PAUL HECKINGBOTTOM will probably not need to be told twice that the hard work really does start now for Barnsley.
After their compelling feats over the best part of 14 months, it was perhaps inevitable that the Reds would experience a drop-off at some point, with a run of one victory in their past 10 outings providing a reality check to what had often spectacularly gone before.
Thankfully, it should not affect what many viewed to be the primary aim at the outset of 2016-17, survival and consolidation in the Championship, with the Reds’ current position of 11th – 10 points above the drop zone – being comparatively healthy.
But equally, the form serves as an early warning of the challenges ahead for Barnsley, with Heckingbottom and the club faced with a major rebuilding job after travelling at a fair rate of knots since Christmas, 2015.
The Reds head coach, whose exploits have seen him linked with moves to other clubs, most notably Norwich City, is both ‘front of house’ and the ‘goods entrance’ at the back.
Alongside the need for results in the short-term, Heckingbottom is conscious of the medium-term requirements slightly further down the line – building what will effectively be a pretty new Barnsley side fit for Championship purpose in 2017-18.
Several key players, including Marley Watkins and Josh Scowen, are out of contract in the summer with no successful resolution regarding new deals as yet. As each week passes, the odds of them staying at Oakwell recede that little bit further.Leon Wobschall
Several key players, including Marley Watkins and Josh Scowen, are out of contract in the summer with no successful resolution regarding new deals as yet. As each week passes by with nothing signed, the odds of them staying at Oakwell recede that little bit further.
Then, there are the loan players, with influential midfielder Matty James to return to Leicester City in May – with Heckingbottom conceding that the club have no chance of signing him permanently.
The likes of Gethin James and Adam Armstrong will also return to their parent clubs, while there is likely to be renewed speculation regarding the likes of Marc Roberts, Adam Davies and Angus MacDonald, who drew interest from rival clubs in a fraught January at Oakwell which saw Conor Hourihane, Sam Winnall and James Bree depart.
Significantly, compounding matters is the club’s off-the-field situation with the void still waiting to be filled following the exit of chief executive Linton Brown in January.
Everyone connected with the club are also coming to terms with this week’s terribly sad revelation by owner Patrick Cryne that he is terminally ill with his cancer having spread.
Cryne had withdrawn from his day-to-day duties with the club in November.
It is an overall scenario that would test vastly more experienced managers than Heckingbottom, who will have had plenty to ponder during the current international break.
Typically, the Reds chief is keeping stoic and welcome news arrived for him yesterday when 24-year-old former Torquay United central defender Angus MacDonald signed a new deal which keeps him at the until the summer of 2019.