There may have been no accolades or trophies for David Flitcroft to celebrate come the end of the season, not even a manager of the month award to put on the mantelpiece, but ask anyone in Barnsley which manager deserves more plaudits than any this year then it would be the man known as Flicker.
At the end of December Keith Hill was relieved of his duties at Oakwell with the side rock bottom of the Championship with just 21 points from 25 games and four points away from safety. The board’s first two choices to fill the void were Sean O’Driscoll and then Terry Butcher but despite very generous offers to both being made, neither were tempted by the prospect of almost certain relegation to League One.
Flitcroft had been Hill’s right hand man at Oakwell and many thought would leave with him but he came in to fill his boots and take on what was seemingly an impossible task. It was an inauspicious start with a loss away at Peterborough but then the revolution truly began.
There were team bonding trips abroad and at home, inspirational videos made for under-performing strikers and a couple of clever signings amongst all sorts of other goings on behind the scenes that changed the fortunes of what seemed to be a doomed side.
Since Flitcroft’s move into the hot seat the Tykes played 25 times in all competitions, winning 11 of them, drawing eight and losing just six times. This not only saw the side edge out of the relegation zone, but enjoy a run to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup which was a welcome boost to the coffers of a perpetually skint club.
In the 21 league matches Flicker was in charge of he gained 34 points compared to the 21 from 25 games garnered before his promotion. Anyone who saw Barnsley during the second half of the season (except maybe Charlton fans) would not have seen a side destined for the drop but one with a tremendous work ethic and more than enough quality to compete in the Championship.
It was probably the tempo the team played at that Flitcroft improved the most but if you were to pinpoint an area of the pitch that was boosted most by his premiership it would be the forwards. Chris Dagnall went from a man looking hopelessly out of his depth in the Championship to making it to double figures for the campaign and bringing in the pair of Chris O’Grady and Jason Scotland in January was an inspired move. Neither had the fans bristling with excitement on arrival but both have been superb, especially O’Grady, as each netted six times in the fight to stay in the division.
There may well have been more than just a bit of luck about the final game of the season with Peterborough capitulating against Crystal Palace but if the Flitcroft regime had gone down having made 55 points then that would have been viewed as incredibly unlucky in itself.
Yet again Barnsley have stared relegation in the face and cheated the drop at the last moment, but this time it will be with optimism rather than pessimism that fans will be awaiting the next campaign. Yes the side only finished fourth bottom, but carry the form of the second half of the season into the next then it will be the top six and not the bottom four that the side will be concerned with. A few well-judged signings at the back and up front and there could be plenty to cheer about at Oakwell next year.
Written by Phil Haigh, We Are Going Up’s Barnsley blogger
Phil tweets at @philhaigh_