Barnsley FC must learn from mistakes of last play-off campaign - Stuart Rayner
It was only by the narrowest of margins, but their 1-0 defeat to Sheffield Wednesday – courtesy of a brilliant Josh Windass diving header in stoppage time of extra-time in the League One play-off final – means they will remain in League One next season.
But some Championship-level performances from many of their key players will have second-tier clubs sniffing around both them and manager Michael Duff, who has been linked with the vacant job at Huddersfield Town.
"Certain things we will control and certain things we can't," reflected the Reds’ chief executive. "We will do our best to keep Michael and also have the best possible team to compete next season.
"If you watched us today and I was a Championship club, there's 11 players I would go and try to get."
This has the potential to be a really pivotal summer for the Reds. With James Norwood their only over-30, this is a squad which should really only get better after learning from the experience of this season, where they beat two of the three promoted teams and drew at Ipswich Town.
But keeping a winning formula in one piece is easier said than done. Selling their in-demand figures an ambitious plan and delivering on it will be essential.
If losing your best players (and coaches) is a price of success in football, it is an even bigger factor for those who fall just short.
Good players leave football clubs to further their careers and the lower down the food chain you are, the greater the chance.
Contracts are one thing, but keeping influential characters when they agitate to move is a risky business. Captain and centre-back Mads Andersen stayed loyal after the 2022 relegation from the Championship and therefore could do again, but proved throughout the campaign he is worthy of a higher level. This is the last season the Reds can demand a transfer fee of him before his contract expires.
If Barnsley do lose key players or particularly Duff, they cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of two years ago
Then, Valerien Ismael took them to the fifth in the Championship but was poached by West Bromwich Albion, Daryl Dike and Matty James's loans came to an end, Alex Mowatt's contract expired, Conor Chaplin was sold and the replacements were not up to scratch. Markus Schopp, overlooked for the head coach's job in the past, was a big downgrade on Ismael, Obbi Oulare and Aaron Leya Iseka were catastrophic investments and only the latter and Josh Benson were bought.
A Championship play-off campaign was followed by Championship relegation, more damaging than Duff’s excellent rebuild made it appear.
The top half of League One is fiercely competitive, so it is essential Barnsley build on Duff's great work, preferably with him still at the helm. But so much good has been done in the last 12 months it cannot be squandered as Ismael's legacy was.