After Barnsley's 2023/24 season ended in play-off defeat, we review another action-packed campaign at Oakwelll.

A for almost, again

Barnsley finished in the League One play-offs for the second season in a row, but that is where the majority of comparisons to the previous campaign must stop.

They collected ten fewer points than last season and, apart from a brief spell in early 2024, very rarely played with a consistency and style that made them look like promotion candidates.

Their form in the final quarter of the league season was akin to a bottom of the table team, collecting less than a point a game and conceding more than two per match. While opinion is split over whether sacking Neill Collins with a game remaining was right or wrong, allegedly failing to get his planned replacement a work permit appears to be the latest in a series of off-the-pitch gaffes which can give the many disillusioned fans little confidence for the future.

The performance late on at Bolton in midweek at least provide the fans with something to be proud of.

But the Reds now face a third successive season outside the top two divisions. The only other time that has happened since the 1970s was in the early 2000s when the club almost went out of business.

This situation is nowhere near as dire now but the Reds are in danger of becoming stuck in League One, with many of their star players likely to leave this summer and an increasingly tight budget unless they generate money by selling players or the board once again inject millions in equity.

B for bosses

Neill Collins arrived in July from Tampa Bay Rowdies and, 291 days later, was sacked with one league game left and the team in fifth but having taken nine points from 11.

Collins was generally well-liked by those who interacted with him and had some good moments as Reds boss.

But he could not get his team to play consistently well over 90 minutes, while falling behind early and home form were huge unsolved issues before the Reds began to leak an alarming amount of goals as they fell apart in the final quarter of the season, having previously lost one in 20.

His style of play was never as clear or effective as that of his predecessor Michael Duff, whose success last season set huge expectations. They never pressed as effectively – going from making the seventh most interceptions last season to the least in the division – and passed more but often looked ponderous in possession.

Crucially, significant sections of the fanbase were just never convinced and that group became larger and more vocal as the Reds fell from the top two fight and looked set to miss out on the play-offs.

When you do not play particularly well all season and instead rely on character, a bit of luck and individual brilliance, then form can flip very quickly when things go slightly wrong.

Collins had to rebuild after summer departures, experienced some bad luck with injuries and illness while he could have been supported a lot better by the club’s recruitment, and many players fell below their standards of last season.

Despite nine points from 11, and one from five, it was still a shock when he was relieved of his duties after the pathetic loss at Blackpool on April 20. The Reds clearly hoped to immediately replace him which did not work out, so instead put Martin Devaney in charge for the final league game and the play-offs.

The popular former player could not make significant changes from his former boss’ regime in such a short space of time but deserves some credit for managing the team through a chaotic situation and almost stunning Bolton in midweek.

C for club records

Barnsley set club records under Collins for the most away points in a season, 42, and the longest unbeaten run on the road in the same campaign of 11 games.

Their 7-0 win over Port Vale was also their best ever opening day result.

Barnsley did not win any games from behind in the 22/23 season, collecting just three points from losing positions.

This season they took 29 points from losing positions – a club record and the second most in English football behind Premier League newboys Ipswich Town.

They had not come from behind to win in more than two years before their away victory at Reading in December, the first of seven comeback victories in 17 games. Conversely, no side in League One dropped more points from winning positions than Barnsley’s 25.

D for defence

The Reds were always likely to struggle to replace a back three of Bobby Thomas, Mads Andersen and Liam Kitching.

That was initially because a totally new defence, and new goalkeeper after Harry Isted and Brad Collins also left, needed to gel together quickly but also because last year’s back three were far too good for League One.

The absence of Kitching and Thomas robbed them of two athletic and effective defenders but also players who could bring the ball out from the back and join attacks, changing the dynamic of the side.

This year’s defence has been nowhere near as good, and certainly wasn't ready for the Championship.

They conceded four more shots per game than last season and their goalkeepers had to make 60 more saves.

There was a spell in the autumn when the Reds did not concede in five games from open play and, after 33, they had only let in 37 goals which was one of the better records in the division at the time.

But they shipped 27 goals in the final 13 league matches, finishing with 64 conceded – the most in the top half, the most for a top six finisher since 2011 and the highest number they have met in in the third tier since 1964/65. Their most recent clean sheets were at home to Cheltenham in March, at Oxford in January and at home to Lincoln in November. The regular members of the back three made far too many errors while, collectively, the Reds often looked disorganised and poorly-coached especially from set pieces.

A back three of Mael de Gevigney, Donovan Pines and Josh Earl may be solid in League One next season – although de Gevigney and Earl each made a lot of errors recently – with prospects such as Jack Shepherd, Kacper Lopata and Nathan James pushing them.

E for EFL charges

Barnsley are still waiting for the outcome of the EFL charges laid against them on July 13 last year.

The charges include ‘failing to provide the League with correct and/or complete information regarding the beneficial ownership of shares in the club’, ‘allowing individuals to acquire a position of control without prior clearance from the EFL’ and ‘failing to act towards the League with the utmost good faith.’

The alleged offences relate to the time when Paul Conway and Chien Lee – who have also been charged – were co-chairmen, and were brought to the attention of the EFL by the current board.

Chairman Neerav Parekh said earlier in the season he was expecting a resolution in April or May.

F for following up from the Bolton penalty

When Liam Roberts saved Bolton’s Josh Sheehan’s penalty in the 98th minute at Oakwell in March, the Reds could have survived a late onslaught and registered a vital win over a promotion rival.

But no one was alert on the edge of the box to track Randell Williams who had plenty of time to net the rebound and stop the hosts going level with second place with a game in hand. That was the first game in the dreadful 12-match run of results that obliterated their top two hopes and almost cost them a place in the top six. It was also the night that Donovan Pines collected his vital injury.

G for goal-scorers

Barnsley have been frequent scorers all season.

Top-scorer Devante Cole was one of four players to reach double figures for goals along with John McAtee, Adam Phillips and Herbie Kane – the first time that has happened since 1999/2000.

That season is also the only one since the 1960s in which they scored more goals than this campaign’s 82 league goals, while they passed three figures in all competitions with 101.

They netted in 24 consecutive games between November and March.

H for Horsham

Many Barnsley fans may not have heard of the semi-professional club from Sussex before the FA Cup first round draw but will now cringe whenever they hear the name.

There was the double humiliation of first drawing 3-3 at home to a seventh-tier side, who led in the first half, then winning 3-0 in the replay but being ejected from the cup for fielding the ineligible Aiden Marsh. He had been on loan to York City at the time of the first game so, under the rules, could not play in the replay.

That robbed them of a potentially morale-boosting and lucrative cup run.

There was initial talk of reimbursing fans who made the long trip in midweek but that never happened.

H could also be for ‘headers’ with Barnsley scoring the most headed goals in League One this season with 16.

I for injury and illness

Barnsley have been unlucky this season with key players missing large chunks of the campaign. Luca Connell, who was a revelation in defensive midfield last season, fell ill in pre-season and did not appear until November. January signing Donovan Pines made a major impact in just a handful of games, providing character and a physical presence at the back, but then was ruled out for the season. They have also been without Robbie Cundy all season, who would also have been a more dominant defensive option.

J for January

Barnsley’s January window did not strengthen the squad in the way many fans hoped.

They wanted to bring in another striker but missed out.

They did recruit defender Pines who had not played for five months and picked up an injury in his fourth start.

Midfielder Conor Grant came in on loan from League Two club MK Dons, where he had barely started for months, and made just two league starts but was excellent off the bench in the play-offs.

Josh Earl has been a regular starter on the left of the back three but his performances have been a mixed bag, at best.

It must be also said that, for the fifth successive January window, they did not sell a first team regular while they tied teen star Fabio Jalo down to a long-term contract.

K for kit

Barnsley’s 2023/24 home kit went viral when it was unveiled last summer.

The very prominent stars – an homage to the 1989/90 strip – the logo of sponsor US Mobile, and the fade from red to pink then white made it an opinion-splitting shirt to put it mildly. American designer Kid Super, real name Colm Dillane, who knows Reds part-owner Julie Anne Quay, later trained with the first team and gave an expletive-laden press conference in which he said: “For those that hate it, f*** you man’.”

He also said he would have preferred the original sponsor Shaw Carpets to remain on the shirt but: ‘they need to sell more carpets.’

There were real problems with distributing the kits with many fans not receiving them until months into the season.

L for loanees

The Reds, in the second half of the season, had ten players out on loan with mixed results.

Right wing-back Kyran Lofthouse has been a regular starter in MK Dons’ League Two promotion push.

Scottish strikers Oli Shaw, who has been at Motherwell, and Andy Dallas, who was with Kilmarnock in the SPL then Oldham in the National League, have both failed to score and often been substitutes. Jack Shepherd and Kacper Lopata made some appearances for teams who would be relegated from League One. Callum Styles got the Championship football he craved ahead of the Euros but had limited success with Sunderland.

In terms of loans in, goalkeeper Liam Roberts and striker John McAtee have been very popular with the fans. Conor Grant impressed in the play-offs.

M for M5 closed

Motorists on the M5 just south of Cheltenham on the evening of October 7 witnessed a huge blaze on an empty bus.

Seconds before it caught fire, that coach had been filled with the Barnsley players and staff on their way back from a win at Exeter City. Sam Cosgrove noticed the fire then they swiftly pulled over and evacuated with no one hurt.

Thousands of pounds worth of club and personal equipment was destroyed while midfielder Jon Russell left his shoes on the vehicle so had to wear binbags on his feet on the hard shoulder. The Cheltenham team bus eventually picked them up and took them back to Barnsley.

N for no derbies

Barnsley’s shortest trips in League One this season were 55-mile journeys to Derby, Lincoln and Bolton.

Next season they will face relegated Championship clubs Rotherham United and Huddersfield Town.

O for Oakwell

Barnsley Council bought the Cryne family’s half of Oakwell stadium, for a reported £1.7million, making them the sole owners. They also agreed a 30-year lease with the Reds. It was generally met with positive responses from the fans following attempts by the previous co-chairmen to move away from Barnsley. The announcement that the club has applied for safe standing also went down extremely well with most supporters.

But the performances on the Oakwell pitch have been less positive.They finished with the 12th best home form in League One and the 21st best defence record at home, not winning in any of their final seven games there.

Their 5-1 thrashing by Lincoln was the heaviest ever loss at Oakwell in the third tier.

P for penalties

After being given just one league penalty last season, Barnsley won six this time and scored five with Devante Cole missing one against Fleetwood before netting the rebound.

At the other end, Barnsley conceded seven goals from penalties – the most in League One and second most in the EFL – while Liam Roberts saved two against Derby and Charlton.

They also conceded from the spot against Horsham in the FA Cup and Bolton on Friday in the play-offs – both by Jordan Williams who was the chief culprit throughout the game.

They then had a stonewall claim turned down in midweek in the away game.

Q for quality of league

‘It’s a poor league’ was the stock refrain of the Neill Collins critics in the first half of the season when it was pointed out to them that the Reds were picking up more points than a year prior.

Last season, three teams finished on 96 or more points, with Plymouth on 100 edging out Ipswich who have now gone straight up to the top flight.

It is probably fair to say there has been less quality in the division this season.

Many clubs lower down have endured chronic struggles to score, with six netting less than a goal per game.

The quality may increase next season with big-spending Wrexham and Stockport County coming up while at least some of relegated clubs Birmingham City, Huddersfield Town and Rotherham United are likely to be in contention for an immediate return.

Clubs like Charlton Athletic and Wigan Athletic could be much stronger after mid-table seasons.

R for recruitment

Barnsley’s success rate with signings in the last few windows has been getting worse.

It has been particularly concerning in terms of strikers with Max Watters, Andy Dallas and Oli Shaw being given long contracts but barely featuring, while the failure to identify a dominant centre-back was needed in the first half of the season proved costly.

They deserve credit for bringing in loanees John McAtee and Liam Roberts while the likes of Mael de Gevigney and Pines who have potential.

The recruiters, under data expert Malden Sormaz who arrived as sporting director in February, now face a massive summer with much change expected.

S for slow starts

Barnsley conceded 15 goals in the opening 15 minutes of their league games – the most in the division.

At home, in the first quarter of an hour, they let in nine goals and scored one – the worst record in the division.

In early 2024, there was a spell in which they went behind in the first 20 minutes in ten of 16 matches.

They continued to handicap themselves early in games and, once they stopped producing remarkable comebacks every week, that cost them badly.

T for Thalhammer

Austrian Dominik Thalhammer revealed last week that he had signed a contract to become Barnsley head coach in the immediate aftermath of Neill Collins’ sacking only to be denied a work permit under post-Brexit rules.

Although we are yet to hear their side of the story, it is another embarrassing incident for Barnsley who had changed their set-up significantly behind the scenes following a series of gaffes such as the short-lived sponsorship with cryptocurrency HEX, the kit fiasco and Horsham humiliation.

Chief executive Khaled El-Ahmad left mid-season for the MLS with his role being split between new CEO Jon Flatman and Mladen Sormaz who became the club’s first sporting director.

Experienced administrator Ann Hough was also brought in as head of football operations and club secretary.

Director Julie Anne Quay had given an interview to a national newspaper in which she described her reaction to the FA Cup expulsion. She said: “Let’s put some adults in the building. You can’t lead without leaders, smart people who are connected by the right intention.”

But sacking a manager with a replacement brought in before realising he did not have a work permit is exactly the type of mix-up which gives an impression of total chaos behind the scenes at Oakwell.

These mistakes demoralise fans and cannot encourage players, clubs, companies or agents to want to deal with the Reds.

U for USA! USA!

Donovan Pines made his debut in the second half of the win at Fleetwood Town in mid-February.

Having been serenaded as he warmed up by a version of Estelle and Kanye West’s American Boy, including the lyric ‘I really want to get promoted with you’, he entered the pitch to a huge cheer that was repeated every time he headed the ball – which was often.

There were also cries of ‘USA! USA!’ from the fans who seemed suddenly more lively and behind the team than they had been all season.

That continued into the next three games as Pines was an instant cult hero but, after just four appearances, he was ruled out for the season with a thigh injury that required surgery.

The atmosphere in the stands has never seemed to have been the same, until the play-off games.

They also missed him defensively for his size, presence and character.

V for versus the top teams

A league table of the league games between League One’s top six this season would have Barnsley bottom, with nine points from ten games and a goal difference of minus seven.

They improved significantly in those games after losing the first four, at home to Peterborough, Oxford and Portsmouth, as well as at Derby – conceding three in each.

They drew twice with Bolton, once at Peterborough, beat Derby and Oxford and nearly stunned Portsmouth before a late comeback – playing well for the majority of all those games.

Their midweek win at Bolton in the play-offs showed what they were capable of.

W for women’s team

Barnsley FC have had an official women’s team under their umbrella for the first time this season and they are on the verge of winning their league title.

Barnsley Ladies were incorporated into the club last summer, having just gained promotion, and were provided with extra training, facilities and staff.

They could secure first place and promotion on either Sunday or Wednesday then play in a cup final on May 19.

X for Xg

Barnsley were overperforming their Xg, or ‘expected goals’ by up to 12 at times this season, according to trusted statistics website

That was mainly due to, in the first two thirds of the season, some spectacular long-range strikes and Devante Cole scoring the vast majority of his chances.

But followers of the statistical model, which measures the probability of a shot resulting in a goal, will generally say that any side which over performs so drastically is due a loss of form.

That certainly happened with Barnsley in the final quarter of the season.

Y for youngsters

It has been another good year for the academy.

Strikers Fabio Jalo and Aiden Marsh have been semi-regulars on the bench in league games, with Theo Chapman also getting his first league action.

Vimal Yoganathan has played five cup games and signed a professional contract along with fellow highly-rated Wales youth international midfielder Jonathan Bland. There were also debuts in the EFL Trophy for Bland, Nathan James, Mylan Benjamin, Charlie Hickingbottom and Emaissa Nzondo who netted within minutes of coming on aged 17 against Manchester City under 21s. The under 18s did not retain their league title but could still win the play-offs again.

Z for zonal marking

The Reds conceded regularly from set pieces, particularly towards the end of the season when, in theory, they should be tightening up after almost a year of working together.

The same goal kept happening with an opponent drifting into the space at the front post about six yards out to head in a right-wing corner.

They were not being picked up by the players waiting in ‘zones’ near the goal or those tracking runners further out. Even worse was to come in the play-offs with a goal straight from a corner on Friday.