Mike Holden previews Thursday's JPT northern area final second leg, live on Sky Sports 5.
Lee Johnson admits his Barnsley side "froze a little bit" in the first leg of their JPT northern area final. The Tykes were 13/10 favourites to take a lead across the Pennines but, in the end, they were just grateful to be all-square as young debutant Ashley Fletcher scored from the bench to cancel out an Adam Davies own goal.
Fletcher, a 20-year-old Manchester United youth loan, was only included in the matchday squad due to distruptions in the build-up, his move to Oakwell having softened the blow of Ben Pearson’s return to Old Trafford, while striker Marley Watkins was ruled out with a hamstring injury. With Watkins back, the Reds looks a decent bet to prevail here at 2/1 or better.
Given those circumstances, it was understandable that Barnsley failed to do themselves justice first time around. Over the past 12 years, only five times (in 24 attempts) has the home team won the first leg of an area final. However, on ten previous occasions when the opener has been drawn, the visiting team have recovered from the loss of favouritism to progress on enemy territory six times.
So the advantage now deemed to be in Fleetwood’s favour might not be as significant as the market would indicate. If anything, the Cod Army must now carry the weight of expectation and Barnsley can play with the freedom that has enabled them to rack up six straight wins in League One, scoring 17 goals in the process.
The Tykes have already taken some notable scalps on the road in this competition, having triumphed 2-1 at both Scunthorpe and Bradford before holding Wigan to a 2-2 draw at the DW Stadium and progressing on penalties, while trips to Shrewsbury, Bradford and Swindon in the past three weeks have all been negotiated in win-to-nil fashion.
The involvement of both Watkins and Sam Winnall could be crucial. Earlier this season, Barnsley struggled to find the right chemistry going forward but a switch to 4-4-2 has since brought the very best out of both players with Winnall netting nine goals in those six wins playing on the shoulder of the last man, while Watkins has chipped in with three working as the foil.
Steven Pressley would kill for such a ruthless partnership in front of goal. He claims to have the best team in the division between both penalty boxes, which is quite an exaggeration, but stems from the fact that no team in League One is more wastseful than the Cod Army.
By standard conversions, the Lancashire club are currently ten points adrift of where their shot ratio suggests they should be but, even with those extra ten points, they’d still be behind Barnsley. So there’s a clear gap in bottom-line quality, which not enough is being made of, while too much is being made of home advantage, which is negligible at best.
Primarily, it’s the visitors’ No.9 who can be the difference. As well backing the Tykes to win the game, take the 9/2 available on the Barnsley/Winnall score/win double. Having been undervalued by Leeds in their attempts to prise him away from Oakwell on deadline day, the 25-year-old might just be eager to show them, via the television cameras, how much they’re missing out.
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