I have said this to a number of people over the last few weeks and not one of them believes me, but relegation for Barnsley last season did not disappoint me too much. There have been some highlights in the eight seasons since returning to the Championship, but they may just be a bit more regular at League One level.
In truth, the recent spell in English football’s second tier has been something of a grind. Of course there have been memorable victories and incredible moments. The escape from relegation last year at Huddersfield will never be forgotten, but that summed up Barnsley’s existence in the Championship.
Successes came when the side upset the odds, battled hard to defeat a better side or edged away from the bottom three at the last moment. Much, much more often were one-sided defeats or dull contests in which Barnsley were the harder-working team, but could not get the better of a side with much more quality about them.
It may just be that in League One, the Reds are on the other side of things for a change. Teams will fear coming to Oakwell and Barnsley will be going into more matches than not as the favourites.
Most importantly, there will be more wins to celebrate for the fans that have sat through endless losses in recent years. The season just gone, Barnsley won just nine games, losing 25 of them. This is 25 afternoons or evenings in which fans have blown £25 to go and watch shoddy football and go home miserable. The standard will clearly be no better, but the whole experience might just be a bit more enjoyable this coming season.
In terms of expectations, nothing can be predicted until the extensive rebuilding of the squad has taken place. 14 players have been released, many of these inconsequential, but the likes of Kelvin Etuhu and Paddy McCourt would have been useful in League One. More importantly, players the club are trying to keep hold of could leave, most notably top scorer Chris O’Grady and midfield terrier Stephen Dawson.
With the squad as it is, the Reds could put out a decent first XI but there would be nothing in reserve. At least five players must be brought in of the quality to be playing in the starting line-up, at least two of those must be up front. If O’Grady does leave then the striking options are few and far between, who Danny Wilson brings in could well determine how Barnsley do this season. Find a 15-20 goal man at League One level and it could be top six, fail to do so and it looks unlikely.
Whether it is a glorious, immediate return to the Championship or not, it would be a big surprise if the Reds do not make the top half. The likes of Dale Jennings, Jim O’Brien and Tomasz Cywka (if retained) should be tearing up League One defences and should provide plenty of entertainment for the fans who have suffered for eight seasons.
There might be fewer supporters in the stands at this level, but those who have stayed will be going home happier a lot more often than they did last season.
Written by Phil Haigh, We Are Going Up’s Barnsley blogger
Phil tweets at @philhaigh_