David Flitcroft has been named as the new manager of Barnsley after a sterling stint in caretaker charge.
The Lancastrian – who turns 39 today – was by no means first choice, with Sean O’Driscoll and Terry Butcher having turned down the chance to succeed Keith Hill last week.
But Saturday’s 2-0 win over a lifeless Leeds United – when the first ripples of “Warnock, time to go” were sung by visiting fans towards manager Neil Warnock – was a third improved performance in a row and enough to convince the board to let Flitcroft continue the survival fight.
A club statement read: “It is clear that David has the passion, personal dedication and the commitment of the players that are essential if we are to maintain our Championship status.
“To be successful, David will also need the support of the fans and we ask that all those who care about Barnsley FC show unity and get behind David and the Reds.”
It is understood Flitcroft has the job until the end of the season.
Flitcroft had been an isolated figure at Oakwell, with the Reds board leaving him alone as he planned for games while they sought a new manager.
Only owner Patrick Cryne was in regular contact with Hill’s former assistant, and even on Saturday night he was still unsure what the future held.
But with Reds fans leaving Oakwell for the second successive Saturday celebrating a victory, and their first in the League since September 1, Flitcroft’s case was becoming harder to ignore.
This might be his first full-time appointment but he has acquitted himself honestly and admirably, and he appears to have the support of the players as the Reds bid to beat the drop.
“I have found out a lot about myself in the last 10 days. It could change the way I look at myself for the rest of my career,” said Flitcroft after Saturday’s win.
“When you lead a group that’s fully behind you, as it showed when Daggers (Chris Dagnall) came over after the second goal, then that’s encouraging.
“I want the job because those players are playing for me. If I didn’t think they were I would walk away.”
Flitcroft was so heartened by the first-half display against Leeds that he told his players at half-time that he was genuinely excited about it.
That they finished the job in the second half provided the former Rochdale player and assistant manager with one of the highlights of his career.
“It’s right up there,” he said. “It’s a real proud moment. It’s not just about football, it’s about something I’ve achieved.
“As a No 2 you’re never sure if you can step up to the plate, but I’ve had to and I’m enjoying leading a group of players that want to be led.
“And I’m delighted for the fans. It’s a game for the fans and what I loved today was the galvanised spirit between the players and the fans. That’s something we’re going to need at this football club.
“That group of players is fighting for the fans, and the fans appreciated that.”
Conversely, the first mumbles of discontent towards Warnock were heard from Leeds fans as their team surrendered listlessly to an energised Barnsley. Players were booed from the pitch by the near-5,000 fans that followed them down the M1, with the worst vitriol reserved for the manager.
Results-wise, Leeds are not doing too badly, with six wins from their last 10 League games. They also started the Yorkshire derby two places outside the play-offs.
But it is the manner of their away performances that is prompting cause for concern, with the Whites having lost their last four on the road.
Warnock, though, while understanding the frustrations of the fans, is not feeling the pressure.
He said: “Not at all. At this stage of my career you’ve just got to do your best. If people think that other people can do better, then that’s their prerogative.
“I think I’m doing a great job here if I’m honest. We’ve set one or two targets for the next few weeks to bring a couple of decent players in and that would make a difference. We’re quite confident that we can get those players in. Well, I am.”
On the away form, he said: “You can’t blame the fans. They pay their money. We did well at Huddersfield and they appreciated that. They clapped us off and quite rightly so. Then we go to Hull, where we had three or four players out, but we didn’t have that excuse today. We had a strong team out and a couple of lads with the virus (Adam Drury and Danny Pugh) but the team that went out should have done better.
“If we’d competed in the middle then it might have been different. I’ve never seen our midfield as poor as they were in the first half.
“But all credit to Barnsley, it’s a derby and they were up and at us. We couldn’t get started until the second half.”
Warnock felt referee Craig Pawson should have at least penalised Stephen Dawson for a lunge on Ross McCormack in the build-up to Barnsley’s first goal, questioning the experience of the official for such an important game.
But as the transfer window enters its third week, he has more pressing concerns with top scorer Luciano Becchio’s performance at Oakwell leading to questions about whether the Argentinian’s head has been turned.
Warnock said: “He wasn’t his usual self. It’s that time of year I’m afraid where agents put a lot of things in people’s minds and managers have to deal with it.
“If someone’s turning his head I’ll find out. For a couple of weeks, that’s what we’re up against.”
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