Reds must be ready for new survival campaign

Stephen Foster
Stephen Foster
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AFTER completing their ‘Great Escape’ mission in the second half of 2012-13, Barnsley’s assignment for next season remains largely the same.

This is the message from former Reds captain Stephen Foster, who insists that survival at Championship level remains the overriding priority for the galvanised South Yorkshire outfit next term.

Barnsley will embark on a seventh successive season of Championship football, under the command of David Flitcroft, who signed a rolling one-year contract earlier this month, but Warrington-born Foster will not be part of his plans for 2013-14.

The sterling work of Flitcroft has significantly raised expectation levels among the Reds’ faithful after a thrilling ride since January, with only five second-tier clubs taking more points than them this calendar year.

While confident Flitcroft can again bring the best out of the rejuvenated Reds, the recently-freed defender admits the 39-year-old has a tough act to follow after taking 33 points from 21 games in charge. That compares to Barnsley amassing just 21 in 25 matches under predecessor Keith Hill.

Foster, 32, considering his options before deciding on his next club after playing 244 times for the Reds, said: “David has got a lot to live up to as what he has achieved is incredible.

“Fans can have confidence in David but without setting their expectations too high. I think they are realistic to know where Barnsley are at financially and their limitations.

“The mission next season will be the same, with Barnsley complete underdogs. David goes into each day as if it’s a battle, with the opposition your enemy, which is true and he relishes that.

“Week-in, week-out last season, Barnsley players were against rivals on 10 times what we were earning. It’s David and Goliath really. That makes our achievement sweeter.

“I just wish David every success. Barnsley are tipped to go down each year, but they stay up. That speaks volumes.

“It can’t be over-estimated what we did last season. I remember bumping into an old coach who I worked with earlier in my career a few years ago and he said how well we had done to stay in the league. And Barnsley are still in it a few seasons on.”

He added: “The turnaround this season was an incredible feat and great to be part of.

“We had a special togetherness and spirit to get over the line and there was a great atmosphere and confidence about the place and things just snowballed, really.

“David is a genuine guy and completely transparent and that is the reason why he has done so well. All the lads wanted to play for him as he’s so honest and he got a response from us.

“When he leaves lads out, you know he is there to speak to and will explain his decision.

“David also changed one or two things, going for the three-at-the-back formation which worked for us and even when we went 4-4-2, we were able to revert to 3-5-2 when needed. The opposition were never too sure which formation we’d play and it worked.”

Foster, who joined for £100,000 from Burnley in August, 2007, says he leaves with a treasure-trove of memories, with the club’s remarkable survival act in the second half of 2012-13 culminating in an amazing final-day 2-2 draw at Huddersfield towards the top.

He added: “The first season is right up there, too, with the FA Cup semi-run and my goal at Liverpool (in the 2-1 win in February, 2008). I also won players’ player of the year and the season was a breath of fresh air, coming from Burnley where I was really down about my football. I was at a loss where my future was going. But Barnsley gave me a lifeline and that first year will stay with me.

“There’s been a few others, staying up at Plymouth (in 2009) was also a great memory. I’ve had so many tweets and retweets and I have been really touched by all the Barnsley fans – my wife also.

“I was disappointed to leave after spending so long there and I had some great times at Barnsley. But life goes on and it’s onto the next adventure.”