THE sight of a side in red clinching promotion to the Championship on Yorkshire soil this week has not been lost upon Lewin Nyatanga – nor, you suspect, on Lee Johnson.
Unfortunately, the ones popping the champagne corks were not Barnsley but the duo’s former club Bristol City, who returned to the second tier in the most emphatic way possible by way of a 6-0 drubbing of Bradford City at Valley Parade. They became the first Football League side promoted this season.
While Barnsley’s thoughts were turning to another campaign in League One on the coach back from Nottingham after the 1-1 draw at Notts County, their Bristol counterparts were heading in the opposite direction on the M1, savouring a job well done.
The Robins ended last season in 12th spot after an undistinguished campaign which saw them flirt with relegation before producing a meaningful rally in the final months of the campaign, not too dissimilar to the events at Oakwell in 2014-15.
Johnson may have only been at the club a few months, but accepts that in the round, this season has been a failure for Barnsley, as it has been for today’s visitors Peterborough United. Like the Reds, Posh were expected to be among the division’s movers and shakers when the betting odds were issued last summer.
Both sides will be expecting and demanding better in 2015-16, with the ultra-consistent template of Bristol City the one to follow for the likes of Barnsley and Posh, where Nyatanga spent a short loan spell in late 2010.
Nyatanga, who spent four years at Ashton Gate from 2009-2013, said: “I know a few players there at Bristol City and I was happy for them and I had four great years there.
“It just shows anything is possible with a good group of players, as last season they struggled.
“When you look back at the start of the season and at some of our results, you think ‘wow’. There are games we really shouldn’t have lost or drawn.
“But that’s football and the small margins between failure and success.
“The good thing is if you sort those things out in a season, you can be like a Bristol City and comfortably at the top because they haven’t dropped those unnecessary points along the way. That’s the big difference.
“The margins between failure and success are so small and I am sure Peterborough will also look at the fixtures and think ‘how did we lose points at X, Y and Z’?
“Bristol is a fantastic club and they have done excellent. They have just found something that works for them and it is very consistent.
“The same players play week-in, week-out and they are very good defensively and everyone in the team chips in with goals and that is the difference.
“If you are solid, hard to beat and know you are going to score, you are going to win a lot of games in this league.”
It may have been an up-and-down campaign for Barnsley, but for Nyatanga, after an injury-ravaged 2013-14 which saw him off the field until December, it has been more personally enriching.
The defender has made 42 league starts this term and tops the appearances charts with Conor Hourihane, with the only other Reds player to play over 25 league games being Martin Cranie.
Therein lies a story with the Reds using 42 players this term.
If Nyatanga starts Barnsley’s final three games, it will take his tally in all competitions to over 50, a small personal milestone which he would like to record.
Nyatanga added: “Some people are playing for their futures and it’s about a personal pride and standard.
“You want to play well every game and how you end one season can affect how you start the next.
“If I play the next three games, that’s 51 games and that’s a great standard in terms of what I have set myself. That, for me, is there to go and achieve.
“Last season was definitely one to forget. I made a conscious effort at the start of the season to try and be involved in every game and set standards.
“If we can win the next three games, it will give nothing but positives and good vibes around the place and how everyone feels.”
Nyatanga, whose Oakwell deal expires in June, is among the group playing for their futures although recent comments made by Johnson have suggested he wants to keep the 26-year-old, with the pair ex-team mates at Bristol City.
Nyatanga remains hopeful something can be finalised, with the Burton-born player having been impressed by the professionalism and positivity that Johnson is generating at Oakwell – and believes the club are on the cusp of better times after a difficult couple of years.
The Reds’ head coach is clearly a man in a hurry in his zeal to reverse the fortunes of the club with his planning for next season most definitely underway.
On his own future, Nyatanga said: “I am hoping we get something sorted out. It’s a good club with a lot of belief that next year we can do something good and get out of this league.
“All season, I just concentrate on playing well and when you do that, everything takes care of itself. It always does.
“I have been in this position before and you just keep your focus on playing. As a footballer, whether you have a contract or you don’t, you are judged on performances.
“But when you believe what a manager is taking about and the vision he is bringing, that definitely helps and you can see how the club is moving forward and what it wants next year.
“We don’t want to be in this position, but going for promotion. There’s no secret in that.
“The new manager has brought in a positive outlook in terms of what next season holds.”