Toby Sibbick says the Oakwell he left more than a year ago is very different to the ‘happier’ club he has returned to in recent weeks.

The 21-year-old centre-back was loaned to Scottish club Hearts last January then went on loan to Belgian club KV Oostende for the first half of this season but only made two appearances in total for the two clubs, with the most recent being on February 1 last year.

Sibbick – who was brought off the bench in the Reds’ 2-0 FA Cup win over Tranmere Rovers on Sunday – left when they were in the Championship relegation zone and returns to them in the top ten and in contention for a play-off place at the halfway point.

Sibbick told the Chronicle: “You can tell it is very different. When I first walked back in the door the mood of everyone around the place was a lot happier and everyone seemed a lot more free. We were trying to stay positive last season but you can really feel it a lot more this season.

“The mood in training is high and positive. The manager (Valerien Ismael) has a good influence on us all. I can learn a lot from him.

“It’s been a long 11 months for me without playing any games so to be back out there with the boys just felt good and it was a breath of fresh air for me.”

Sibbick joined the Reds from AFC Wimbledon in the summer of 2019 and was a regular under Daniel Stendel who, after being sacked and replaced by Gerhard Struber who took Sibbick out of the team, took him on loan to Scottish Premier League club Hearts.

He played twice for the Edinburgh club but then became ill, before the season was cancelled due to Covid-19.

Sibbick was then loaned to Oostende, also owned by Barnsley’s owners, with a permanent move agreed. But manager Alexander Blessin did not play him and he returned to Oakwell in late December.

“It’s been a bit of strange one.

“My time in both Scotland and Belgium didn’t go as I planned.

“I got ill in Scotland then, in Belgium, I didn’t play. It was difficult for me but it was a learning experience.

“I have had a lot of experiences already in my career in different countries. I have learned to stay positive and next time I can overcome these situations.”

On his time in Belgium, Sibbick said: “Me and the manager spoke a few times. I was in the first matchday squad then I wasn’t really involved.

“I asked him for his honest opinion and he said he didn’t feel I was quite there yet.

“There were a few things going on behind the scenes and I didn’t feel welcome. I said to him that the new manager at Barnsley is giving everyone a chance so I want to go back and see what I can do.”

Sibbick followed Barnsley’s relegation battle in the second half of last season and watched their dramatic last-gasp survival at Brentford from not far away in his family’s London home.

“I was at home with my mum and dad. When Clarky (Clarke Oduor) scored we all went mental. I was always supporting the boys from afar.”

Sibbick has been brought up as a centre-back but often played as a full-back or wing-back last season while Ismael has said he could also be back-up in central midfield where he has also appeared for Barnsley.

“I see myself mainly in the back three but, if he needs me to fill in in other positions, there’s no problem with that.”