At first glance it may not seem it but Barnsley’s opening day victory could be something of a double-edged sword.
Straight back up into the Championship against relegated Fulham, the Reds were full value for their 1-0 win so optimism is high for the campaign ahead.
It may even convince a few in the corridors of power that the impending departure of last season’s top scorer, Kieffer Moore, is something the club can shoulder with ease.
That would be wrong in spite of head coach Daniel Stendel’s reluctance to talk about the future of Moore, who seems set to complete a £4m move to Wigan Athletic today.
Stendel has worked wonders to more than adequately cover for the loss of three players who played key roles in Barnsley going through the League One campaign unbeaten at home.
We aim for a high press in every game and to get in the opposition’s face. That is the Barnsley way.Match-winner Luke Thomas
On Saturday’s evidence, goalkeeper Sami Radlinger and centre-backs Bambo Diaby and Mads Andersen are more than just clone replacements for Adam Davies, Ethan Pinnock and Liam Lindsay.
But without 19-goal Moore, Barnsley are going to be short up front should injury sideline Cauley Woodrow for any length of time, as it did last season.
Stendel admitted, without confirming that Moore is on his way, he would like to bring in a player with proven Championship experience before the transfer window closes.
He already had six debutants in Saturday’s side and even he must have been both surprised and delighted by the way they gelled so quickly.
One of them, diminutive right winger Luke Thomas, plucked from Derby County for £1.2m via a season-long loan period at Coventry City, proved the match-winner and said it had been a dream start.
“It could not have gone any better. I loved every minute of it,” said the 20-year-old.
“We deserved to win, high pressing them. I should have had two goals but it was such a proud moment for me to score one.”
He was right in his assessment that: “I have not been here long but I have learned the Barnsley way quite quickly. We like to get in people’s faces and I don’t think Fulham liked the way how quickly we started.
“We got on top quite early and carried it on. There are 10 new faces and we have gelled after a few bonding sessions. The lads are buzzing, especially after the manager gave us two days off for the win.”
Barnsley’s approach is no different to the style which took them to the League Onew runners-up spot and promotion at the first attempt, Thomas continuing: “We aim for a high press in every game and to get in the opposition’s face. That is the Barnsley way.
“That is the way we will go about our business in every game. Any team who comes here thinking they are going to get an easy three points will have got the wrong thing in their heads.
“We have not talked about targets. We just want to win as many games as we possibly can. We have a great manager who is so enthusiastic.”
Thomas struck in the 13th minute when he showed surprising strength to shrug off Joe Bryan on the deadball-line, cut inside and shaped to play the ball back before drilling it inside Marcus Bettinelli’s left-hand post.
“I was looking to pass it to Cauley (Woodrow) to help him get on the scoresheet against his former club but the Fulham player closed him off so I had a quick change of mind and had a shot and, luckily, it went in the back of the net.”
Barnsley and Thomas had further chances to put the game to bed but what was more pleasing for the fans was the way they withstood a late threat from the visitors.
The introduction of season-long loan signing from Brighton, Anthony Knockaert, who is still some way off full fitness, gave them some impetus.
That is when goalkeeper Radlinger and his fellow debutant centre-backs showed what they are made of – Diaby reminding Reds fans of Darren Moore’s days at the club with his robust approach, allied to a shade more pace, while Andersen was more akin to a previous Barnsley hero, Arjan de Zeeuw, with his unflappable style.
To a man, however, the Reds were determined not to be breached and their unbeaten home run now stretches back to mid-March, 2018.
Fulham’s frustrations were such that substitute Cyrus Chrisite later claimed his sister had been racially abused by one of his own club’s fans behind the goal. The Cottagers promised a full investigation into the incident.
Back to the game and Stendel revealed why he had given the captain’s armband to fellow German Mike Bahre, who often had to make do with a place on the bench last season. “He improved in the last weeks and has more responsibilty now. He is one of my key players,” he said of the player who operated in the slot behind lone striker Woodrow as Thomas and fellow debutant Mallik Wilks posed the threats out wide.
“I’m very happy about the performance. We wanted to play with more conviction and when we play with more conviction we have a better chance to win a game.”
Barnsley: Radlinger, Sibbick, Diaby, Andersen, Cavare; Thomas (Chaplin 85), McGeehan, Mowatt, Wilks (Thiam 90), Bahre; Woodrow (Miller 90). Unused substitutes: Collins, B Williams, Styles, Halme.
Fulham: Bettinelli, Odoi, Mawson, Le Marchand (Christie 32), Bryan; McDonald (Knockaert 65), Crainey, Johansen; Kamara, Mitrovic, Cavaleiro (Ayite 74). Unused substitutes: Rodak, Kebano, Fonte, De La Torre.
Referee: A Davies (Hampshire).
Good day: Luke Thomas
Though making his debut for the Reds, this was his second goal at Oakwell, having scored for Coventry City in last season’s 2-2 draw – and also having helped them to a 1-0 home win against Barnsley in September, collecting a booking in each game.
Bad day: Ivan Cavaleiro
Portugal international winger on a season-long loan from Wolverhampton failed to make much impact against Barnsley debutant Toby Sibbick, the right-back signed from Wimbledon.
13th minute: Luke Thomas squeezes in his shot between goalkeeper and post for the only goal of the game.
Andy Davies: Kept the game flowing and made no contentious decisions.
New-look, same style, more of the same and then any talk of a relegation battle for the Reds will soon be banished.
Sheffield Wednesday v Barnsley, Championship, Saturday, 3pm.