The Championship campaign may only be four games old, but new Barnsley signing Jason McCarthy is already looking to prove the doubters wrong.
Reds’ chief Paul Heckingbottom spent the summer rebuilding his squad on a shoestring budget after an Oakwell exodus decimated the Barnsley dressing room.
He has scoured the lower leagues and Premier League reserves to find the class of 2017.
Of the Barnsley side that kicked off last season at Ipswich Town just 12 months ago, Sam Winnall, Conor Hourihane, James Bree, Marc Roberts, Marley Watkins, Alfie Mawson, Josh Scowen, Stefan Payne, Elliot Lee and Ryan Kent have all departed.
The new-look Tykes – not helped by a spate of early-season injuries – have picked up just three points from their opening four games.
This meagre return has hardly challenged those pundits who tipped the Reds to struggle this season.
But right-back McCarthy – a summer signing from Premier League Southampton – has quickly embraced the underdogs tag on which the Reds have thrived under Heckingbottom’s charge.
“We knew it was going to be tough, but we like being the underdogs,” insisted McCarthy.
“We like people writing us off; this club and its teams have had that a lot before.
“It’s been a whirlwind start, probably one everyone expected. It’s a whole new team and squad, a lot of incomings and outgoings, so it’s taken everyone a bit of time to gel, which you would expect with a new team.”
The Reds struggled away to Bristol City and Sheffield United, but impressed at Oakwell, beating Nottingham Forest, and were unlucky not to get at least a point against Ipswich Town.
They will hope to continue that good home form today when Barnsley host Sunderland, who were relegated from the Premier League last term.
“Nothing is going to click straightaway, but we had a really good result at home to Nottingham Forest – some really good performances, too – and we’re really positive, and looking forward,” said 21-year-old McCarthy. “Sunderland is another chance to build on those performances.
“Everyone needs games, everyone needs confidence. A lot of the players are new to the Championship. I am as well.
“We are finding out pretty quickly it’s so unforgiving.
“The game against Ipswich we dominated pretty much the whole of the game, but they had two shots on target and scored two goals.
“We are learning we have got to be clinical in both boxes.
“We have maybe froze a couple of times, but that will go in time and we will get used to the league.
“We are well on our way to becoming a good team in this league.
“We have made big improvements already.
“It’s no time to panic. We already have a win on the board, which a lot of teams haven’t, and there are things to be positive about.”
McCarthy has spent time on loan in League Two and One with Wycombe and Walsall, respectively, over the last two seasons.
He has had to adapt quickly to the hectic pace of the Championship.
“The Championship is a lot quicker. It’s unforgiving,” he said. “I expected it to be frantic, and it is.
“It’s always a bit of a shock to the system when you step up, but I have done all the step-ups now, from League Two to League One and now the Championship. I am looking to jump the next hurdle.
“The gaffer is very level-headed, and that feeds through to us.
“On the pitch, we are relaxed and go out and perform, there is no pressure.
“We are fearless, that is one of our key words – a fearless young squad. What we don’t have in experience we make up for in energy.
“I am quite happy. I think I have done well in the two home games, but the two away games have been really difficult.
“In the first game, everyone was getting used to the league, but it was really quick.
“I like to think I learn quickly, and I am getting used to the surroundings.
McCarthy faces competition for the right-back berth from fellow new signing Dimitri Cavare plus Andy Yiadom, when the latter is fully-fit. He said: “It’s my shirt to lose, because I am the one playing. I need to keep showing the manager I am his first-choice right-back.”
Barnsley hope to sign an experienced central midfielder before the transfer window closes next Thursday.
Heckingbottom, who also wants to bring in Swansea striker Oli McBurnie, needs a midfielder in the mould of Matty James, who impressed on loan from Leicester City last season.
Asked if his recruitment plans were progressing, Heckingbottom replied: “It’s always progressing, but sometimes that progression may be a ‘no’ from someone. You have to then move on. We have a specific area – which we 100 per cent need – and that would help us out. We are working really hard on that.
“But looking at the players now, which we already have in, if we can get everyone fit we have competition for places and can keep rotating the team.
“It’s not only about getting the last bit of recruitment right, but getting everyone fit.”
Today, in Sunderland, the Reds come up against a club Heckingbottom knows well after time there as a player.
Despite relegation, and financial problems, the Barnsley chief believes Simon Grayson’s squad still possess top-flight quality.
“They have good players and a good manager,” he said. “They have come down from the Premier League. Yes, they may have money problems with debt, but what they have still got is a really good squad of players.”