Jealous Neil Warnock will be hoping the player he rates as “the best striker in the division” can be kept quiet when Middlesbrough visit Barnsley this weekend (Saturday. KO 3pm).
The Boro boss has struggled to find a striker in his pack to play the way he wants and will cast envious eyes over Daryl Dike, a physical targetman straight off the Warnock wishlist.
Surprise package Barnsley have barged through the pack with a shock and awe direct style and gatecrashed the play-off places since the January arrival of bustling American frontman Dike in January.
Since his loan switch from Orlando City he has rattled in seven goals in 13 games to spearhead a sizzling streak in which the Tykes have won 10 and drawn two to emerge as serious contenders.
Barnsley’s French boss Valérien Ismaël, a former Crystal Palace and Bayern Munich defender, has them playing a very direct style and the athletic American has proved a perfect fit.
“I think they’ve probably got the best striker in the division in Dike,” said Boro boss Warnock. “It’s said they’ve got a £17m buyout clause, so I would imagine if they go up they’ll be snapping him up because he’s been unbelievable when I look at his clips. He scores goals, he’s big, strong and young. He’s got every attribute going really.
“I’d have him tomorrow but I don’t think Steve Gibson will mortgage the Riverside for that!
“I think the Barnsley owners had a link with the club in America, which got them first choice, and he’s come over and been a revelation. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone quite like him in terms of having an impact straight away in a league like the Championship. He’s been unbelievable, and I think the rest of their players have just responded to his strength.”
Barnsley have put together a stunning run that has lifted them from 12th to fifth and just two points off third under boss Valérien Ismaël, their very direct style of play proving very difficult for the opposition to handle.
“They’ve surprised everybody the way they knock the ball forward and rush up chasing after it,” said Warnock. “I love them, me. They’ve got a good style, I like watching them. They are a good side, very young, very athletic and they really put a shift in.
“The front three usually have to come off after 60 minutes because they have run their legs off, then the other three come on and do the same for the next 30. They run through brick walls for the manager. It is very hard to deal with.
“If they don’t go up, it will be interesting to see how they do next season. Can they do the same against opponents that have seen them once? At the moment it’s an unusual system and nobody has got to grips with it really. I hope they go up this year while they’ve got everyone on their back foot.”
Warnock faces a tough tactical test but his problem is compounded as his team has big gaps in it. With key centre-back Dael Fry sidelined for the next few weeks and Anfernee Dijksteel ruled out for the season he has been working with a makeshift defence.
In midfield influential playmaker Marcus Tavernier is still injured while feisty anchorman Sam Morsy is out for the rest of the campaign so his options are limited in the engine room too, especially with Paddy McNair looking set to drop back to defence.
And up front he has struggled all season to find the right balance. So how will he handle the threat the Tykes pose?
“If I had a full squad then I would have done something to counter it, found a way to deal with it,” he said. “But I can only go with the players I’ve got.”
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