Danny Wilson has already succeeded in attracting a number of promising prospects to Oakwell and no doubt Barnsley FC fans are already debating on the Reds' ability to potentially make a swift return to the Sky Bet Championship.

With the English national team eliminated from the FIFA World Cup, local eyes and attention have very quickly returned to activities closer to home. Danny Wilson has already succeeded in attracting a number of promising prospects to Oakwell and no doubt Barnsley FC fans are already debating on the Reds' ability to potentially make a swift return to the Sky Bet Championship.

Whilst we don't have the answer, we are very fortunate to have gained the insights volunteered from a number of football fanatics who might be in a better position to do so. Over the next week, we look forward to providing a series of posts on this theme and hope to provide our readers with a better flavour of the perils and pitfalls that lay ahead for the Super Reds.

First up, we're delighted to introduce Michael Whitehead, supporter of our local rivals and last season's League One Play Off Winners - Rotherham United. Michael is a regular contributor to the excellent Podcast and Website We Are Going Up on all matters relating to the Millers.

Follow Michael on Twitter.

Can we make it by any means, with a pocket full of dreams? Hear it from New York below.

Prior to the start of the 2013/14 season, how was the RUFC playing squad enhanced to cope with football in League One?

Our midfield was easily the strongest area but Evans chose to bolster it further, Michael Tidser and Robert Milsom both joining from north of the border and winger David Worrall from Bury. Goalkeeper Andy Warrington had been moved on so Adam Collin signed up to provide Scott Shearer with some competition.  Evans is never afraid to do things his way and so it showed when he sent our defender and captain Johnny Mullins packing, knowing that Kari Arnason, Craig Morgan and Claude Davis would be enough.  He was of course right!  The full back positions were strengthened with Richard Brindley and Joe Skarz both adding some pace from the flanks.

I remember that many Millers were looking at our forwards and wondering where the goals might come from.  Ex Reds Danny Nardiello and big Kayode Odejayi had been our summer signings twelve months earlier and both had contrasting fortunes in League Two.  Kayode was never going to be a goal machine but had largely played a supporting role to Alex Revell whilst Nardiello had finished our top scorer.  However to many he wasn't quite the answer and we knew Evans wasn't a big fan of his workrate.  Sure enough in came long-time target Matt Tubbs on loan from Bournemouth shortly before the season kicked off and Nardiello was farmed out to Bury on loan a few weeks later.  Danny Hylton had been signed from Aldershot Town but he was largely an unknown quantity.

Kieran Agard had a super end to the 2012/13 season and so there were reasons to believe we might do OK for striking options.  Plus this wasn't taking into account the threat we had from midfield positions via Ben Pringle and Lee Frecklington.

What was the general mood and expectation of RUFC fans at the beginning of the 2013/14 season?

I think, on the whole, there was a sense that we might be able to surprise a few people.  The manner of how we had gained promotion - 5 wins in 5 to grab 2nd place on the last day after thinking we had blown it - had made the majority of fans believe that the squad Steve was putting together was finally starting to click and show some promise.  Personally I thought we had far too much quality to be involved at the wrong end of the table, that we could reasonably gain a mid-table finish, and maybe with a bit of luck trouble the top ten.  I was mindful that some fans may unfairly expect us to challenge for promotion again being as we achieved it under Ronnie Moore with less resources but I admit I didn't think so myself, mainly because of the massive overhaul of playing staff and reliance on the loan market which I was worried may unsettle things too much.

In your opinion, are there any dramatic differences amongst the mix of opposition that Barnsley FC are likely to face next season. If so, what assumptions can we make?

I reckon, like most 'pundits' will probably say, that Sheffield United (do you lot call them Blunts in Barnsley too??) and Bristol City will take the form of the second half of last season into the next one and should be up there.  Wolves were streets ahead of any team in League One last year - even though we gave them a game on both occasions - but I can't see any topping 100 points this time around.  Coventry, Peterborough and Preston should be ones to watch as well.  Leyton Orient were very similar to us and if they keep their best players might be up there again but I think it could too much to ask.

Out of the three sides to come down I think Barnsley have the best manager - Danny Wilson, whilst he's never got a team up from this level he's got plenty of experience and should know what it takes.

From League Two, Scunthorpe always adapt well after getting promoted and as Barnsley fans will know Keith Hill did well in League One last time with Rochdale and I expect them to be in the mix for the top 10.

Overall, what do you feel are the essential qualities that any team needs in League One to compete in the top third of the table?

It may seem obvious, but if you look at last season's table then it is consistency.  Both Leyton Orient and Rotherham finished on 86 points - which would have beat Doncaster Rovers to the title the season before.

With the exception of Peterborough United who limped their way into 6th spot, the top five teams very rarely dropped points and always seemed to manage to string good runs together at crucial times. For example, the Millers had an amazing sixteen game unbeaten run from New Years Day until April, ending with defeat at Bramall Lane, but our reward was to climb a measly three places from sixth to third.

As with any promotion winning side, an unbreakable team spirit is handy too to battle from the 1st minute to the last.  I was amazed how many times (Wembley included) that I thought we looked dead and buried - only for us to score late goals.

With exception of Brentford and Wolves, which teams did RUFC fans feel would provide the biggest obstacle to securing a Play-Off position.

Being as most of us didn't think we would be competing at the top end until maybe the turn of the year, I will answer this from the perspective of that time period!  Leyton Orient had led the way early on and despite losing at New York had looked a very tidy team with a lot of strength in depth.  Orient were the standard to aim for then (at that time). But as it moved closer to 'squeaky bum time', I think we realised that if we finished above Peterborough and Swindon then we should secure a play-off place; and so it proved.

Given their Premier League parachute payments, did Wolverhampton Wanderers dominate the League in the way that the table suggested? Without them, will League One be a far more level playing field?

It's definitely a 'Yes' to both.  Wolves were frighteningly consistent and imperious at home for much of the season, probably September onwards.  And it wasn't just in terms of winning football matches.  We had Nouha Dicko on loan from Wigan over Christmas who looked to provide us with some much needed potency up front but he was eventually lured by a huge wage packet at Molineux.  I think we also had a good chance of getting Leon Clarke in January as well but Wolves again proved to be too strong a pull.  The Blunts were noticeably weaker from Wanderers snatching Kevin McDonald from them in August too.

Whilst many would look at the New York Stadium and the number of players Rotherham are signing and come to the conclusion that we have tons of money to spend - it's worth mentioning that only Lee Frecklington had cost a fee and so much of the side that won promotion last season was put together by free signings and loan players from Premiership and Championship clubs.  Brentford similarly didn't spend a lot and Leyton Orient scrimped and saved their way to their 3rd place.

In hindsight and despite your promotion (on penalties) in that memorable final at Wembley, what could RUFC done differently to have secured an automatic promotion spot?

It may seem silly when I have said that we signed a lot of players in the Summer - but I think the fact that we had a fairly small squad may have counted against us.  This was possibly done on purpose to create a tight knit group.  But in truth, Brentford - their 3-0 reverse at NYS aside - were just too good and our long unbeaten run in the second half of the season was never going to be sustained.  If we had managed to get Dicko in the January transfer window then things may have been different - particularly as the berth alongside Revell was never successfully filled all season by the various loan stand-ins.  But I wouldn't want to take anything away from Agard who had a terrific season scoring his 26 goals mainly from the right wing.

We wish you the very best of luck in the Championship for next season, but with one look over your shoulder at the teams in the tier below, who do you think will be the top six of the bunch?

Many thanks for the well wishes.  Hopefully Barnsley make it back and we get some more South Yorkshire derbies next year.  I'm not the best at making predictions, but I'll stick my neck out and go with this:

  • Peterborough
  • Bristol City
  • Sheffield United
  • Barnsley
  • Preston
  • Coventry

Who do you think will make the grade this season. Why not put your money where your mouth is and check out the latest odds on the likely candidates for promotiion and relegation in 2014/15 by visiting http://sports.williamhill.com/bet/en-gb/betting/y/5/Football.html today!
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Ian Wilkinson

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mick larkin said...

hope barnsley do it and put chesterfield in their place all the best from a miller