And now to Barnsley. City take the Championship’s best form and a vast back catalogue of away successes to Oakwell this evening looking to make it ten games without defeat, consolidate a play-off place and maybe even give the top two a little nudge. After a rocky start to the season, few would have thought this possible a few days after the clocks went back.
Possible it is, though. Nottingham Forest could still be playing now without scoring, and the Tigers’ parsimonious defence is the rock upon which this embryonic promotion challenge is being founded. With the same back four and keeper set to start in South Yorkshire tonight, Barnsley’s attackers had better be blessed with patience and a dash of good fortune. They’ve had a lousy season thus far, with a 2-1 home defeat at the weekend to bottom club Bristol C rather typifying their campaign to date. That saw struggling manager Keith Hill have a whinge about their support, which having dropped into four figures (8,900 on Saturday) is both dwindling and restive. A current position of 19th in the table and a gap of just three points from the relegation places may not be a maor surprise, but neither is it proving particularly enjoyable.
They’re having little fortune with injuries, it must be conceded. Matt Done and Dave Perkins returned from recent spells on the sidelines on Saturday and reportedly emerged unscathed, but a quartet are missing against the Tigers: Messrs Hassell, Haynes, Lovre and the excellently-named Noble-Lazarus will be confined to spectating duties. For the Tigers, little has changed. Long-term absentees Stewart and Garcia are inching slowly back into the contention but are nowhere near a start, while Barmby, Waghorn and Pusic won’t be risked. The same XI that won at the City Ground may very well be summoned again.
City are only marginal favourites for this one, with 13/8 the best price you’ll get as opposed to Barnsley’s 2/1. Of course, fresh from yet another away triumph, expectations are high – yet City have already drawn at both of the bottom two, proving that this division offers no foregone conclusions. Pleasingly so, too. Saturday’s fine victory means that the pressure on the Tigers to take all three points is reduced a little, and Nigel Pearson isn’t a manager we suspect will permit complacency to creep in. However, it’s a Yorkshire derby in a notoriously unpredictable league – all three results are possible.
Recent history is patchy: since renewing hostilities in 2004 after a thirteen year gap, City have won two of four at Oakwell – a stirring Elliott & Keane-inspired 2-1 win in 2004/5 and a 3-1 cuffing in 2008 that briefly threatened to send us to the Premier League automatically – those sandwiched a rancid 3-0 defeat, and last season’s tepid televised 1-1 draw was not really one for the purists. With 37 wins apiece in 96 meetings going way back to 1905, when Barnsley were the opposition in City’s first ever League fixture, there’s rarely been much between the sides.
Perhaps a word on another aspect of tomorrow’s game: the price. Barnsley are charging a disgraceful £30 for City fans to enter. This is naturally a ludicrous sum for one of the lesser lights in English football’s second tier to demand. Many cannot afford it; others still are boycotting because of this appalling cost. While anyone swerving this one because of Barnsley’s loathsome, larcenous conduct for reasons of cost or principle is perfectly justified in doing so, it’s still hard to recommend depriving this fine young City team of support. A suggestion, then? If you can stomach paying £30 for it, deny them of a single penny in food and drink. It’s the very least the grasping swine deserve.