BARNSLEY appear to be, generally, in a decent place with a month remaining before the season starts – although there is plenty of important work to do.

They have their coaching staff sorted earlier than last season, with the appointment of Darrell Clarke far less risky and more popular than Neill Collins from Tampa Bay.

There seems to be a less chaotic pre-season schedule and more clarity in what is needed in terms of recruitment.

Obviously they need at least a goalkeeper, left-back and striker to fill gaps left in the squad by the departure of their four top appearance-makers from last season – and then make further tweaks towards the end of the window.

There had been panic in the fanbase over the lack of transfer activity, with the majority of League One clubs being more busy than the Reds – some much more so like neighbours Rotherham United.

But last season’s goalkeeper Liam Roberts didn’t arrive until July 18, then was excellent in the opening months, while one of their best players John McAtee came in after the season started.

There are still eight weeks until the transfer window shuts and four until the season starts – an awfully long time in football.

It is fair to say League One looks tougher and more brutal than ever with the teams added to it, from above and below, plus others strengthening from mid-table.

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But Barnsley have consistently shown they can finish in the top six and there is no clear reason at the moment to doubt they will do so this time.

There is plenty of quality in the squad already, if everyone is fit, and three or four really good additions will turn them into a promotion-contender yet again.

As always with Barnsley, there is a danger that a club will come in with a huge offer and take a key player later in the window – something that still feels possible despite their repeated talk of ‘silly money’ being needed.

There is also pressure on the recruitment team to be near perfect, while trying to bring in a few high-quality players rather than a raft of options or future prospects, and on the coaching staff to get more out of those who struggled last season.

Change of approach with return of popular and experienced promotion-winning pair

With Conor Hourihane and Marc Roberts coming in, Barnsley have signed as many players in their 30s in the last month as they had in the previous nine seasons – with James Norwood and Matt Mills the others since 2015.

It is a significant U-turn after years of only signing players aged 25 or under, although that policy has been slowly relaxed in recent seasons as they aim for a more balanced approach.

Roberts and Hourihane are hugely popular from their first spells and were excellent performers for the Reds, helping them get promoted to the Championship then staying at that level for many years.

They will inject a wealth of experience that has been lacking at times in recent years, especially when the promotion challenge unravelled earlier this year, as well as some excitement around the club and fanbase.

While player/coach Hourihane has admitted he will probably not play much, Roberts has been brought back purely to be a defender.

It remains to be seen how he will perform in League One as he heads into his mid-30s but he certainly adds strength in depth and experience after the team conceded more than 80 goals in all competitions last season.

They also have Donovan Pines – now fit after injury restricted him to just four appearances last season – as well as Mael de Gevigney and Josh Earl, who had mixed first campaigns with the Reds but should be competent League One defenders in the right set-up.

Then there are last season’s loaned-out trio Jack Shepherd, Conor McCarthy and Kacper Lopata as well as highly-rated youngsters such as Nathan James. Some of those players are likely to move on due to a lack of gametime.

Last season, Barnsley badly lacked a physical presence in the defence, continuing the failed experiment of using Jordan Williams in the back three. Roberts and Pines should solve that problem.

They also made too many individual errors and were poor collectively as a unit – especially from set pieces.

Clarke must iron out those issues on the training pitch, something which his predecessor could never do.

Where are the goals coming from?

Barnsley need to be much better in their recruitment of strikers than in recent windows.

Although John McAtee impressed on loan, the majority of their permanent signings up front in the last few windows just have not worked – sewing some seeds of doubt about the data-driven model which previously brought success.

They need at least one striker who must be a serious success if they are to compete for promotion. After Andy Dallas and Oli Shaw were off-loaded in recent days, the Reds still have Sam Cosgrove and Max Watters as well as academy products Fabio Jalo and Aiden Marsh.

That quartet has 12 league goals for the club in 25 starts and 88 substitute appearances.

Cosgrove’s three goals in the play-offs must be a platform for an excellent second season at Oakwell, with the team playing a style which suits the towering targetman.

Jalo, still 18, is a phenomenal talent who will look to become more than just an impact substitute in the coming campaign if he remains at the club with interest in the Portugal under 19s international.

Watters has struggled badly so far as a Barnsley player, finishing last season in the under 21s and looking low on confidence.

But he signed a three-year deal, with a club option to keep him for another year, just last summer on decent wages for the level so they have little choice but to hope that Clarke can get more out of him than Michael Duff or Neill Collins did.

He will have to play considerably better but, in a more direct system which allows him to get in behind defences more often, he could improve.

Adam Phillips will probably need to hit double figures again if he stays, while Conor Hourihane – should he get regular time on the pitch – has also scored goals and will significantly improve the set piece threat.

Opening fixtures will be challenging for Reds

Last week’s fixtures reveal gave us plenty of narrative in the early weeks of the season.

Not only are the first opponents, Mansfield Town, Darrell Clarke’s hometown club where he began as a player, but they have also defined his managerial career – relegating his Bristol Rovers to non-league football in 2014 then being beaten in the League Two play-off final eight years later by his Port Vale side.

Barnsley’s opening away league games are at Lincoln City and Crawley Town, two clubs who dished out humiliating 5-1 beatings in the last meetings with the Reds.

They also make early trips to Stevenage, where they went twice last season but only played one and lost, Burton and Blackpool – where the away end really turned on Collins – and Michael Duff’s Huddersfield, all before November. A festive period that brings trips to Bolton and Peterborough then a home game with Wrexham on New Year’s Day looks crucial as do back-to-back derbies with Rotherham and Huddersfield in February.