Of all the new challenges facing David Flitcroft when he stepped up to succeed Keith Hill at the start of the year, managing expectations was probably not something he would have anticipated having to deal with.
After all, Flitcroft had inherited a squad devoid of confidence and staring relegation from the Championship in the face.
But such has been the transformation in fortunes since the first week of January, that even though their fate is still uncertain, Barnsley welcome Charlton to Oakwell today with most fans and pundits looking at the fixture and thinking – home win.
For since Flitcroft took charge, Barnsley have been one of the most consistent teams in the division, winning eight games, amassing 28 points and battling their way to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup.
In the last week, they have gone to Crystal Palace and Cardiff City, two teams with eyes on the Premier League next season, and earned hard-fought draws.
And in their three previous games at Oakwell before today’s home return against mid-table opposition, Barnsley defeated a trio of teams with promotion ambitions.
It is little wonder then that even in this most unpredicatble of seasons, Barnsley fans will take their seats today expecting another three points.
But the man who has orchestrated this revival against all the odds, is warning fans against expectation and reminded his players to guard against complacency.
Flitcroft said: “It’s interesting isn’t it, fans might be coming expecting a guaranteed three points but it doesn’t take a genius to work out that in this league nothing is guaranteed, whoever you are, wherever you are.
“There’s no doubt it’s going to be a tough fixture. Charlton can secure their safety with a win. There’s no dead rubbers in this league, everyone’s playing for something. Charlton have got a lot riding on it and we’ve got a lot on it ourselves.
“We go into the game with the adrenaline high and some momentum, but we have got form as well, there’s no doubt about that.
“We’re enjoying games, we enjoy planning them and being a part of them. The momentum is driving the team forward.”
But with just two points separating the Reds from the bottom three in a congested relegation battle, Flitcroft and his players know that no matter how strong their form, the survival job is not finished yet.
“I’ve maybe mentioned the word ‘complacency’ twice over the last 20 games,” said Flitcroft, who succeeded Hill after a home defeat to Blackburn on December 29.
“There’s no complacency set in and it won’t. It’s a word I won’t allow and I won’t allow players to get that way, to get sloppy and to fall off the standards we have set.
“The lads have worked so hard, and from day one myself and Mickey Mellon and Martin Scott (assistants) set a standard in those early games and I’ve not allowed the players to drop off that standard.”
A predominently fruitless January transfer window that saw Barnsley fail to attract as many players as they hoped could have knocked the club back as they sought to prolong their battle against the drop.
But Flitcroft has found other ways to use the board’s backing to his and the team’s advantage.
He said: “The board’s position was to get as many recruits as we possibly can. We couldn’t do that because very few wanted to come to Barnsley. So where I’ve put that investment in is where you should be putting it; attention to detail, a better quality of hotel etcetera.
“It’s that attention to detail that matters to players, it’s not wrapping them in cotton wool, it’s giving the players what they want.
“If you look at Team Sky cycling, it’s the smallest details that are the biggest thing, that’s why they’re so good.
“The board have listened by giving us two days at St George’s Park, better recovery strategies, etcetera.
“We’re in a unique position here. You play at Oakwell, you train at Oakwell, you come to work at Oakwell.
“What I’ve been able to do is take the guys training at Birmingham and MK Dons, just to give the lads another flavour, another stimulus and get them away from their place of work so that on a Saturday it’s a special place again.
“Being away from the football club has at times helped us and the players have responded to it.”
While he may not have a points tally in mind for fear of it diverting his attention from the club’s next vital fixture, Flitcroft does look beyond the season when it comes to nurturing the club’s exctiting crop of young players.
“We’ve helped a lot of young guys and people like Danny Rose, Jordan Clark and Paul Digby who are the next genereation and I can’t wait to be a part of their progression,” said Flitcroft, who revealed that John Stones – who was sold to Everton in January – returned to Oakwell to celebrate the recent win over Watford with his old team-mates.
“We’ve got a real development team here and I’ve got a great affinity with the young players.
“And I can’t stand wasting talent, some people just need someone to guide them.”