A YEAR ago tomorrow, Barnsley were relegated from the Championship having endured one of the worst seasons in their history.
They produced the latest in a series of inept performances in a 2-1 loss at Huddersfield Town to confirm a relegation which had been obvious for months, under the hapless Poya Asbaghi who was sacked later that weekend.
That same night, AS Nancy – the French club owned by then Reds co-chairmen Paul Conway and Chien Lee – also dropped into their third tier with the match abandoned due to flares thrown onto the pitch.
After three more despondent losses, Barnsley ended the season with the fewest points and goals for more than half a century, while they became the first team to go from the second tier play-offs to finishing last in successive seasons.
Fast-forward a year, and it feels like a different club as the Reds chase an immediate return to the second tier.
Lee and Conway were ousted from the board weeks after the drop which – followed by the appointment of an excellent head coach in Michael Duff – helped to unify everyone at Oakwell, start to bring the disillusioned fans back onside and, after an indifferent start, they are the form team in the division over the last five months.
They are certain to finish in, at worst, the play-off places with automatic promotion still an outside possibility if they post a points tally well into the 90s.
If they win tomorrow, they will have won nine consecutive home league games in the same season for the first time since 1914/15.
They could still equal a club record for home victories in a season if they win their remaining three at Oakwell.
Tomorrow’s visitors Oxford United have also seen a dramatic change in fortunes, but in the opposite direction as, after several successive promotion challenges, they are in relegation danger.
When the Us gained a controversial 2-1 win at home to Ipswich in January – with both managers saying the game should have been abandoned due to fog before the late winner – they were tenth, 11 points above the relegation zone and eight behind sixth-placed Barnsley.
But that is their most recent victory as, over the last three months, they have failed to win any of their 16 league games. That leaves them one point and one place above the relegation zone.
They have scored twice in eight away games.
Oxford sacked Karl Robinson, who had been in charge for five years, in late February after a run of one point from eight games.
After losing both games under caretaker Craig Short, they appointed Liam Manning last month who took MK Dons into the play-off semi-final last season but was sacked in December with them in the relegation zone.
Manning – who worked with Reds chief executive Khaled El-Ahmad at New York City FC – has so far drawn five and lost one of his six games.
Liam Rice of the Oxford Mail said: “The situation as the Us enter their final four games of the season couldn’t be more far removed from the play-off pushes and campaigns in recent seasons.
“Since sacking Karl Robinson and replacing him with Liam Manning, the Us have been a tougher team to play against – and in the past couple of games a more adventurous side.
“But the lack of goals remains a huge worry as they attempt to remain in the third tier next season.”
The Reds won 2-1 at the Kassam Stadium on February 1, with Bobby Thomas and Nicky Cadden putting Barnsley 2-0 up before they were put under as much pressure as any side has exerted on them this season late on.
Barnsley midfielder Herbie Kane spent last season on loan to Oxford when they just missed out on the play-offs, having lost in the semi-final and final the previous two seasons.
Reds centre-back Robbie Cundy is from Oxford and was released from their academy as a teenager.
The two clubs have played 26 times, with Barnsley winning 13 and losing seven.
The four meetings in the 21st century brought three wins for the Reds and a draw.
Oxford have only won once in 12 games at Oakwell, in 1993, while they have lost ten including 4-0 in their last visit on the first day of the 2018/19 season.