IS THIS Barnsley’s worst season ever?
Regardless of the result tomorrow when this agonising campaign finally ends, their tallies of wins and points – currently six and 30 – will be the second lowest in the club’s history, once tables are reconfigured for three points per win, behind 1952/53 when the shock death of manager Angus Seed and sale of Tommy Taylor plunged the club into chaos.
They have scored the fewest goals for 50 seasons and by far the fewest ever at home, while defeat tomorrow will mean they have lost the most away games in a campaign since 1930.
It has been a horrific year with major mistakes made at board level, including the appointment of two hapless head coaches, and a squad who have crumbled in front of our eyes. They have finished below a Derby County side who were deducted 21 points.
But it still would not be quite right to label this side the club’s worst ever team.
In the 1970s, the Reds were relegated from the Third Division then finished 14th, 13th, 15th and 12th in the Fourth Division, while this current side contains many of the players who performed miracles to reach the play-offs last season in one of the most demanding and competitive divisions in world football.
But it is that descent from welcoming ground inspectors from the Premier League this time last year to coming up against top flight club’s under 23s in the Papa John’s Trophy this autumn which hurts so much.
The Reds won more Championship games in 20 days during February and March last year than they have this season.
Barnsley are the first club ever to reach the second tier play-offs one season then finish last the next, unless you include Leeds who finished 22nd then accepted a ten-point deduction for going into administration right at the end of the 2006/07 season.
Then you add in that fans were at home for the fifth-placed finish, due to Covid-19, but have been back in the stands for this dismal campaign.
There will be many Reds fans, young and old, who have been more disappointed and embarrassed by this campaign than any other.
Of course there were times when the club almost went out of business in the 1960s then again in the early 2000s, but there are also off-the-pitch concerns now with the owners fighting each other in the courts and uncertainty over Oakwell’s future.
The majority owners are buying up clubs around Europe but many of them are facing relegation and riots.
The dissent in South Yorkshire is taking the form of massive empty spaces in the stands and a general sense of apathy and contempt among supporters which is likely to be reflected in season ticket sales.
Things could look different this time next year, if Barnsley are competing for promotion with 20-odd League One wins under their belt.
But some fans will not return until they hear explanations from Paul Conway on what has gone wrong this season. Others will renew their season tickets because it is a way of life, and they support the club no matter what.
But few should expect another comfortable promotion season.
The third tier is no picnic – it took 80 points to make the play-offs this season, six more than Barnsley needed on their way to promotion via the play-offs in 2016 and eight more than they required ten years earlier, while there is likely to be a tumultuous summer at Oakwell with a lot more player turnover than in 2018 when they bounced straight back.
The Reds’ recruitment has been very poor this season, with their only good signings being loans brought in on deadline days with hours or minutes to spare, having previously prided themselves on meticulous preparation and data-driven research.
They must return to what has brought them success in the past – while including some form of experience to guide the young squad – but are likely to have to move on several of their better players before they can bring any in. The ideal scenario is they sell only two or three players for sums which cancel out the roughly £7-8million relegation loss, and leave them some change to bring in new signings. But that may not be realistic with buying clubs still low on cash after the Covid-19 crisis and the Reds trying to sell League One players who are coming off an awful season.
They could have to sell the majority of their first 11 to make up the shortfall and there might be very limited funds for new arrivals, with regular £500k-plus signings a thing of the past and youth players promoted instead.
They will need a strong head coach to bring the new squad together, even if he has little say in recruiting it.
The current ownership group have brought in the three worst managers or head coaches in the club’s history, at least in terms of their win percentages, with Jose Morais, Markus Schopp and Poya Asbaghi winning eight of 55 league games between them.
They simply cannot afford a third successive poor appointment after Schopp and Asbaghi.
Many fans would prefer an English manager with more knowledge of the EFL but the Reds have proved that is not always needed with successive successful foreign managers in Daniel Stendel, Gerhard Struber and particularly Valerien Ismael.
What are more likely to stop them bringing in a seventh consecutive overseas appointment, although it is still possible, are Brexit employment rules and the financial challenges of Covid-19 followed by relegation.
Caretaker Martin Devaney is thought to be under consideration but the process is very much in the early stages.
It is impossible to judge his coaching ability on two games with broken side.
Whoever it is, they need to bring some stability to the club. Asbaghi managed 27 games, Schopp 16, Ismael 44 and Struber 39. Only Stendel has been in charge for a full season under the current owners.
Despite claims of a ‘DNA’ throughout the club, there were significant changes in playing style and personnel caused by all of those appointments.
If they appoint someone new, assuming they do not win tomorrow, they will have had as many coaches in last year as league wins. The chaotic, bonkers, drama-every-other-week circus at Oakwell must stop, and they need to be able to focus on working hard on the training pitch and in the transfer window to make sure this season’s case for being the worst ever is not strengthened by being the start of a disastrous era.