THE MOOD around Barnsley FC and the supporters can very rarely have changed as much from bad to good within less than two days as it did from midnight on Thursday to 5pm on Saturday.
A frantic deadline day evening at Oakwell ended with no new strikers signed – to the disappointment of staff who had been trying desperately to get late deals done and anger of fans who had marked that as a problem area for months.
There was also consternation when it was revealed that Callum Styles, who the Reds are understood to have turned down bids of around £1.5million for previously, was being loaned to Millwall with, according to Oakwell sources, no buy option.
But the Friday announcement of a new contract for Styles added much more context and appeased many, if not all, while the supporters were then united in joy the following day after a 2-0 win at Sheffield Wednesday.
For all the noise that surrounds football – transfers, new contracts, agents, buy-out clauses – the most important thing remains the football.
The Reds produced a wonderful performance to deservedly gain a very rare victory over their bitter local rivals. It was a special afternoon for fans who have seen so little success live in the last few years.
Michael Duff – who is increasingly impressing with his wise words, tactics and level-headed demeanour – rightly says that every win or loss should be prompt a huge reaction about a young team early in a journey. This young side may be inconsistent, and there will be more bumps in the road – they have a very tough match at home to Portsmouth on Saturday – but they have shown they can easily defeat one of the promotion favourites when they are at their best.
There are plenty of questions remaining around consistent goal threat, experience in midfield and cover at left wing-back, as well as why they left so much to be done so late in the window. Those questions will be asked but they seem nowhere near as burning as before the derby win and they may still recruit from the free agent market.
With the window officially closing at 11pm last Thursday, the exits of Michal Helik, Callum Styles and Clarke Oduor, as well the signings of Adam Phillips and Tom Edwards were all announced from 10.30pm onwards.
There were also two deals – a striker and a left-back – which were extremely close but not completed in time and, after appeals by the Reds, they are not expected to be ratified by the EFL.
This summer, they sold or loaned five of their star players from the 2020/21 play-off team for, it is safe to assume, less than the roughly £8million shortfall from relegation which may have to be made up either by cash injections from the board or further sales in upcoming windows.
Clearly they are still hamstrung, in part, by the mistakes of the previous summer which led to relegation and have saddled them with high-earning players who are not playing. It is a transitional period with very little money to spend.
But there has not been a full firesale.
They have kept Mads Andersen and Brad Collins – two relatively experienced and very consistent performers who have proved they are easily good enough for the Championship so should form the basis of a solid League One rearguard.
Players such as Josh Benson and Luke Thomas look to have been re-born under Duff, who is also getting some battling, physical line-leading performances out of Devante Cole which did not seem possible last season.
Duff will look to work more magic on the training pitch now that he knows his full squad and does not have as demanding a fixture schedule.
He did want at least one more striker.
After the window closed, the only Barnsley players who had scored more than two league goals for the club were Cole, with nine – seven of which were in a loan eight years ago – and the frozen-out Aaron Leya Iseka with three.
But Duff must be heartened by the fact that, in the last two games away at promotion favourites Ipswich and Wednesday, they have scored four goals – with strikers Jack Aitchison, Cole and James Norwood netting.
They need to replicate that across the whole season, but part of the thinking in bringing in Phillips and Martin was to increase the quality of chances created for the strikers.
We won’t be able to fully assess the work done in the window for at least a few more games, but Saturday showed Barnsley have some real quality in the team – and the dugout – and the fans could be set for more enjoyable afternoons this season.