SO, BACK to League One we go.
Back to the EFL Trophy, the first round of the FA Cup, no international breaks, a few hundred away fans for most games instead of often a few thousand, and the expectation that Barnsley should be at the top end of the table.
Once the League Two play-off final takes place at Wembley tomorrow, the full line-up of the Reds’ 2022/23 third tier opponents will be known.
With more than half of the teams in the south, there will be plenty of travelling.
The collective mileage to all 23 games – based on the fastest journeys on the AA’s ‘route planner’ – will be about 3,100 miles, almost 500 more than last season.
Barnsley’s only seven trips under 100 miles for league fixtures will be to Hillsborough, Lancashire clubs Bolton Wanderers and Accrington Stanley, and four Midlands outfits.
The Reds will be regular visitors to the South West after Forest Green Rovers, Exeter City and Bristol Rovers gained automatic promotion to join Plymouth Argyle and Cheltenham Town.
They will face Forest Green and Morecambe for the first time ever in league fixtures, Cheltenham for the first time in 20 years, Cambridge United in 30 and Exeter in 40.
The season is creeping up on us.
Some players return to training at Oakwell in ten days, the first friendly is in less than a month, and the first league game is in nine weeks.
There are questions still to be answered about the direction of the club while the crushing disappointment of being two wins from the Premier League – a year ago this week – then slumping into the third tier after the worst season in most fans’ memories will be hard to get over, both for the supporters and the players.
But the departure from the board of Chien Lee and Paul Conway as well as the sale of more than 6,000 season tickets – putting them on track to surpass other post-relegation summers – are positive signs.
The next steps will be the new board speaking to the fans and media in the coming days as well as the impending appointment of a new head coach – with both setting the tone for the season.
There will be pressure on those who now make most of the key decisions at Oakwell. Chief executive Khaled El-Ahmad arrived last September when much of the damage was done, but is now responsible for many of the key decisions to be made this summer.
James Cryne is one of the winners of the boardroom coup with his family making up a large part of the board and the ousted Conway no longer going off-track with rogue signings.
But Cryne’s recruitment department have to perform well, with the budget likely to be extremely limited, and it will be interesting to see whether they tweak their strategy of signing mainly very young players, which left them without experience or leaders last season.
An assumption that the Reds will immediately be one of the strongest sides in the third tier seems far-fetched at this stage, although it is very hard to say without knowing who the head coach will be or what the squad will look like.
Barnsley claim their wagebill would only rank them in mid-table in League One and there are many clubs with large fanbases who will be mounting serious bids to return to the Championship where they believe they belong.
A busy summer of ins and outs is expected at Oakwell which, even if they get the majority of the decisions right, could lead to some inconsistency on the pitch – at least at first. It is likely to be very different season to last time they dropped into the third tier in 2018, when only three new signings were required to add to an already strong squad for League One with which Daniel Stendel broke records on the way to second place.
It would be a surprise if the majority of Cauley Woodrow, Carlton Morris, Callum Styles, Michal Helik, Mads Andersen, Brad Collins and Callum Brittain were not sold this summer. The Reds need to start to plug the £7-8million relegation blackhole but it is unclear how many of the above would have to be sold to make that kind of money.
The market is still recovering after Covid so there are unlikely to be a plethora of multi-million deals. Although there is real talent at Oakwell, their values may well be reduced by the shocking relegation campaign in which most performed far worse than the previous year.
Players such as Aaron Leya Iseka could also be moved on, as will some of the fringe players and last season’s loanees if they are not part of the new coach’s plans. It seems unlikely that, now Conway and Lee have been voted off the board, the Reds will continue to move players from Oakwell to the other clubs owned by the duo.
Romal Palmer and Victor Adeboyejo have been offered new deals but it is far from certain that they will sign. The club have a certain style of play they like to adhere to – high-tempo and high-pressing – but they also need to get the basics right, which they were very poor at last season.
The two sides who gained automatic promotion out of League One this season, Wigan Athletic and Rotherham United, scored the most set piece goals in the division. Barnsley only netted from set pieces in one game last season, and conceded in plenty, so they must make sure the fundamentals are in place and they are well-organised, resilient side – whatever style they play on the ball.
Last season, the Reds badly lacked discipline and organisation from the head coach, and a new boss who rules with an iron fist might be needed to turn them into a competitive and well-drilled unit.
Collecting 80 points in a campaign – the total required to even finish in the top seven in the most recent League One table – is no mean feat at any level. So the Reds must ensure they are aligned in every department to have a chance of bouncing straight back to the Championship.