drive and the visitors had suddenly doubled their advantage.
Perkins had a shot tipped past a post by the on-song Hungarian, Bogdan, who was soon relieved to see Cywka’s powerful effort fly wide of the target on the stroke of half-time.
Welcome the second half – and welcome two goals in the space of seven minutes as the Reds drew level.
Cywka beat Bogdan with a piercing drive that snuck in beyond the keeper’s left upright, before Tunnicliffe’s fierce drive was only parried and O’Grady pounced to poach his second goal in as many games.
But no sooner had the Reds restored parity than Spaniard Marcos Alonso’s powerful drive caused Steele problems and he spilled the shot into the path of a grateful Dawson.
The West Brom loan defender was never going to miss with the goal at his mercy. It was his fourth goal in three games.
Wiseman did brilliantly to twice block on his own goalline after Eagles’ initial goalbound shot, while Steele did well to tip over the winger’s free-kick soon after.
Substitutes Jacob Mellis and Jason Scotland, as well as Cywka, both had late opportunities to snatch a precious point, but the Reds couldn’t prevent a second successive defeat.