Barnsley spent the first half of this year as the Championship’s fairytale story but the second half as its basketcase.
They have had three head coaches and a caretaker while their 54 games brought 17 wins, 15 draws and 22 losses, with 51 goals scored and 61 conceded.
Valerien Ismael’s side began the year in eighth, two points off the play-offs.
The Reds decided not to renew the loan of midfielder Matty James from Leicester City, opting instead to give Romal Palmer a run of games alongside Alex Mowatt.
Striker Carlton Morris and defender Liam Kitching signed in the first week of the transfer window.
The Reds’ first three league games were against the then top three.
They lost without scoring to each of Norwich City, a game which captain Mowatt missed after testing positive for Covid-19, Swansea City and Watford – with the latter decided by a controversial penalty given against Callum Brittain for handball.
They played Norwich again in the FA Cup and won 1-0 thanks to a Callum Styles goal and an impressive team performance which gave them belief after they had struggled in games against the top six.
Barnsley then scored their first league goals of the year as Mads Andersen – with his first for the club – and Cauley Woodrow put them 2-0 up against Cardiff who came back to draw 2-2 amid controversial refereeing.
They also drew 0-0 at Nottingham Forest.
Isaac Christie-Davies, Elliot Simoes, Luke Thomas, Dan Bramall and Patrick Schmidt were loaned out while former captain Mike Bahre’s and Jordan Green’s contracts were cancelled.
February 1 was deadline day and saw the arrival of Daryl Dike on loan from Orlando, having become eligible hours earlier by making his debut for the USA.
The month began with an 11-day break in the gruelling fixture list, due to a game against Derby being cancelled because of poor weather.
Players and staff credited that time with crucial work on the training ground which allowed them to get back to their energetic pressing best.
That was in evidence in the FA Cup fifth round against Premier League giants Chelsea, who snuck a 1-0 win with Barnsley having several chances including a Michael Sollbauer effort cleared off the line.
That encouraging display was followed by an extraordinary run of seven successive Championship wins.
The first, three days after Chelsea, was a 2-0 success at Brentford who had been on a 21-game unbeaten run but were undone by the Reds’ press as well as goals by Conor Chaplin and Morris, with his first for the club.
Morris and Mowatt netted in a 2-1 midweek win over Blackburn who abandoned their usual passing style to go direct and avoid Barnsley’s press – a tactic that nearly every other side soon adopted.
Morris got the only goal at Bristol City, where Barnsley won for the first time in 18 attempts, then Callum Styles scored a stunner against Stoke before Dike secured a 2-0 win with his first Reds goal.
Woodrow and Helik secured a 2-1 home win over Millwall which meant the Reds had won all five league games in February and had passed the 50-point mark Ismael had been targeting for months with 14 games left.
March started with a 3-1 success at QPR, with Mowatt scoring a stunning free-kick and assisting both Dike and Morris.
It was the first time ever Barnsley had won six successive second tier games.
Dike’s spectacularly powerful strike then secured a 1-0 win over Birmingham City which took the Reds into the play-off places.
Their seven-match winning run ended with a 0-0 draw at home to Derby whose manager Wayne Rooney said the Reds were ‘the most direct team I’ve possibly ever seen.’
The winning run stopped at seven, the joint second best in Barnsley’s history.
They then won at promotion rivals Bournemouth 3-2 in one of their most important games and impressive performances. Trailing 2-1 at the break, Ismael lost his temper for the first time then his side were magnificent with Dominik Frieser and Morris netting.
A bad-tempered 3-1 win at Wycombe followed in which Woodrow netted from a disputed penalty then Dike struck twice either side of a red card for Mowatt which was rescinded.
The Reds had played ten games in 31 days with nine wins and a draw and had moved up to fifth.
Their 12-match unbeaten league run ended with a 2-1 home loss to relegation-bound rivals Sheffield Wednesday thanks to a brace by ex-Red Jordan Rhodes.
Michal Helik was rewarded for his superb form with a Poland call-up. He conceded a penalty for a foul on England’s Raheem Sterling at Wembley.
After the final international break of the season, Barnsley drew 1-1 at home to Reading on Good Friday with Lucas Joao missing an open goal after Brad Collins was tackled in his box.
Dike then struck twice on the Monday at Luton before missing a penalty for a hat-trick, which Ismael had wanted Mowatt to take, then the hosts pulled one back late on. Barnsley won 2-1.
They then saw off Middlesbrough at home 2-0 with goals by Mowatt, straight from a corner, and Dike.
A club record run of six successive away wins ended with a 2-0 loss to Coventry City.
But they bounced back with a good performance at Huddersfield Town and Dike’s overhead kick secured a 1-0 success.
The Reds then scraped a fortunate 1-0 win over struggling neighbours Rotherham with Morris’ early goal counting despite an apparent foul on the goalkeeper who suffered a broken eye socket.
Reading’s draw with Swansea the next day secured Barnsley a place in the play-offs with two games left.
The Reds lost 2-0 at Preston then drew 2-2 on the final day against champions Norwich.
They finished fifth, with 78 points which was the fourth highest total ever, and were drawn against Swansea in the play-offs.
About 4,000 fans were allowed back in the ground for the home leg and produced an incredible atmosphere.
Andre Ayew got the only goal, while narrowly offside, then Callum Brittain missed a huge chance to level and Carlton Morris hit the crossbar in the last seconds.
In the second leg in Wales, Matt Grimes netted another fantastic goal and, despite Woodrow’s reply, the Reds could not reach Wembley.
Ismael was non-committal on his future after the game, admitting ‘success makes you sexy.’
Barnsley did not take their option of signing Dike permanently as they could not agree wages.
The Reds released ten players, none of whom had played a senior game.
In June, there was an exodus from Oakwell.
Ismael moved to newly-relegated West Brom who paid his £2million release clause.
He took assistant Adam Murray, sports scientist Jonny Northeast and analyst Jack Riley with him.
Out-of-contract captain Alex Mowatt also moved to the Baggies.
The Reds acted quickly by bringing in Markus Schopp from Hartberg in his native Austria, for whom he had played in a World Cup then with Pep Guardiola and Roberto Baggio at Italian top flight club Brescia.
He tried to bring in two assistants but one could not be released from his club and the other was not eligible under post-Brexit rules.
Schopp promised to play a mixture of passing football and Ismael’s direct style.
Before Ismael left, chief executive Dane Murphy – with whom he had worked closely – was edging closer to a move to Nottingham Forest.
He left along with secretary Taymour Roushdi after his contract ended.
Murphy’s replacement Khaled El-Ahmad was announced before Murphy had officially joined Forest but did not start until September 1, due to gardening leave and visa issues, so co-chairman Paul Conway was acting CEO.
Earlier in month, Devante Cole had returned after a 2014 loan spell but was suddenly working under a different head coach.
Barnsley’s recruitment accelerated as they signed Belgian forwards Obbi Oulsre and Aaron Leya Iseka, but had to wait a month for their visas to be cleared, as well as Burnley midfielder Josh Benson.
Michael Sollbauer moved to Dynamo Dresden in July after requesting to move closer to his wife and family.
Conor Chaplin was sold to League One Ipswich.
Luke Thomas – who had cut short his previous loan at Ipswich for mental health reasons – was loaned out again to Bristol Rovers.
Mads Andersen picked up a knee injury in training which would keep him out of the first 15 games of the season.
Barnsley played friendlies against Rochdale, Sheffield Wednesday and Morecambe with the latter during a week-long training camp at Loughborough University.
They were due to play Watford in their final pre-season match but cancelled it to face Manchester City who thrashed them 4-0, with Schopp and Guardiola enjoying a catch-up in the dugout.
The 2021/22 season started in August with a 1-1 draw at Cardiff City with Toby Sibbick scoring his first Barnsley goal.
It was the first time away fans had been allowed at a game for 18 months.
They then lost on penalties at Bolton Wanderers in the EFL Cup with Cole missing the decisive spot-kick.
Fans returned with no restrictions to Oakwell and saw a 1-0 win, as Frieser netted the Reds’ only real chance while Coventry missed a series of opportunities including a 95th-minute penalty which was brilliantly saved by Collins.
Striker Carlton Morris sustained a knee injury that kept him out for three months.
Barnsley lost 1-0 at home to Luton before an excellent first half saw them lead 2-0 at QPR, with goals by Frieser and Woodrow with his 50th, but they missed a series of chances and drew 2-2.
Styles netted a fantastic early strike against Birmingham who came back to draw 1-1.
Marcel Ritzmaier was released to join German club Sandhausen while Elliot Simoes was sold to Barnsley’s sister club Nancy.
Herbie Kane was loaned to Oxford.
September 1 was the last day of the transfer window.
El-Ahmad – on his first official day as CEO – brought in young midfielder Claudio Gomes on loan from Manchester City then, with two minutes left before the deadline, loaned left-back Remy Vita from Bayern Munich with a view to a permanent transfer. Irish midfielder Will Hondermarck was picked up on a free transfer later in the month.
It was the first summer transfer window since 2012 in which Barnsley did not sell a regular first team starter.
George Miller was loaned to Walsall.
September brought two points and two goals from five games.
After the first international break of the season, the Reds were humbled 3-0 at Bournemouth without having a shot or really an attack.
They drew 1-1 at Stoke thanks to a superb Woodrow free-kick and an astonishing performance by Collins who made a series of fine saves including from a penalty on the five-year anniversary of his father’s death. Reds coaches Jo Laumann and Tonda Eckert were banned along with two Stoke coaches after a touchline fracas. Laumann was banned for two games and Eckert three.
A 0-0 home draw with Blackburn followed then a large away crowd saw a poor 1-0 loss at Blackpool.
Barnsley led visitors Nottingham Forest at half-time thanks to a Woodrow penalty but lost 3-1.
Barnsley lost every game in October which began with a 1-0 defeat at home to Millwall, who netted in the 89th minute, sending their hosts into the relegation zone for the second international break.
This could and probably should have been the moment Schopp was sacked as the fans booed him and chanted against him then Callum Brittain criticised his training techniques.
There were ugly scenes at the end when Woodrow argued with some fans.
But the club decided that 11 games was too early to change manager, especially considering an injury crisis which robbed Schopp of up to eight players.
After the break, Schopp’s side were improved in a 1-0 loss at Reading – with the head coach appearing to blame young substitute Will Hondermarck – but very poor in a 2-0 loss at Middlesbrough.
They went 3-0 down to local rivals Sheffield United but fought back to 3-2 thanks to first goals of the season by Cole and Leya Iseka, with Cole later appearing to criticise Schopp by saying the comeback ‘came from the players on the pitch.’ They were the first open play goals since August.
Schopp was then booed off the pitch by fans after he, not for the first time, did not clap them at the end of a game.
Iseka scored Barnsley’s first goal away from home in more than two months at Bristol City who came back to win their first home game since January.
The 2-1 loss was one of the best performances under Schopp but the last as he was sacked the next day with a record of one win in 16 and a win percentage of six. They were winless in 13 which is the longest run ever under one manager.
Caretaker Jo Laumann took over in November and oversaw a 2-1 win over last-placed Derby County, who looked set to put the Reds bottom of the league when they took the lead. But Victor Adeboyejo netted a deflected goal against the run of play then Iseka won it. Laumann’s honeymoon period did not last long as they produced an abject performance in a 2-0 home loss to fellow strugglers Hull who had been the lowest scorers and on a five-game losing run but should have won by more.
Poya Asbaghi was appointed towards the end of the November international break but Laumann still took charge at high-flying Fulham who won 4-1 with Adeboyejo getting the goal.
Asbaghi took over two days later and oversaw two games that week, a 2-0 loss at home to Swansea and a 0-0 draw at fellow strugglers Peterborough, with Barnsley very defensive in both.
That week, the gap to safety doubled to eight points.
In December, the Reds drew 1-1 at home to Huddersfield, with fit-again Morris scoring, then lost 2-1 at Preston, with Woodrow ending an 11-game goalless run, before drawing 0-0 at home to Ismael’s West Brom.
They then lost 2-1 at Blackburn Rovers in their final game of the year.
They finished the year second-bottom, seven points from safety.