Yorkshire is struggling to keep up appearances. It has no club in the Premier League. If Barnsley had won at Reading, they would have been the county's top team, fifth in the Championship. Surprise is no disrespect to them, rather condemnation of those who have traditionally carried the county's torch in higher places.
Two weeks ago Barnsley beat Leeds United 5-2, having already done for Middlesbrough. On Saturday they conceded three goals in the last 15 minutes to a side reduced to 10 men for the last 30 by the dismissal of Zurab Khizanishvili.
Cautiously or generously, Reading's programme dismissed the idea that Barnsley "are punching above their weight". Mark Robins, Barnsley's manager, given the invitation to say the 3-0 scoreline was a travesty, two goals coming in added time, was having none of it. "We got exactly what we deserved," he said. "That was shocking. Believe it or not we had a game plan but you couldn't tell." He at least was punching his weight. Barnsley seldom do away. They have not won since February.
Apart from two seasons in the early 1980s Yorkshire has had a club in the top tier since 1892, when Sheffield Wednesday were elected to the League. (Hull of the old East Riding saved its face last season.) One by one they have fallen into bad hands or bad times or both. When the Rev Sydney Smith had a living in the county he said "it was so far out of the way that it was 12 miles from a lemon". In a football sense the county is full of lemons now.
Barnsley are not one of them, though since their remarkable one-year stand in the Premier League 13 seasons ago under Danny Wilson – their only time in the top tier – they have fallen into administration and League One, finishing 19th in 2003. The mayor saved them first and Patrick Cryne keeps them afloat with a fortune made in software but they have got through 10 managers in the past 12 years. Barnsley is famous for its chops.
Robins arrived a year ago on the strength of good work at Rotherham. Barnsley were bottom then and he got them up to ninth in February before they fell away to 18th. A summer turnover of half a dozen players out and eight in removed an excuse he never sought. "It's going to take a little time but we are doing it the right way, prudently. I love working here," he says.
In keeping with the fashion for South American fantasy he brought in Jéronimo Morales from Argentina and Diego Arismendi, a Uruguayan on loan from Stoke. They may have mistaken Spectemur Agendo for a compatriot. In fact it is the club motto: "Let us be judged by our actions". Saturday was no day for that.
Robins, arms folded in the technical area, had watched the performance in seeming cud-chewing contentment. "Players have not carried out their duties," he said later in more of a moo than a rant. "We were nervy while they were hungry and wanted the ball. We've got to show desire and look for runs beyond people. We didn't bring people into play.
"It was always going to be a tough afternoon if you let those wingers [Jobi McAnuff and Jimmy Kébé] play. The goal Kébé got was a goal we'd never get." This was the first, a far-post header at full tilt inside the full-back to a brisk, flat cross. Kébé is a tall streak of twisting wire, "the most dangerous winger in the league". Wide tricksters are back in vogue but Barnsley's Jim O'Brien, from Motherwell, and Adam Hammill, scorer of four goals this season, were only marginally effective.
The cross was from Hal Robson-Kanu, nominally a man of pedigree that is not obvious in his origins at Acton Ealing Whistlers. He added the third himself, running 80 breakaway yards. By then Ian Harte had eliminated all doubt with a free-kick. It would have been worse sooner without the last-ditch blocks of Jason Shackell, the captain, bought from Wolves. The corner count was 22-2. Barnsley defended more bravely than they attacked, which is not altogether Yorkshire.
In August they were second favourites to go down and Cryne remarked laconically: "We always are. I don't think the bookies will be making anything out of us." All's well at Oakwell. The trouble is that half their matches are away and they could make a house of cards look like a fortress. Tomorrow they are at Scunthorpe. "There's no excuse there," said Robins. "They're 30 miles up the road."
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