UNLIKE their counterparts at Manchester United, Barnsley supporters have yet to break out into a chorus of Herman’s Hermits’ classic Sixties hit of I’m Into Something Good to convey their well-being at events so far this season.
But while an inspection of the current Championship standings would not lead many Oakwell devotees to break out into song, manager Paul Heckingbottom insists that the overall mood music is harmonious and good.
Off the pitch, the Reds are in advanced takeover talks with a consortium including Chinese businessman Chien Lee, American investor Paul Conway and ‘Moneyball’ baseball executive and Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane – with the likelihood being that the deal will be completed shortly.
On it, Heckingbottom believes that the Reds’ current placing of fourth from bottom is somewhat misleading, with the best comprehensively yet to come from a squad who have travelled a considerable distance since some tough times in pre-season.
Barnsley may head into this evening’s game on the back of three successive defeats in all competitions, but Heckingbottom has taken solace from aspects of his side’s performance levels in each reverse.
Compared to some dark times at the start of the season, the Reds have travelled a fair way, according to Heckingbottom, who is also acutely aware of his team’s epic journey since an eye-opener of a pre-season training camp in Hungary when his patience was sorely tested.
He said: “For a turnaround of 17 players going out and 17 coming in to where we are now, I am pleased. It has got to be the start of something and it will be.
“We will keep working hard and the players have done great and are responding well. But we know we have to get better and keep pushing.
“I know if we carry on in the way we are, points will come. In the last three games, we have played (Aston) Villa, Spurs and Wolves and I don’t think we are going to play three bigger teams in a row again in this season.
“We acquitted ourselves well in every game. There are lots of positives in each of the games. I am learning every day about the players and we are in front of where I thought we would be, I will be totally honest.”
For a turnaround of 17 players going out and 17 coming in to where we are now, I am pleased. It has got to be the start of something and it will be.Barnsley boss, Paul Heckingbottom
Assigned with assembling a new team and squad pretty much from scratch this summer, the smart money was always on Barnsley being a work in progress for certainly the opening third of the campaign and so it has proved.
Results may have been modest so far, but Heckingbottom is adamant that core foundations are being laid, with his squad now much more fit for purpose and team ethos, understanding and togetherness being honed by the week.
On that progression from pre-season, the Reds chief added: “You look at the group who went to Hungary and we played one game there with no centre-forwards as we didn’t have the personnel. It was a wasted game with four at the back and six in midfield.
“They were the problems and frustrations in pre-season. We did not get the recruitment done to the level we needed until after the season started.
“I lost my head in one training session in Hungary and by the end, I walked off and thought: ‘We are miles away.’ I went off and Claps (Jamie Clapham) just finished it off and I started writing things down in terms of ‘what do we need?’, ‘how do we need to get there?’ and ‘what do we need to do?’ on and off the pitch. Everything. I could not let the frustrations get the better of me, so I could pass them onto people. That was a big moment.
“Now we have got the group and the boys who have been here from the end of June have been working and working and getting better and better. Those who have come in late are trying to catch up, but have added to the squad and made us better.”
Barnsley may be concerning themselves with the new, but a reminder from their recent past comes tonight in the shape of returning midfielder Josh Scowen.
Heckingbottom is confident that the QPR man will be afforded a good reception, despite his decision to run down his contract and leave for nothing in June – with the Reds chief feeling that he may have stayed in an ideal world.
On Scowen, who scored a late Reds winner against his new club at Oakwell last term, Heckingbottom added: “He was cheering us on at Wembley last week. I will be happy to see Scowy; he is a good lad and I like the way he plays.
“His contract ran out, that is it. Once it had gone on so long, he knew he had better options. I know Josh would have liked to have stayed; he enjoyed it here.”
Last six games: Barnsley WDWLLL; QPR LLWDLD.
Referee: G Eltringham (Tyne and Wear).
Last time: Barnsley 3 QPR 2, August 17, 2016; Championship.