PAUL HECKINGBOTTOM readily acknowledges that he does not know what he is going to get from his Barnsley side at Ashton Gate this afternoon.
A barometer of the change that has taken place at Oakwell this summer comes in the fact that just four of the players who lined up for the Reds in the 3-2 defeat on Severnside 105 days ago are likely to be in the mix for a start today against Lee Johnson’s City.
Barnsley’s summer intake have next to no experience at Championship level, with Heckingbottom preparing himself to learn plenty in the weeks ahead in an unforgiving division which soon exposes frailities.
Given his new-look side’s lack of bona fide nous at this level, equalling or surpassing last season’s finish of 14th – the club’s highest since 2000 – looks an ambitous mission.
It will not stop Heckingbottom striving to do that, but he certainly will not be making predictions.
Heckingbottom, who added Blackpool midfielder Brad Potts to his ranks on Thursday evening, said: “Who knows, I don’t know what these players are like yet.
“The test will come in the league as it is brand new to all the players we have signed.
“You can try and prepare them for it as best you can and speak about it and gauge individuals and tell them what they are going to face.
“But they are not going to know until they appear on that pitch and know what a Championship game is like twice a week. No-one will know.”
Barnsley’s bold front-foot offensive approach yielded fruit and caught several rival teams flat-footed last season, particularly up until February, even if Heckingbottom’s side were guilty of being naive, in his words, at times.
With such a youthful crop, the Reds chief expects more of the same and perhaps even more, but he not be overly castigating them for that.
Heckingbottom, whose side opened up with a 4-2 loss at Ipswich last season, said: “There was no getting away from the fact that we were a good side last year.
“We had lots to learn because we had a lot of young lads in and we were naive at times.
“But that naivety and aggression in terms of how we played got us lots of three points whereas maybe others would have had one point. We want to have that same approach. But we had good players who I had been with for six months before that.
You can try and prepare them for it as best you can and speak about it and gauge individuals and tell them what they are going to face.Barnsley manager, Paul Heckingbottom
“It was just honing what we were all about. We are definitely in a different position than this time last year.”