BARNSLEY owner Patrick Cryne, head coach Lee Johnson and board members have some tough decisions to make at Oakwell today.
Do they clear the decks for possible transfer moves next months or stick with the players whose loan spells or whose contracts are coming to an end?
Central defender Kevin Long, back from a three-match ban on Saturday, looks set to extend his loan, from Burnley but the future of others is up in the air.
Decisions must be taken on full-backs free agent Reece Wabara and Aidy White (Rotherham United), midfield man Ben Pearson (Manchester United), winger Lloyd Isgrove (Southampton), and strikers Ivan Toney (Newcastle) and Michael Smith (Swindon).
Interest is also growing from other clubs in Barnsley play-maker Conor Hourihane, though Johnson says it would take a significant bid to capture the Irishman.
On possible additions, Johnson admits he would prefer players who are eligible for the JP Trophy as they are just a northern area final date with Fleetwood away from a Wembley appearance.
“We have got some ideas on how to shuffle the pack if you like and we shall just see if we can get them over the line on Monday,” said Johnson, whose side remain entrenched in the drop zone after failing to complete the double over Wigan.
“At the end of the day, we have loans that can be extended but one or two for sure will go back and we have to decide exactly what route we want to take.”
Even the return of Long could not prevent Barnsley from conceding for a 17th successive game as they were defeated by Andy Kellett’s first-half strike and a late opportunist effort from Dutchman Yanic Wildschut two minutes after coming on.
Long’s inclusion alongside Lewin Nytanga – blamed for not clearing when his partner collided with Alex Revell and the loose ball was collected by Boro loanee Wildschut, who skipped wide of the onrushing Adam Davies before slotting into an empty net – meant there was no place for Alfie Mawson.
The decision to axe the 21-year-old Reds captain against the side they had recently defeated on penalties in the JP Trophy northern semi-final was not meant as a shot across the bow of others, explained Johnson.
“We felt he needed a rest. He has played an awful lot of football, he’s been captain and an awful lot has been thrust upon him. You look at the GPS data, the testing that we do and he has been dipping physically for the last three or four weeks now. We had the opportunity to make sure he comes back over this next spell refreshed.”
That spell takes in a trip to face former Reds chief David Flitcroft’s Bury on Boxing Day followed by the visit of Blackpool, games which Johnson hopes will relieve the pressure.
On Saturday, Barnsley started well against a Wigan side featuring former Reds midfield dynamo David Perkins but Will Grigg should have headed Wigan into a 10th-minute lead but glanced wide before home striker Sam Winnall got under a whipped-in cross from Adam Hammill and headed over.
Wigan took a 19th-minute lead when Michael Jacobs fed the ball through for Kellett to curl it inside Davies’s right-hand post.
Apart from Marley Watkins failing to capitalise on a downward header from Ivan Toney, Barnsley’s response was poor.
They received a let-off soon after the interval when Max Power chipped over Davies but wide and the goalkeeper’s outstretched boot prevented Kellett making it 2-0 as he raced down the middle onto a through ball from Jacobs.
Winnall wasted two opportunities before Wildschut made the game safe and it was only at the final whistle that the Reds support let their displeasure be known.
Barnsley: Davies, Wabara, Long, Nyatanga, A White; Watkins (Williams 66), Pearson, Hourihane, Hammill; Toney (Jackson 75), Winnall. Unused substitutes: Townsend, Mawson, Isgrove, Bree, Abbott.
Wigan Athletic: Jaaskelainen; Daniels, Morgan, Pearce; Love (Chow 75), Power, Perkins, James; Jacobs, Grigg (Wildschut 84), Kellett (Revell 63). Unused substitutes: Nicholls, Barnett, Davies, Hiwula.
Referee: S Stockbridge (Tyne & Wear).
Man of the match: David Perkins.