With six points separating Saturday’s opposition Charlton Athletic and Barnsley, the fixture at The Valley may prove vital come the end of the season.
Despite a positive start to the season, Lee Bowyer’s Charlton have failed in their efforts to continue denying the odds, slipping downward into a relegation battle.
Early in the season the Addicks were the surprise package of the division, avoiding defeat in their first six outings and sitting inside the automatic places until mid-September. However, as the season has gone on, the Championship has proved to be a big step up for last years League One play-off winners.
Barnsley however, have failed to get going all season. The tykes have sat inside the bottom three since the end of August.
However, under the new manager of Gerhard Struber, Barnsley are starting to show signs of life. Over December, the side went through a five-game unbeaten spell, and the gap to safety is not so far in the distance.
Charlton are showing no signs of replicating early season form. Since going six unbeaten at the start of the campaign, they have been unable to go beyond three games without defeat.
Their latest run of form sees them winless in their last five league outings, dropping to 21st in the table and now just four points above the bottom three.
However, their last three games perhaps show signs of improvement despite not finding three points. Last time out at home they kept promotion challenging Fulham quiet at The Valley to draw 0-0.
This was preceded by a narrow away loss to Preston North End, the league’s best home side, which followed an impressive draw against now second in the table West Bromwich Albion.
Whilst not picking up enough points, results against tough opposition demonstrate promise for the rest of the season.
Barnsley, in contrast, lost 3-0 to Preston at Oakwell last time out. The defeat marked two in a row for the Tykes, with a loss against Bristol City away from home coming beforehand.
However, in the games before those two results, Barnsley had managed just one loss in their last seven outings, including vital wins against relegation rivals Huddersfield Town, in-form Millwall, and draws against promotion chasing Swansea City and West Brom.
This highlights that whilst Barnsley have a tendency to perform poorly, they also have the capability to grind out much needed results under Struber.
What to Expect
Barnsley’s record of thirty-seven goals conceded from open play is worsened only by bottom of the league Luton Town.
The Tykes have kept just three clean sheets all season; two of which were 0-0 draws and the other coming on the opening day of the campaign, therefore Charlton to score is probably a likely occurrence.
The sides are matched identically on the average amount of long balls played per game with seventy- three. However, this may benefit Charlton who rank slightly higher than Barnsley with the number of aerial duels won, meaning if the ball does go long, Charlton will be favourites to gain possession.
However, Charlton will need possession if they are to damage Barnsley. The Addicks rank as the worst team in the division for shots per game, averaging just nine. In contrast, Barnsley are one of the divisions best at getting shots off. Fourteen shots per game ranks them just behind Brentford and Leeds United- highlighting it’s likely Charlton will be troubled throughout the match.
With seven goals to his name this season, Lyle Taylor is the man to watch for Charlton. The Montserrat international started the campaign superbly, however a nasty injury means he has played just fourteen times in the league.
The Addicks will be hoping Taylor is back to his best soon, as without him in the side they struggle to capitalise on the very few chances they gain.
Barnsley boast a young squad brimming with potential, yet it is the more senior members who are key to making the Tykes tick. At twenty four years old, Alex Mowatt is one of the older players in the dressing room at Oakwell, and with three goals and seven assists, is a vital member of the Barnsley midfield.
The midfielder is the creative catalyst for his side, yet also chips in with an average of two tackles per game, demonstrating his significance in either half of the pitch.