A look at Barnsley's first full month of the season
AUGUST feels like an important month on and particularly off the pitch for Barnsley’s season as they face a series of tough games while needing to do plenty of good work in the transfer market.
In the 1-0 loss at Plymouth on the opening day, they did not look like a side that could compete for the top six – but it is far too early to know for sure.
During their three-year spell in the Championship which ended in relegation earlier this year, the Reds never started a campaign well.
They won one of their first 16 league matches in both 2019/20 and last season, either side of the 2020/21 campaign when they were winless in their first seven before eventually reaching the play-offs. All three seasons saw a change in manager in the first three months.
Although they have dropped a level, their schedule this time is also tough – with matches in the first six weeks of the season against expected promotion contenders such as Derby, Wycombe, Ipswich, Sheffield Wednesday and Portsmouth.
That should be a good yardstick for how competitive they currently are at this level but, in theory, not an ideal run of games for accumulating precious early points.
If they can win the home games against Cheltenham Town and Bristol Rovers, while giving a much better account of themselves than in Plymouth in the other matches, they will at least start to get points on the board and build some momentum.
The last time they were in League One, they battered Oxford United 4-0 on the first day and set the tone for a promotion-winning season under Daniel Stendel.
This was always going to be a more difficult challenge given the sales of key players in the summer and lack of money to replace them as well as the record-breaking, confidence-killing catastrophe that was last season.
Their work in the transfer market over the next few weeks will have a big impact.
The Reds clearly need to bring in more goals, both up front and from attacking midfielders, while right wing-back is another light area after Callum Brittain’s sale. The central midfield also looks extremely young and inexperienced so an older head in there might be vital.
The signing of Slobodan Tedic might add the physical presence up front which was badly lacking at Plymouth.
But, so far in his short career, he has not been a proven goal-scorer while Michael Duff has openly admitted he will not be a first choice player.
With Callum Styles and Michal Helik likely to join Cauley Woodrow, Carlton Morris and Brittain in being sold this summer, that should clear most if not all of the £7-8million relegation shortfall in transfer fees and wages.
The Reds would then look to keep the rest of the squad together but you never know what other clubs will do in the final weeks of the window and a large bid for someone like Mads Andersen and Brad Collins could tempt them.
By September 1, we should have a clearer idea of the Reds’ prospects this season.
CHELTENHAM TOWN, H, tomorrow
The last competitive games Barnsley fans watched at Oakwell were the humiliating Easter Monday loss to Peterborough, which effectively confirmed relegation, then defeats to Blackpool and Preston with a side of youngsters. They saw just 18 goals in 23 league games at Oakwell last season, the fewest ever in a campaign in the club’s history – returning from behind-closed-doors football to sometimes watching behind-closed-eyes.
This is an opportunity to start consigning that nightmare to history, as it will be the first time the vast majority of supporters watch Michael Duff’s side live.
Although the game comes with plenty of narrative as Duff takes on the club he left this summer in his first competitive Oakwell fixture, Cheltenham are punching well above their weight, financially, just being in the third tier and are among the favourites to go down.
DERBY COUNTY, A, August 13
This will, in theory, be one of the Barnsley’s most difficult matches of the season.
The Rams are in double figures for signings this summer, seven of whom are in their 30s including former Barnsley captain Conor Hourihane and several others with plenty of Championship and Premier League experience.
It is fair to assume the new recruits are arriving on some of the biggest wages in the division, a season after the club was deducted points for breaching financial fair play rules then entered administration from which they have only just been brought out.
Barnsley’s 2-0 defeat at Pride Park in March killed off a mini resurgence under Poya Asbaghi, with both sides eventually going down. Derby started the new season with a 1-0 win at home to Oxford United, thanks to a late Hourihane strike. Three days before this game, Barnsley will have visited Championship club Middlesbrough in the EFL Cup.
BRISTOL ROVERS, H, August 16
Having welcomed his former Cheltenham coach Wade Elliott, now in charge of the Gloucestershire club, in his first Oakwell match, Michael Duff will take on another close friend in his second home game.
Duff and Joey Barton struck up a strong bond during their time at Burnley, whom they took to the Premier League, and by all accounts have remained in regular contact ever since. Barton is less popular with the Reds supporters but was acquitted of the alleged assault of Daniel Stendel in the tunnel the last time he managed at Oakwell in April 2019 as Fleetwood boss.
Whereas the Gas gained promotion from League Two on the final day last season, all Barnsley’s opponents in fixtures around this game are expected to compete for promotion, so there may be some pressure to get three points on this Tuesday evening.
Rovers started with a 2-1 loss at home to Forest Green.
WYCOMBE, H, August 20
The last time the Reds met the Chairboys, in March last year, they won 3-1 in Buckinghamshire to move up to fifth in the Championship where they would eventually finish before missing out in the play-offs.
That was a ninth win out of ten second tier games for Valerien Ismael’s rampant Barnsley and it was unthinkable that they would be in the third tier the next year.
Wycombe went down a year before Barnsley and then lost the play-off final to Sunderland at Wembley in May.
The Wanderers, who have ex-Reds Jason McCarthy and Josh Scowen, began their season with a 3-0 win at home to Burton Albion – the biggest victory of the opening weekend in League One. Ten days after this game, the Reds will complete their August fixtures at home to Lincoln City in the first of their EFL Trophy group games.
IPSWICH TOWN, A, August 27
The second of a series of long trips the Reds will make this season, with the majority of opponents being in the south. The Suffolk club are one of the favourites to go up, with a significantly larger budget than Barnsley which has allowed them to spend relatively big transfer fees this summer such as £1million for Leif Davis from Leeds.
They began with a 1-1 draw at home to Bolton Wanderers.
Forwards Conor Chaplin and Kayden Jackson, should they play for the hosts, may be keen to impress against their former club – as will new Barnsley striker James Norwood.
This will start a huge week for the Reds, with the transfer window due to shut four days later, then a South Yorkshire derby at Sheffield Wednesday on September 3.
They then host another fancied side in Portsmouth on September 10.