It has been a summer of big change at Barnsley, not so much in the playing staff but behind the scenes where the club has been revamped and these ambitious developments could just see the Reds not involved in a relegation scrap for the first time in years.
With the arrival of former Manchester United director Maurice Watkins as chairman and Ben Mansford the charismatic young agent as chief executive there is a whole new feel about the club. Along with the uber-passionate manager David Flitcroft signing a permanent contract and Barnsley seem to be heading in a new and hopefully more successful direction.
Of course there is only so much excitement a fan will draw from boardroom change and what we really want from the summer is firstly some rousing new signings, secondly not to lose any big players and thirdly to see some encouraging performances in friendlies; Barnsley have delivered on all three of these fronts.
Firstly the arrival of Dale Jennings from Bayern Munich grabbed the most headlines and he does look to have all the pace and tricks that fans at Oakwell were hoping for. Lewin Nyatanga and Jean-Yves M’voto look like good additions to the back line and every single Barnsley fan is delighted to see Chris O’Grady sign a permanent deal after his superb loan spell last season.
Before any players came in it was a question of resigning a number of key men who had come to the end of their contracts and, after a few scares, this was achieved with the likes of Luke Steele, Martin Cranie and Kelvin Etuhu all committing themselves to the club and not a single player who was offered terms rejecting them.
Finally the pre-season campaign again proved the forward thinking of the new regime. Gone are the pointless kick-abouts against non-league sides and in come tough tests against top European sides. Clashes with Club Brugge, Steaua Bucharest and Bordeaux all proved to be great workouts and only yielded one defeat against the impressive French side. Two more contests with Wolves and
Rotherham and the team look to be fit, confident and playing well ahead of the start of the season.
One issue is that Flitcroft has made it clear that he wants to add to his attacking options with his current first choice pair being O’Grady and Chris Dagnell who in all honesty will not quite cut it over a Championship season. Most fans would agree that just one more signing in this position and the squad will be ready to go and if the strongly linked Aaron McLean does indeed arrive then it would be very pleasing.
Once again the bookmakers expect Barnsley to be struggling at the foot of the table and it would yet again be a surprise if the Tykes are in the Championship again next season but that is certainly not the feeling at Oakwell. David Flitcroft’s record since taking over in January has been sensational and whilst few fans think there will be a play-off push, plenty are confident that there will be no battle at the bottom this time around.
Wigan at home in the first game of the season will be a tricky first test for Flitcroft at the start of his first full season in charge, but an encouraging start and his vibrant side might just start to change some opinions around the country.
Written by Phil Haigh, We Are Going Up’s Barnsley blogger
Phil tweets at @philhaigh_