‘We’re terrible to play against’: Energetic Barnsley can go all the way through the playoffs and win promotion to the Premier League, insists Cauley Woodrow
- Barnsley has been transformed into a different beast under manager Valerien Ismael
- The Barnsley manager has overseen a hectic high-octane football brand
- The men of Ismael will face Swansea on Monday in the first leg of their play-off semi-final
- Forward Cauley Woodrow said he has never seen a team with such a high work ethic
Barnsley was at the bottom of the championship last season with two games to go before injury-time winners against Nottingham Forest and Brentford showed arguably the greatest breakaway ever in English football.
It was a spectacular performance, but the encore was even more impressive, especially with new manager Valerien Ismael replacing Gerhard Struber, who left for Major League Soccer.
Ismael has overseen a frenetic high-octane football brand that would make Jurgen Klopp and Marcelo Bielsa blush and bring the South Yorkshire home club to just three games of the Premier League.
Barnsley offers to put in an astonishing performance by winning promotion to the top flight
Even the timing of Monday’s playoff first leg against Swansea in Oakwell looks ideal. It’s the first date fans will be allowed into club stadiums and Barnsley will benefit from 4,500 Tykes cheering on every run and tackle – and there will be plenty.
That’s the emphasis on youthful energy, striker Cauley Woodrow was the oldest Barnsley starter on the field last weekend. And he is only 26.
“ Our goal at the start of the season was to get 50 points so we would be safe, ” said Woodrow, who previously played Premier League football for Fulham and was part of England’s under-21 squad earlier in his career. Gareth Southgate.
‘We got there quickly and we’ve been knocking it out of the park ever since. I’ve never known a team with this work ethic. We run all day and make sure we are terrible to play against.
‘It can also be very technical: different jobs on the field; different presses. It’s crazy that I was the oldest player on the field against Norwich. Everyone calls me Grandpa. ‘
Valerien Ismael has overseen a hectic high-octane football brand since the acquisition
Ismael, whose playing career took him to Bayern Munich and Crystal Palace, doesn’t have Bielsa’s global reputation but has been hugely influential.
‘The manager says we can’t be tired, we can’t get hurt, we can’t be sick. It’s the way you have to be with the number of games this season, ”says Woodrow. ‘He uses substitutions to keep energy levels high. He is happy to take out three forwards after 55 minutes so that the new players can keep the pace. It has worked amazingly well.
As a person he has a real presence and aura, but overall he is very approachable, not intimidating. That said, he hadn’t yelled at us all season until we lost at half time in Bournemouth in March. Then he came in and scared a few of us to be honest. It was actually good to see that side and it was the right tactic because we turned things around and won the game. ‘
Woodrow learned his trade at Fulham for seven years, until Slavisa Jokanovic decided he wasn’t up to the mark, prompting him to move 180 miles north. There would be some irony if he went to the top flight at their expense.
“I’m devastated that Fulham was downgraded. I played with Scott Parker and know how passionate he is, ”says Woodrow.
‘I don’t think people at the club have lost faith in me. It was a manager [Jokanovic] want its own players; really want everything from him. I was already there and did not fit in.
‘Since then I have scored a lot of goals, first in League One and then in the championship. If there were any doubters, I showed them that I was up to the task. ‘
Cauley Woodrow said they make sure they are terrible to play against and they can win the playoffs
Woodrow is Barnsley’s top scorer with 14 this season and he will be key if Barnsley is to upset the odds and get past Swansea and face Bournemouth or Brentford in the final.
Many of Woodrow’s former England teammates grace the Premier League, including Jack Grealish and James Ward-Prowse. He would like to join them. ‘Different players follow different paths. Sometimes the route is straight up, sometimes you step back, like I did to sign for Barnsley when they were in League One.
‘There is no inferiority complex of mine no matter who we play. You are all equal on the field. I am not afraid of anyone and I am not turned on by the name on the back of someone’s shirt.
Swansea beat us home and away earlier this season, but we’re a different team now. They only finished two points ahead of us in the table, so it’s a level playing field. It will be two tough matches for both teams. ‘