Hello you. It’s been a while hasn’t it?
Truth be told, I’ve neglected my duties of writing up the Barnsley adventure. This isn’t to say I have neglected the save, and a lot has occurred since we last visited South Yorkshire…a whole third season with the Tykes in fact. Sorry!
We left Barnsley in a curious position. We’d survived back in the Premier League thanks to some second half of the season heroics from Matt Phillips and the arrival of form for Sardar Azmoun. We’d found ourselves in 14th place, and with a trophy, as we destroyed the “mighty” London United FC (aka West Ham) 4-1 in one of our finest displays, to clinch the League Cup. This left us in an odd predicament for our third season. Fight the second season syndrome and survive in the promised land, and fight a European campaign. Bloody hell.
Our survival last season was built on a few key players, and our squad was seriously weak for a league campaign, let alone a trip around Europe. The board’s investment of £40m was welcomed as I looked to radically redevelop the team to compete and survive. Old faces had to depart to make way for new ones to improve our quality. Out went the likes of Elliot Lee, Tom Bradshaw, Fabio (whose buyout clause was matched) et al….in came Jorda Rhodes, Mason Holgate (returning on a permanent deal, and thus filling a Home Grown Quota), former Barnsley defender Alfie Mawson, Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson, Darren Fletcher, Aleksander Kolarov, Stephen Kingley, Papa Alioune Ndiaye, and star man Hirving Lozano.
A successful preseason and qualifying stage of the Europa League saw us go unbeaten until October, and enter into a tough Europa Group with Viktoria Plzen,Vorskla Poltava and Inter Milan respectively. We were showing ourselves to be strong in the league, with memorable victories including a 4-0 thumping of Rafa’s Newcastle on the opening day, at St James’s Park. Azmoun and Rhodes were performing, new signings Lozano and Ndiaye were on fire, and we were reaping the rewards…it wouldn’t last.
From the United loss onwards, a return of 5 wins in 16 was not the most positive return, and soon Azmoun was off to the Asian Cup, and Rhodes was out of form. An exit to Peterborough saw us lose our League Cup crown in the 4th round, 2nd in the Europa League Group, and mid table at Christmas. Don’t get me wrong, a fantastic achievement for a team predicted to finish bottom, but disappointing following the start of the season.
The new year was, like the previous season, to bring a new lease of life to the team. The arrival of Bojan on a cheap deal boosted our attacking depth, which had seen me shift from 433 to 4411, and NDiaye, and Azmoun was to return from the AFC. His hat trick on his return against Porto was a memorable moment, and although his inconsistency angered me, his goals when he did score were enough to send me dancing around the room. 4-1 against the aforementioned Portuguese side, a result that would carry us through against Lyon, Kyiv, and Milan in our run to the Europa League final…yes…at the first time of asking, we reached the Europa League final.
Surely, oh surely we couldn’t do the unthinkable, and get into the Champions League, winning European glory forever and ever? No, you’re right, we couldn’t. Despite the lovely underdog story, our opponents Napoli were too strong, and the 2-0 loss on the night flattered us. A shame to go out at the final hurdle, but in truth, I would have been annoyed at winning, we were no where near as good as our luck had been.
Perhaps a Champions League spot would be gained from our league finish? Don’t be ridiculous. Whilst our form improved, we were never a top side, but we did manage to beat all expectation, finishing a lovely 8th, rather than the media predicted 20th.
Any other business
Off the pitch, Jez George was removed as Director of Football, with Keke Duran replacing him. The training and facilities at the club are also steadily on the increase, with my ambition to beat Brexit by becoming an academy of football being in the early stages. Scouting wise, we could do with some better scouts, but that will come in time, when we can offer better wages to better staff. All in all though, the club is in a good place, spending well and making a decent profit. A new contract for me lasts until 2022, and with the Nevilles at my side, nothing can stop us in our ambition to become a Premier League power.
Match of the season: Barnsley 5-2 Stoke City & Barnsley 4- 1 FC Porto
Signing of the season: Papa Alioune Ndiaye- seriously, this guy has been incredible. Bought as a strong midfield alternative to Hourihane, he accidentally made the AM position his own, chipping in with 11 goals!