Barnsley FC’s push for Premier League promotion under Valerien Ismael is is no fluke, insists Oakwell chief Dane Murphy

BARNSLEY may not be brazenly open in any declaration that promotion to the Premier League is now on the agenda after a stunning transformation in fortunes, but chief executive officer Dane Murphy is sure about one thing.

Barnsley manager Valerien Ismael. (Picture: Tony Johnson)

Namely that whereas all the clubs in the Championship’s top six – alongside another just outside in Cardiff City – are saddled with expectations and financial pressures to return to the top-flight, Barnsley are definitely not.

On a club-record run of six successive league victories, the seventh-placed Reds – one point behind the side occupying the final play-off spot in Bournemouth with a game in hand – welcome struggling Birmingham City this afternoon.

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As it stands, Barnsley, who boast a very strong record against sides in the bottom half of the table, have the current bottom seven teams all to play.

Delighted: Dane Murphy. Picture: Barnsley FC

Their run of fixtures includes derbies against the relegation-threatened duo of Sheffield Wednesday and Rotherham United, who must visit Oakwell before the end of the season and Huddersfield Town, who the Reds travel to on April 21.

Just as pertinently, Barnsley still have to face two sides within striking distance in the top six in Bournemouth and Reading and also host a side with outside hopes of the play-offs in Middlesbrough on April 10.

Murphy told The Yorkshire Post: “In my expectations of this season, I don’t think I would be telling the truth if I said we’d be where we are right now with a straight face.

“It is a magical run, but it is not a fluke with the way we are winning, which is so consistent.

Alex Mowatt after the win over Millwall (Picture: Tony Johnson)

“The way that Valerien (Ismael) and the group have implemented this system of play is really quite remarkable and I am happy to be along for the ride.

“It is hard not to be excited by it and I am trying to avoid all the day-dreaming and as Valerien said, keep our feet planted on the ground. We have to prepare for every eventuality, but are not letting ourselves get ahead.

“But with the way we play, we put the pressure on everyone else and we are in a position now where we can play freely and take it to other teams who will be a little bit tighter with more expectation on their shoulders.

“We have exceeded our expectations and everyone believes in each game: ‘Why can’t we go and win that game?’ That is a pure belief throughout the club and the pressure is on others. We are implementing the way we play and can enjoy ourselves.”

Michal Helik smashes the second goal against Millwall (Picture: Tony Johnson)

As Murphy acknowledges, success this season – and Barnsley are already in credit whatever happens between now and May 8 – will bring its own issues.

The Reds’ chief executive is under no illusions that the name of Ismael and the Reds’ leading players will be on the radar of other clubs in the close season.

He commented: “There is always a double-edged sword. When you have success, the pieces of that success always garner interest from the outside and I think that is going to be no different here whether it is some of our young players, Valerien or other members of staff.

“People want those who are successful around them and to lead their club to success.

Barnsley's Alex Mowatt celebrates scoring their side's second goal against QPR (Picture: PA)

“That will be resultant of the success that we are having, but everyone on board is solely focused on this year and the tasks in hand.

“The thing that I am inspired by is that everyone has bought in and the chemistry in the group is so strong.

“You don’t see anyone wavering or eyes drifting. Everyone is unified in their task in hand.”

Barnsley’s outstanding success in 2020-21 has also surpassed the expectations of co-owners Paul Conway and Chien Lee, with Barnsley part of majority shareholders Pacific Media Group’s portfolio of clubs.

Equally, the club’s hierarchy remain fully committed, according to Murphy. He said: “After every game, I get texts from the investors in the club and they are through the roof.

“Anyone would be lying to say that the expectations are aligned where we thought they would be.

“Everyone is very happy and excited about where we are.”

Barnsley preview: Page 2

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