2016-17: Barnsley have no worries as they embark on Championship adventure

Coach Paul Heckingbottom turned around Barnsleys fortunes last season, taking the team up to the Championship after a Wembley double
Coach Paul Heckingbottom turned around Barnsleys fortunes last season, taking the team up to the Championship after a Wembley double
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THE CHORUS of Bob Marley’s classic Three Little Birds song so beloved by Barnsley supporters should take on an extra resonance at Oakwell this season.

Given last term’s staggering events which represented the Football League’s equivalent to those crazy, wonderful happenings down the M1 at Leicester City, do not expect the Reds faithful to ‘worry about a thing’ in the words of the Jamaican legend’s smash hit over the next nine months.

The fear and deep-seated anxiety was reserved for the dark autumn and early winter of 2015 when fans were bracing themselves for the spectre of unglamourous road trips to the likes of Morecambe, Stevenage and Newport County in 2016-17 instead of forthcoming visits to Newcastle United, Aston Villa and Sheffield Wednesday.

That perspective from just eight months ago, when the Reds were ensconced in the League One drop zone and the prospect of promotion represented a wholly incredulous prospect, is not lost upon Paul Heckingbottom either.

The Championship may look particularly teak-tough and overloaded with footballing powerhouses this season, but compared to life in football’s basement, it is a cakewalk.

Heckingbottom, whose introduction to the head coaching game has been of the dream variety with two Wembley successes already decorating his CV, is the first to acknowledge that second-tier football is a wonderful bonus.

While he is pragmatic regarding Barnsley’s prospects this season, neither is he daunted either and so he should not be given the irresistible momentum that the joyous Reds generated from Christmas onwards.

Heckingbottom said: “You cannot turn the Championship down. With all ‘this year too early’ nonsense, it really is a load of rubbish.

“You cannot look a gift horse in the mouth and must go and seize it and take every opportunity and grab it.

“Literally at the final whistle at Wembley after the play-off final, I was speaking to Patrick (Cryne – owner) about keeping the team and staff together as that is your building block and base and that team can surprise a few people.

“We used to be the team with the longest record in the Championship. But the Championship now has moved forward at a hell of a pace and there were something like only six teams last season without parachute payments from the Premier League.

“It is not a level playing field. But we know that and embrace it and aim to keep building.

“If the worst did happen, we would be in a better position in League One.

“We have to be pragmatic about it, but it does not mean we cannot aim high and aim to stay up.”

Barnsley’s recruitment has been showcased by the signings of two of last season’s stand-outs from League One in the sought-after duo of George Moncur and Tom Bradshaw, with significant fees forked out to land the pair, despite plenty of interest elsewhere.

Both supplement a relatively young, talented and hungry core of Reds stars who lit up the third tier in the second half of last season, with a clear theme developing.

In many respects, even accounting for the capture of the aforesaid pair, it is who the Reds retained as opposed to who they brought in which would always represent the crux of the matter ahead of their second-tier return.

The fact that the ‘family silver’ of Sam Winnall, Conor Hourihane and Alfie Mawson are still at Oakwell, despite rival interest, is perhaps as significant as any incoming transfer, with Heckingbottom having sagely alluded to the fact that all have something to prove at this level – and have the perfect current stage at Barnsley.

He added: “They are starting a journey and probably any Championship club or higher who are bidding for our players are probably thinking that as well.

“But let’s have six months in the Championship and see how good they are.

“I am pretty close with them and the relationship will not change.

“I will still be honest and truthful and that way, they respect what you are saying.

“When I am telling them how much they are good players and how their careers will develop better here with us, they know I am telling the truth.”

Common-sense utterances from a straight-talking Barnsley lad.