Over the Hill


It may be an old cliché, but unfortunately it is very much the case in the football world that it is a results business and when the results are bad the manager is dismissed; but sometimes there may just need to be a bit more thought into it than that.

Moving to Barnsley from Rochdale was no easy decision for Keith Hill and his partner in crime David Flitcroft; they were loved at Spotland having brought unparalleled success to a club unaccustomed to it. Yes Barnsley were a step up in terms of division and club stature, but with no money to spend and every bookie in the land constantly backing the team for relegation it is not necessarily the most attractive prospect.

Hill took the leap of faith though knowing how tough it was going to be and in his first season he performed admirably, achieving his one and only goal of avoiding relegation, whilst making a very tidy profit for the club in selling Jacob Butterfield and Ricardo Vaz Te.

This time around his canny looking signings have not paid off and the likes of Mido, Jacob Mellis and Kelvin Etuhu are proving to be heavy burdens on the wage bill without having nearly as substantial an impact on the pitch. Whereas last season there were a few sources of goals, this campaign has seen the burden lie almost entirely with Craig Davies, and the defence, whilst never strong, has crumbled away completely.

So what of this was Keith Hill’s fault? Certainly the signings he made had to be viewed as a gamble in anyone’s book, and when managers gamble and lose, their heads are always going to be on the chopping block. In the same breath though, with next to no funds available, everything has to be a gamble; there are no sure-fire Championship hits that you can buy with the budget Barnsley offer. Vaz Te was a gamble last season and look what happened to him. However, the sheer volume of failures this time around, to which you can add Marlon Harewood and Ben Alnwick, have to be blamed on Hill.

The lack of goals from elsewhere is just an unfortunate acceptance that asking the likes of Tomasz Cywka and Chris Dagnall to fill in for Butterfield and Vaz Te is never going to work. This again comes back to the gambles the manager made and not being able to replace players like for like.

Hill’s biggest crime, undoubtedly though, is the defence which he has done little to remedy since joining the club but is consistently the team’s biggest problem. Starting the season and playing much of it to date with Scott Wiseman, who has only ever played down the flank, at centre-back is asking for trouble and whilst emergency loans have been shipped in to cover other positions, this gaping hole in the middle of defence has never been filled.

So it looks like Hill has plenty to answer for, but what he did do was instil a brand of football in the team not seen at Oakwell for some time: possession football. In Hill’s last two games in charge, Barnsley enjoyed 56% and 67% possession in the two home defeats to Blackburn and Birmingham. Obviously this bore no fruit as the games were lost but it does show that there is something to work on.

The question is then, where do the club go from here? Do they find a manager to completely overhaul this system of play Hill developed over 18 months, or do they simply find someone who can do it better? As mentioned there is no money to spend and nearly every player at the club was brought in by Hill to fit his style of play so the first option looks unfeasible. The Barnsley board then must find someone to do it better.

Now who has a reputation of playing good passing football on a tight budget and keeping a small South Yorkshire club in the Championship? Sean O’Driscoll seems to fit the bill, and conveniently he has just become unemployed. His sacking from Nottingham Forest seemed harsh and premature and if Barnsley can snap him up before anyone else does then it will be great business for them.

The 55-year-old is currently the bookies favourite for the job and quite frankly, no other choice would make any sense at all. He has every credential that the Barnsley board could possibly be looking for, he won’t even cost that much. So if Barnsley want to be one of the very few clubs to hire a manager based on actual football tactics, O’Driscoll appears to be the man for them.

Written by Phil Haigh, We Are Going Up’s Barnsley blogger

Phil tweets at @philhaigh_

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