A look at Barnsley's remaining August games as they aim to build on 7-0 start.
SATURDAY’S 7-0 hammering of Port Vale was a perfect example of how off-field frustrations can be blown away by a good performance on the pitch.
It had not been a straightforward summer from the moment the Reds conceded the winner at Wembley, followed by the exit of key personnel and exasperation from some over their replacements as well as a fairly chaotic pre-season with two cancellations.
But actual competitive football can compound or erase frustrations built up during the off-season.
As the seven goals flew in, away went some of the doubts over the surprise sale of James Norwood – who was losing 4-0 with Oldham at Southend – and the reliance on signings from non-league football, with fine debuts by Kacper Lopata and Andy Dallas.
We can’t get too carried away over one win and there are harder games to come – while the future of key players like Liam Kitching is uncertain – but it was the perfect boost for a side looking to make a strong start, after that let them down last season.
This does not feel like a group of players or staff who will let one superb game make them complacent, instead using it as a high starting point from which they cannot let their standards drop if they want to achieve their end goal of promotion.
Tuesday’s cup loss is largely meaningless in the promotion hunt given how young the squad was.
The first team squad is looking in a good place, given the first league performance and the number of players due back in the coming weeks from injury, suspension and illness.
This may change in the coming games, if performance levels dip, but the final weeks of the transfer window could just be a case of sprinkling some extra quality and depth on the squad, while preparing for any significant bids for their players.
They may be in a position where they can be patient and wait for the final days of the window when more players are generally available.
Kitching is wanted by Coventry but he is contracted for three years and valued very highly at Oakwell.
Callum Styles’ future is also uncertain, but Barnsley might be tempted to accept a substantial bid for players such as Jordan Williams who has a year left on his contract and cover in his position.
If Styles leaves, then perhaps attacking midfield and left wing-back could be strengthened but youngsters Theo Chapman and Charlie Winfield are options in those positions respectively.
Norwood’s exit, although removing proven quality and experience, will give chances to the likes of Dallas, Max Watters and Oli Shaw, while Saturday reminded everyone that they have a top League One marksman in Devante Cole. A tall targetman could still provide a different option in their attacking arsenal if they can find one.
August is usually a tough month for a new manager with a packed schedule of league and cup games while the stressful transfer window is still open.
But there is no sign so far that Collins is feeling that pressure.
He has made a record-breaking start to life as Barnsley head coach and now will look to maintain it.
BRISTOL ROVERS, away, tomorrow
The opening away games of the previous two seasons have seen roughly 1,000 Barnsley fans travel to first Cardiff in 2021 then Plymouth last year.
A similar or even larger number would likely have made a slightly shorter trip to the South West of the UK again, if not for the limit of 500 away fans.
That was imposed due to one of the Memorial Ground stands not being open after late development work, with plans rejected to move the game to Oakwell or call it off.
Although very similar to Saturday’s victims Port Vale in that they finished in the bottom eight last year after promotion, Joey Barton’s team should be an improvement in opposition. They were seconds away from an opening day win at much-fancied Portsmouth and have a series of good attacking threats at this level including ex-Red Luke Thomas.
PETERBOROUGH UNITED, home, Tuesday
Neill Collins has been back in England a few weeks but the fixture list has already imposed on him a series of reunions with his former managers and coaches.
After cancelling a perhaps not-so-friendly pre-season game with Mansfield and Nigel Clough, who froze him out at Sheffield United, he has come up against Port Vale boss Andy Crosby and Tranmere technical director Nigel Adkins who were assistant and manager at the Blades after Clough. The midweek visit of Posh will bring him back in contact with Darren Ferguson.
Collins played regularly on loan at Preston under Alan Irvine in 2009 but, after moving permanently, Ferguson was appointed and barely played him.
The visit of Peterborough – who reached the play-offs last season and are tipped by many to do so again – should be a sterner test than the previous home league match. But the Reds will have Adam Phillips back from his ban.
OXFORD UNITED, home, August 19
The 7-0 massacre of Port Vale made the 4-0 opening day win over Oxford in 2019 look like a nervy narrow victory. This will be the fourth home game in the opening fortnight of the season, which should give Barnsley fans a good impression of their team.
Oxford only just stayed up last season, losing home and away to the Reds. They have been tipped to do better this time but lost their opening match at Cambridge United. Barnsley play at home another five times in September – hosting Grimsby and Manchester City u21s in the EFL Trophy as well as Portsmouth, Burton Albion and Blackpool in the league.
WIGAN ATHLETIC, away, August 26
The Latics came into the season on minus eight points but secured an impressive 2-1 win at promotion favourites Derby County on the opening day.
With newly-promoted Northampton and Carlisle next, they could have a positive points total by the time they start a tough run against Bolton, Barnsley, Blackpool then Charlton. This game will begin an important week for the Reds, and all clubs, as the transfer window closes five days later on Friday, September 1. Barnsley’s away league matches in September and October see them visit Cheltenham, Northampton, Cambridge, Exeter and Leyton Orient which, although long trips and including the Devon club who did the double over them last season, should be a good opportunity for more points.