Conor Chaplin interview: The striker blazing the trail for Barnsley's survival in the Championship
By Dan Long
Last Updated: 16/01/20 1:19pm
There probably are not too many 22-year-olds in the Sky Bet Championship who can consider themselves senior members of their respective squads.
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Barnsley's Conor Chaplin is the exception, though, and for good reason.
Having made his senior debut for boyhood club Portsmouth as a 17-year-old in 2014, he is not only fast approaching his 150th career league appearance, but Chaplin is also one of the most experienced in a group that features just four players over the age of 24.
It's something that speaks volumes about the club's innovative approach to the transfer market; they are part-owned by 'Moneyball' baseball pioneer Billy Beane, after all.
Conor Chaplin career stats in all competitions
|Club||Time at club||Appearances||Goals||Assists|
|Portsmouth||2014 - 2019||121||25||7|
|Barnsley||2019 - present||27||10||5|
Nonetheless, it still took time for Chaplin - who joined from Coventry in the summer - to settle in the second tier, after five seasons spent in League One and League Two. He wasn't the only one, though.
Fans were under no illusions that their club would be punching above its weight this term, particularly after relegation from the division in 2017/18. But stifling Fulham on the way to grinding out a 1-0 win on the opening day was as encouraging a start as could have been expected.
Save a 5-1 thumping away at Preston on October 5, they weren't beaten by more than a two-goal margin in any of the next 18 league games, yet the fact they hadn't won throughout the same period either left them rooted to the bottom of the table.
"Mentally, it was tough," Chaplin told Sky Sports after picking up the Sky Bet Championship Player of the Month award for December.
"When the run keeps stretching, you're thinking where the next win is going to come from but I don't think confidence ever really went from the changing room - that's probably the plus side of having such a young team.
"Confidence was never really an issue, it was just mistakes that were killing us in games. As soon as we got that win, it's been really good since then."
The win in question came at Oakwell on November 30, when Barnsley ran out 3-1 winners against Hull. It brought a run of four defeats in five to a close but, more significantly, gave Gerhard Struber his first win since taking over from Daniel Stendel 10 days earlier.
Evidence of the fighting spirit he's instilled in his short period at the club has been clear from the get-go and there has been a marked improvement in Chaplin's output since his appointment, too.
"He's very good tactically, which is something that I haven't experienced as much as I have with Gerhard since my career started," he added.
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"It's probably a culture thing but tactically he's very, very good. It's highlighted quite a lot to me, in terms of coaching aspects, that I hadn't seen before. That's something that's exciting to work under. I haven't had that before.
"It probably took me 10 or so games to believe in myself, that I was good enough for this level, to be completely honest. You like to think you will be but when you are playing you want to feel as if you are a good player.
"I do feel that now. I do feel that, as soon as I step onto the pitch in the Championship, I know that I've got the quality to score goals and I know that I've got everything it takes to be a good player at this level, which probably wasn't the case at the start of the season, a big reason as to why my form has been better of late."
Chaplin describes the hat-trick he scored in a 5-3 win over QPR in December as 'The best feeling that I've felt', however, he is wise to the fact that the goals could well dry up from here on in.
"When you know you are playing under a [new] manager, you get confidence from that. You'll work hard for him, get confidence from it. In terms of being in front of goal, as a striker, you go through phases. I'm not stupid.
"You go through purple patches and you go through spells where you don't score goals - that's part and parcel of being a striker. I'm enjoying it while it's a purple patch and long may it continue but I'm not stupid enough to think that will last forever.
"There will, obviously, be spells where I'll have to keep going, keep running and working for the team because the goals won't be there and the goals will be coming from somewhere else. That's more than enough for me. As long as we stay in this division, I don't care who gets the goals."
And with the Tykes on a run where they are unbeaten in their last seven Championship games, Chaplin revealed the way in which he and his team-mates are plotting a route to survival.
"The boys are definitely confident," he concluded.
"We definitely feel as though we've got enough in the changing room and the coaching staff to stay in this division and I think our form of late shows that. It's important to keep teams that are maybe six, seven points ahead of us, to keep them around us as opposed to drifting.
"If it's just four teams that are in the mix to go down it's going to be harder to stay up that it is if there's six or seven teams in the mix."