September 2013
It’s an age old expression that floods the media at the start of the season. The perennial strugglers, often faced with tough starts against the teams expected to be in the mix at the end of the season, are always told that ‘their season starts here’ come the arrival of a winnable fixture.

And Barnsley fans, full of optimism, might have expected a much stronger start to the season after last season’s thrilling climax. However defeats to Wigan, Blackpool and Blackburn, and a draw to Charlton in the League were not the start Barnsley had hoped for, with the Reds’ Capital One Cup campaign no sign for optimism either, having drawn to recently relegated Scunthorpe, and being thrashed 5-1 by Southampton.

With a defence leaking goals left, right, and centre, and a mis-firing strike force, early optimism was soon quashed, and many fans believed that this was the start of another long, hard season in the Championship.

But the saying ‘the season starts here’ might hold true more than ever after Saturday’s game, and recent dealings at Oakwell.

Scott Golbourne

Dubbed by David Flitcroft as one of the best left-wing-backs in the Championship, Scott’s campaign was cut short by injury last season, after a flurry of impressive performances in a 3-5-2 formation which might have seen him win the Player of the Season award, minus his injury last year.

However, his return to the side this season has been met with mixed reviews, and needless to say the defender struggled to find the form which made him a fans’ favourite in the previous campaign.

Wolves’ bid two weeks prior to his eventual departure might have been the reason for a lack of form heading into the campaign, and therefore, with a year left on his contract, it seems that the Reds’ new hierarchy deemed the best option to be to sell the player to Wolves, earning a rumoured £700k in the process.

Scott’s departure was compared by many to the alleged offers received last season for Matt Done and Jim McNulty, mooted to be around 500k - with Matt Done leaving Oakwell last season on a free to join up with Keith Hill again at Rochdale, whilst former Captain McNulty has fallen well down the pecking order at Oakwell, despite signing a 1 year deal recently.

Scott is not without replacement however, with youngster Reuben Noble-Lazarus taking his place on Saturday and putting in an impressive performance, and Tom Kennedy also providing an option down the left side.

The Reds were however rejected in a move for Leeds full-back Aidan White, who might have been seen as a natural replacement for Golbourne, therefore David Flitcroft may opt to do some business in the loan market, or stick with Noble-Lazarus following his impressive display.

Squad Harmony

Needless to say, the squad appeared much more harmonious on Saturday, which may have been down to a mixture of Golbourne’s departure and Mellis’ exclusion, who has also struggled to find form this season amid rumours of an exit to newly-promoted Crystal Palace.

The midfield trio of Etuhu, Perkins and Dawson appeared to work well, with Dawson taking the Captain’s armband for the fixture. Mellis did gain an appearance from the bench, and appeared brighter in his brief stint in the game. Now that the transfer window has slammed shut, Mellis will be able to get his head down and find the form that attracted Premier League interest in the first place.

Late Transfer Dealings

Another departure that Flitcroft must have deemed an improvement to the squad was that of goalkeeper Ben Alnwick, who has just joined Charlton after having his contract terminated by the Reds. After losing his place to Luke Steele at the start of last season, Ben has at times struggled to make the bench, and has had limited outings in pre-season.

At one time it looked like Alnwick might have been the man to to replace Steele, should he have rejected his contract, but it appears that the Reds were keen to get the goalkeeper off the wage bill, having recently swooped for veteran Mike Pollitt from Wigan Athletic, who has replaced Steele in net for the past 2 games.

Despite doubts over his age and conceding 5 goals in his debut against Southampton, Pollitt impressed against Huddersfield, only conceding following a mistake from Jean Yves M’voto that allowed James Vaughan to pop-up in the box and slot past the Barnsley goalkeeper. Pollitt’s arrival has been seen as a relief by Luke Steele, and his control on crosses and experience in organising a defence certainly helped in defending against Huddersfield’s late onslaught.

Barnsley added further experience to the defence on deadline-day with the capture of Peter Ramage from Crystal Palace on a season-long-loan deal. The 29 year-old has plenty of experience in the Premiership and Championship with Newcastle and QPR, and will add plenty of steel to the defence in place of absentees Lewin Nyatanga and Martin Cranie.

The Season Starts Here

The Huddersfield game put right a lot of wrongs and provided a good platform for the team to build on this season. The defence looked solid, particularly in the latter stages when phased with an all-out attack from Huddersfield, and our strikers finally found their feet.

Pedersen and O’Grady combined well, and the Norwegian looked like a genuine striker, with composure on the ball and the confidence to shoot on sight of the goal.

With Cranie and Nyatanga expected to return from injury, and a few players set to finally find their feet, Barnsley fans can be much more optimistic looking ahead.

Though the first few results were a shock to the system, I don't think that they will set the tone for another season of doom and gloom. However, I do think they provided a slight reality check for those expecting us to romp the league.

Where will we finish? I’d predict around the 16th place mark, with a couple of outstanding results along the way and a platform to build on for the next season. People will claim that we've been waiting for a platform for too long and have languished in the bottom half for too long now. However, our new management team at both board and pitch level need time to adjust to the Championship.

Barnsley needs a culture change and this will take more than one season. We've already seen transfer dealings handled in a much more professional way and I expect this to continue under Ben Mansford. As Barnsley Football Club finally adapts to the business demands of the Championship, I expect that if the fans engage with the club and vice versa, it could become a powerhouse in the division as financial fair play bites, and the mighty begin to fall.