Barnsley must now build on stunning survival story – Leon Wobschall

THERE is plenty to admire about Gerhard Struber.

Barnsley manager Gerhard Struber celebrates after his dramatic victory at Brentford on Wednesday. Picture: PA.

A proud man – who could not fail to be moved by his tears after Barnsley’s staggering last-gasp win at Brentford? – the Reds head coach is also an ambitious one.

When the dust settles after those incredible events at Griffin Park which served as a remainder of just how football can truly touch the soul, Barnsley – after briefly pausing for breath and enjoying some party time – must make provisions for the future to convince Struber that the project is a forward-thinking one.

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The devout hope is that it will be a Championship one and that the decision to dock Wigan Athletic 12 points for entering administration is upheld with the penalty – as stated by the English Football League – enforced for the 2019-20 campaign due to the fact that the Lancashire outfit finished out of the relegation zone.

After the way in which Struber’s Barnsley braves overcame adversity to win their fight and write a special story in the club’s history, anything else would be bordering on the cruel given their remarkable ending to the season, which was given due credit in a classy response from Latics chief Paul Cook.

Should it be officially confirmed that Barnsley’s place in the second tier in 2020-21 is assured, then attention must quickly shift to the next phase.

The club’s decision to go continental for a third time to bring in Struber in November – with his coaching acumen showcased as early as his opening game at Blackburn – has reaped a harvest.

Since his arrival, Barnsley’s from has been that of a top-half side, not a relegation contender. Few can dispute that their young talents are starting to come of age – from Jack Walton to Mads Andersen, Elliot Simoes to Callum Styles with contributions arriving across the board in one of the greatest of all ‘Great Escape’ acts.

But it would be a mistake by those in the corridors of power to believe that events have shown that their policy of buying young and hungry emerging players has now been vindicated.

In the final analysis, it should also be remembered that safety would owe as much to some chaotic off-the-field events at the JJB Stadium as anything else.

On it, the impact of Michael Sollbauer in settling down a defence that was brittle in confidence, organisation and leadership before his arrival in January is arguably the biggest on-pitch factor in the club’s tale of the unexpected.

Prior to his arrival, Barnsley had mustered three shut-outs in 29 league games. With the experienced stopper in the side, they have kept eight in 17.

There is also the inescapable thought that if Barnsley had brought in a Championship-ready forward with physicality to replace Kieffer Moore, they would have been well clear of the drop zone before Wild Wednesday.

They certainly would not have been worrying about possible happenings in a courtroom.

In the post-Covid world, the policy of identifying young talents with sell-on value is one that many clubs will start to pursue.

The recognition that they develop more quickly with a senior head or two around them should also be in no doubt.

Is it coincidence that Andersen – so low in self-belief that he was taken out of the side for his own good in the winter – has looked a player transformed since the arrival of Sollbauer? Jordan Williams as well.

A matter of games into his Barnsley reign, Struber identified what the club lacked on the field and spoke about the need for the club to depart from the model to bring in Sollbauer early in the new year and to a slightly lesser extent, Marcel Ritzmaier.

His achievements at the end of the calendar year and his opening of a window of opportunity crucially convinced the Reds hierarchy to give him his head and sanction a couple of senior signings.

Should this squad stick together – and even if a couple of players leave – then it is imperative that experience is brought in to give Barnsley and Struber a chance next season and not waste his splendid achievements.

New financial realities are also likely to mean that established Championship players will not be able to shout the odds so much regarding their demands. Barnsley can tap into this market.

Alongside taking Wolfsberger into the Europa League, Struber’s feats in rescuing Barnsley from a pretty hopeless looking situation is one which boardrooms here and abroad may just have been noted. His star is in the ascendancy.

With justification, he will want to be convinced that Barnsley have the ambition to build on his outstanding feats and raise the bar in terms of their Championship aspirations – rather than just bringing in young players to turn from straw into gold and boost bank balances. He deserves that.

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