A look at the key issues for Barnsley FC midway through the January transfer window.
IT HAS been far from an ideal start to 2023 for Barnsley FC.
They have lost all three games this year and are yet to score, while their injury list seems to lengthen by the game.
They finished 2022 looking up hopefully at the top three but now are glancing nervously over their shoulder as the sides outside the top six get closer.
There is no need to panic yet as Michael Duff’s side are still in the play-off places with games in hand on most clubs around them.
The performance at Charlton, while very frustrating due to the missed chances, was a marked improved on the cup loss at Derby.
A win at home to lowly Accrington Stanley tomorrow – though far from a given – would make the big picture look much rosier going into long trips to Exeter City, Oxford United and Portsmouth.
Off the pitch, the Reds seem to be doing swift and sensible work in the transfer window with the gaps at centre-back and right wing-back plugged quickly this week following the arrival of a much-needed new striker.
Like with every window, we will only truly know how good the business is once the new players have been involved for a few weeks or months. But, if the new arrivals can improve the squad, they can add perhaps one more good signing, and no first team stars are sold – then they will have done as much as anyone could have realistically expected in this window.
Here is a look at the key issues:
ANOTHER STRIKER COULD ADD FINAL TOUCH
One more striker is likely to be the main priority in the remainder of the transfer window, although Michael Duff appeared relaxed about new signings in yesterday’s press conference.
Max Watters – who arrived on January 5 – netted seven goals in 14 for a promotion-chasing MK Dons in the third tier last season and a similar return would be very helpful for the Reds. He is expected to add pace to the attack, while someone who provides physical presence and an ability to hold the ball up well would also improve the attacking options.
Slobodan Tedic could add that if he returns from injury soon as expected.
But goals are the main requirement.
Clearly failing to net so far in 2023 is a concern. The Reds will hope that, after hitting the crossbar with two of their 23 shots on Saturday, they are creating enough and just need a bit more luck and clinical finishing – potentially from new signings.
None of the top six in League One this season have really prolific scorers who look certain to get into the 20s for league goals.
Former Barnsley striker Conor Chaplin is the only player with a top six club who has reached double figures.
There are not many around this season in the third tier who will carry a team on their own so Barnsley are not alone in probably relying on a handful of players getting about ten goals each.
WILL RE-MODELLED DEFENCE BE AS STRONG AS BEFORE INJURIES?
When Tom Edwards blocked a cross on the edge of his penalty area in the 40th minute of Barnsley’s FA Cup loss at Derby County last week, the Reds’ transfer plans had to change.
The Stoke City loanee – who had impressed on the right of Barnsley’s back three – span and landed awkwardly, sustaining medial ligament damage in his knee which has ended his loan. That – along with the less serious injury to Robbie Cundy – left Barnsley extremely low on defensive cover so they moved quickly to bring in Bobby Thomas from Burnley, having not previously planned to sign a centre-back.
Thomas, Mads Andersen and Liam Kitching are now the only fit centre-backs. Jordan Williams can also play in the back three, with Barry Cotter his back-up at right wing-back.
It is a position in which they are considering recruiting if they can find the right player.
Barnsley still have one of the best defensive records in the division but have let in eight in their last three and not kept a clean sheet in five. It remains to be seen whether they can find the solidity at the back they had through most of November and December with a re-shaped back line.
REDS MOVING QUICKER THAN IN PREVIOUS WINDOWS
There was hope this window would be different to the last two in which the Reds made several signings in the final hours of deadline day, still missing out on an arrival in a position where they were light.
That has been the case this time with Max Watters arriving on day five then Bobby Thomas and Barry Cotter also coming in around the halfway point in the month.
The search for further players may yet to go down to the final hours but, with fewer deals ongoing, they would rather focus on getting the right one later than someone else sooner.
There was some disgruntlement in the fanbase when it was revealed that Watters was not fully match-fit and ready to start.
But there are not many, if any, strikers with a decent goals record at this level who were available within Barnsley’s budget and totally match-fit.
We are three weeks – and three games – into the window and new signings have played 26 minutes between them, with Watters’ substitute appearance at Charlton.
Both he and Cotter had signed having not played since the opening weekend of November.
But there are more than 20 games left in the season and both should be fit to play in the vast majority.
FIRST JANUARY SALE SINCE 2019 WOULD BE BIG BLOW
Barnsley have not sold a first team player in a January transfer since 2019 when Preston North End broke their transfer record to recruit Brad Potts.
That did not derail the League One promotion push under Daniel Stendel, with Jacob Brown proving a very capable replacement, but the sale of someone like Mads Andersen or Jordan Williams this window could be a major blow.
All the noises out of Oakwell are that they believe they will keep their captain and the other first team players.
But a bid in excess of a £1million – roughly what they sold several players for last summer – might provide a test of the board’s resolve as they try to balance the books and maintain a promotion challenge.