Ahead of the South Yorkshire derby this weekend, we spoke to Alex Miller of The Star, who previews Barnsley’s home clash with rivals Sheffield Wednesday in the Sky Bet Championship on Saturday – here’s the view from the opposition camp.
The Reds are back on home soil this weekend following two successive away matches.
Gerhard Struber’s side are desperate to return to winning ways after four consecutive losses in all competitions. It’s been a tough few weeks for Barnsley, who have fallen to defeats against Bristol City and Preston North End, before being knocked out of the FA Cup by League One Portsmouth and then losing on the road to Charlton Athletic.
It's the worst losing sequence of the Reds' difficult return season in the second tier.
As for Sheffield Wednesday, they have also been struggling in the league of late and have slipped out of the playoff places down to 11th.
Garry Monk’s side have only won once in the Sky Bet Championship since the turn of the year and have found it difficult to pick up form.
However, with a tasty South Yorkshire derby to look forward to this weekend, it’s sure to be a mouth-watering occasion, as both teams look for, not only local bragging rights, but to improve their positionings in the league table.
Looking ahead to this highly anticipated encounter, we spoke to Alex Miller, Sheffield Wednesday’s correspondent for The Star, who said: “It could well be an edgy one, with both sides entering the clash bang out of form.
“Barnsley's bottom-end battle is well documented and Wednesday are on a run of one win in seven matches that has seen them tumble from the playoff places.
“Wednesday will have a fresh impetus, however, with three attack-minded players added to their squad in the final week of the transfer window and will hope that makes a difference. If they can score early, I dare say I'd expect a comfortable Owls win - but it's rarely that straightforward when predicting a Wednesday outcome!
“It's a derby and although I'm not sure Wednesday supporters return quite the same passion for it as Barnsley fans do, it's one they desperately want to win.
“It feels like a bit of a moment in their season - they are seven points shy of Bristol City in sixth - and with Barnsley next, followed by Luton, Reading, Birmingham and Charlton they will hope to get their play-off push back on track.”
It’s been a rather mixed campaign for Garry Monk and Sheffield Wednesday so far. Since his arrival at Hillsborough in September following Steve Bruce’s exit, the Owls looked as though they would challenge for automatic promotion.
However, it’s been far from straight forward for the 40-year-old, who has found consistency hard to achieve at times on-the-field, whilst also having to deal with his fair share of proceedings off-the-field.
Speaking about Sheffield Wednesday’s season so far, Miller added: “It’s been manic. Steve Bruce left the club three weeks out from the start of the season, they were placed under transfer embargo and have been charged with misconduct by the EFL - a charge they're fighting but could land them with a points deduction.
“Garry Monk arrived six matches into the season after some good work from caretaker boss Lee Bullen and the Owls have spent the majority of the season in the coveted playoff spots - an impressive win over Bristol City saw them go third at Christmas.
“But their Christmas hangover has gone on too long and Monk needs to get things back on track soon or will lose all hope of a top-six finish. An FA Cup run will see them host Manchester City in March has been impressive and results have proven that this Wednesday side can mix it with the best in the league.”
Monk, who played close to 300 games during his time as a professional footballer, retired in 2014, before taking the reigns as manager at his beloved Swansea City.
He had spells as manager at the likes of Leeds United, Middlesbrough and Birmingham City, before he finally found home in Sheffield.
The 40-year-old picked up a number of tactics from his playing days, which included a stint at Barnsley in 2003 and 2004 and is best known for deploying possession-based football as a manager, but has had to adapt slightly with the Owls.
Speaking about Monk’s philosophy, Miller went on to say: “Having bounced between 4-5-1 and 4-4-2 formations in the early stages of his Owls tenure, Monk seems to have settled for the latter.
“He made it clear that solid defence was his priority early on and for a long time Wednesday's was one of the staunchest in the division - although slip-ups including a humiliating 5-0 home defeat to Blackburn have painted a picture of inconsistency at the back.
“They're fairly direct, though the long-term injury to Steven Fletcher has curtailed that approach a touch, and rely on quality delivery from talisman Barry Bannan and more recently pace from wide, through Kadeem Harris and Jacob Murphy. It could all change in the coming weeks with the new boys coming in.”
Monk has a star-studded line-up to choose from at this level when it comes to picking his starting eleven, and Miller highlighted a few who have been standout performers for Sheffield Wednesday this season.
“There have been a few in fits and starts. Kadeem Harris, a free transfer from Cardiff in the summer, started incredibly but has struggled for impact more recently.
“Steven Fletcher has 12 goals and was absolutely vital in their run to third, but faces another month or so out. He needs another goal to better his best-ever season tally.
“But in terms of consistency the stand-out name has been Dominic Iorfa, who has been outstanding at centre-half and looks a future Premier League defender - be that with or without Wednesday. He played much of his football up until this season at right-back but has been a class act.
“The signing of his defensive colleague Julian Borner on a free transfer from the German second tier was one that could have gone either way and he's also been excellent.
“He's strong in the air and defends with real passion, showing his leadership capabilities. He's a fan favourite already and has been touted as a future Wednesday captain.”
To add to their already strong squad of talented players, Wednesday recruited well in the January transfer window too, something which lifted the spirit of Owls’ fans.
“A feeling of gloom and doom for obvious reasons was lifted a touch on Friday with that double-signing of Wickham and Windass.
“Wickham is a player the fans are especially excited about - he's had two previous loan spells at Hillsborough, impressing both times - and there is pressure on him to provide the bite up top that they've lacked post-Fletcher.
"Owls’ fans will be hopeful their new signings will be fit to start as they gun for another derby day victory at Oakwell this weekend.
“There are still huge concerns over the EFL charge and those will rumble on, but in terms of on-field qualms.. there is nothing a handsome derby win won't improve upon!”