Former Barnsley player and assistant coach Dale Tonge believes the Reds were helped by playing behind-closed-doors in the 2020/21 season but now thinks they can have similar success in front of fans.
Tonge, from Goldthorpe, was part of the Reds squad that got promotion from League One in 2006 then was moved up from under 16s coach to assist Daniel Stendel midway through another promotion season in 2018/19.
But he left later that year and went with Stendel to Scottish club Hearts then spent time as a coach at Rotherham United last season, in which Barnsley finished fifth then lost in the play-off semi-final to Swansea City.
Tonge said: “I think it’s been a surprise to everyone.
“I genuinely think having no fans there has helped this group of players.
“With a new manager, being able to hear him every single minute of every game helps.
“A lot of the players were still new to the country and the league so it probably helped.
“But I have no reason to think why the success they have had can’t be a catalyst.
“They might have to make slight tweaks because teams will know what style is coming now.
“Hopefully the fans will help during that process and get behind them which I’m sure they will.”
Barnsley added 29 points to last season’s total and finished 16 places higher.
Tonge said: “It was a massive rise and partly because a lot of those players have been together for a while now.
“There are some unbelievable staff behind the scenes as well.
“The manager was obviously the most important aspect.
“I interviewed him for my pro license and he was brilliant.
“I would have loved to have played for him and I could see why players are in awe of him and love him so much because he has that stature.
“It’s an uncommon style of play but 100 per cent effective.
“It’s great to see a small club with a small budget in that league being one of the best teams in it.”
Barnsley are hoping to keep all their players this summer, in contrast to 2019 when Tonge watched Stendel’s promotion side reduced by the sales of Kieffer Moore, Liam Lindsay and Ethan Pinnock while captain Adam Davies left on a free transfer. Stendel and Tonge left the club later in the year after a poor run.
Tonge said: “It was difficult to take. That’s like taking Ederson, Ruben Dias, John Stones and Sergio Aguero out of Man City’s team.
“They were the best in their positions.
“It was gutting because we had the foundations to push on.
“I genuinely believe that, if we kept them, the talents that were brought in would have developed quicker.
“A lot of people have said the recruitment worked because of what happened this season but it’s just, when you’re in it, it’s difficult because we wanted to win games and it was very hard at first.
“It was a tough time but it’s how the club work and it’s working well for them now.
“It’s still the proudest moment of my career to get that promotion, knowing I had helped in a little way.”