Two steps forward, one step back.
Unfortunately that’s the story of Barnsley’s season so far.
Two excellent wins over Port Vale and Oldham Athletic last week catapulted the Reds up to 13th in League One and within four points of the play-off positions.
But defeat to the Robins at the weekend, courtesy of goals from Raphael Rossi-Branco and substitute Ben Gladwin, saw Danny Wilson’s hit-and-miss side slide to a sixth successive away league defeat as they dropped two places in the standings.
That all said – and up against a confident Swindon side who play football the right way – Wilson’s charges could have come away from the County Ground with a precious point.
Such is the unpredictable nature of League One – and even having struggled to fathom many clear-cut chances until late in the action – the Reds still came close to getting something on their travels against Wilson’s former club.
Would a point have been deserved given the hosts’ domination? Probably not.
The Robins were quite brilliant at times and their attacking brand of flowing, fluid football was lovely to watch.
But Andy Williams’ first- half penalty miss – courtesy of a fine save form keeper Ross Turnbull – handed the visitors a lifeline.
And after the home side failed to convert a string of chances, Barnsley had three excellent opportunities to equalise with just 12 minutes remaining.
However, substitute Conor Hourihane waited too long to shoot with only Wes Foderingham to beat – and then the keeper pulled off a wonderful save to deny another sub, Alex Kiwomya, who must have thought he’d scored with a diving header.
The parried ball fell perfectly for the onrushing Peter Ramage, but the centre-back - who didn’t have one of his best afternoon’s in a Barnsley shirt – somehow headed wide from six yards out. It summed up the Reds’ afternoon and miserable form on the road this term.
“We had two great chances late in the game and we also had a couple of other situations which just petered out,” reflected a rueful Wilson.
“It’s all about decision-making. We had five [players] versus two at one stage, but that’s about having a bit of composure and understanding the final pass. And we didn’t pick the right one.
“In a nutshell we just missed that bit of composure in the final third – and we know we need to improve.
“They’re a very good side and have some very good players, but this is a very strange league.
“I’ve never known a league to be so strange over the years. Anybody and everybody can take heart from somebody else’s loss or somebody’s win.
“We’re not stupid enough to think we’re going to finish in the top two, but there’s every chance we can battle for the top six. I honestly believe it.
“If we win five out of your next eight games, or say four out of our next six games, then we’ll not be far away.
“We just need that mini-run to put us in there and, at this stage of the season, it gives you confidence when you need it.”
Wilson made two changes to his side which beat Oldham 1-0 on Tuesday night at Oakwell.
Midfielder Hourihane was rested for the first time this season having played every minute of every game this term.
The Irishman dropped to the substitute’s bench – and was joined by striker Kane Hemmings, who was unlucky to miss out having bagged the winner against the Latics five days ago.
That gave youngster Paul Digby the chance to impress in the midfield, while George Smith started as a left winger.
Frustratingly for Digby, one of the most promising young talents at Oakwell, his afternoon went from bad to worse.
He and Smith were guilty of some poor defending which allowed the Robins to score from a short corner and then, when his frustration got the better of him, Digby conceded a needless penalty which could have so easily handed the game to the hosts.
The midfielder’s clumsy foul on John Swift gave the hosts a great chance to double their advantage seven minutes before the break.
Thankfully Turnbull pulled off a fine save to thwart striker Andy Williams from the penalty spot and there was still hope for the Reds.
Wilson’s men pressed harder in the second half, rode their luck at times, but ultimately could have so easily equalised with those threechances, all of them inside a frantic minute.
But it was poor goals which cost the Reds who have not won away from home in the league for over three months.
Their last away league win was the 1-0 triumph over Sheffield United on November 1.
“Overall we’re disappointed with the goals we’ve conceded,” admitted Wilson. “We’ve got to defend properly. We’re just switching off at times and it’s costing us.
“I’ve said to the team that this league is uncompromising. They’re all tough games.
“It’s down to the character of all the players how they come through these tests.”
To make matters worse star striker Sam Winnall, who has been injured for three months, tweaked his troublesome hamstring in the warm-up and had to be replaced on the substitute’s bench.
Skipper Martin Cranie had to be replaced at half-time with a hip injury, but he is expected to be ready for tomorrow night’s home clash with Fleetwood Town.
Thankfully there was some good news on an otherwise frustrating afternoon, with Wilson confirming that a loan extension for Manchester United midfielder Ben Pearson is “virtually a done deal”. Wilson added:
“It will be great for us to keep him.”
Swindon: Foderingham, Branco, Stephens, Turnbull, Byrne, Luongo, Kasim, Thompson, Toffolo, Swift (Gladwin 76), Williams (Smith 72). Subs: Belford, Barthram, Rodgers, Hylton, Obika.
Barnsley: Turnbull, Nyatanga, Cranie (Hourihane 46), M’voto, Ramage, Smith, Lalkovic (Kiwomya 71), Scowen, Digby (Jennings 46), Pearson, Waring. Subs: Berry, Hemmings, Davies, Bailey.