It was a one-and-done season for Barnsley, who were playing this season in League One after being relegated from the Championship after finishing 22nd last season. This season, they remained at the top of the League One table for most of the season, and – along with Luton Town – clinched a return to the Championship on 30 April when the clubs immediately beneath them both lost.
Here’s a quick look at how the Tykes ended up in this position:
What Went Right
It was a quick start for the club, as they didn’t lose their first match until matchday 8, opening the season on a 4-3-0 run with an impressive +11 goal differential. Over the course of the entire season, the Tykes left the “promotion zone” of the league table only once – a one-match stay at 7th after a December draw with Portsmouth – which was quickly rectified by an immediate unbeaten streak through the end of March (12-8-0).
The club was one goal better than Charlton Athletic in goals allowed, leading League One in only surrendering 39 goals (0.85 GAA) on the season. Goalkeeper (and club captain) Adam Davies was in net for 42 of those matches, notching 19 clean sheets on the season. For his stellar play this season, he joined four other teammates on the PFA Team of the Year for League One.
One of those teammates was striker Kieffer Moore, who paced the club in scoring with 17 goals (in 31 games) during league play, despite missing nearly three months after a nasty collision on 9 February. Those 17 goals placed him in a tie for 7th in scoring for League One, one goal ahead of teammate Cauley Woodrow.
What Went Wrong
The worst stretch for the club – which is all relative compared to the rest of their stellar season – was a four match winless streak from 24 November to 15 December. The club went 0-2-2 during the stretch, with losses to Sunderland (4-2) and Wycombe Wanderers (1-0) bookended by two draws. The loss to Sunderland wasn’t nearly as troubling as the loss to Wycombe, as Sunderland made the promotion playoffs, while Wycombe languished near the bottom of the table for most of the season. The Tykes lost only seven times all season, however, and one of those losses was the last match of the season, which occurred after they were already assured of promotion.
Recent English Football League History
Barnsley has spent most of the Premier League era (1992 onward) in the Championship, with 19 of 27 seasons played in the second tier of English Football, as well as most of their overall history. However, more recently, the club has been up and down between the Championship and League One over the past five seasons, but with new ownership in place since their last promotion, they might find it easier to stick around for more than a couple of seasons.
Their last 10 Championship seasons have not been terribly great, though they at least managed to avoid relegation in most seasons. Those 10 seasons (2007-2014 and 2016-2018) saw the Tykes finish no better than 14th (2016-17 season) and average 19th place. However, their last three seasons in League One have been much better, with an average finish of 6th and two promotions – a playoff win as the 6th-place club after the 2015-16 season and this year’s automatic promotion as the runner-up.
Who’s Playing Elsewhere Next Season?
Barnsley will be making their return to the Championship with most of the club that was behind this season’s success. Only five players are at the end of their contracts with the club, including one – German Mike-Steven Bähre (Hannover 96) – who is on loan. However, the club holds the option to buy Bähre at the end of his loan spell, an option the club may take after the midfielder provided solid play over 34 (22 starts) matches.
An offseason priority will likely be goalkeeper Davies, who will be out of contract at the end of the season, as well as defender Dimitri Cavaré, with whom the club holds an option. Cavaré joined Davies and Moore on the PFA Team of the Year, playing in 40 matches (39 starts) and scoring two goals.
Chances of a One-and-Done?
With few looming vacancies, expect the club to focus on the internal players mentioned above before looking to the transfer market. The club was shrewd last year, netting a modest $1.35m in the transfer market. It will be slightly different this offseason, as last year was a relegation instead of a promotion, but I also anticipate that the club will likely look for free transfers and loaned players in their first season back in the Championship.
Barnsley has spent only one season above the Championship in their entire history – a one-and-done trip to the Premier League in 1997-98. They will likely look to build a strong Championship club that can stay in tier two for the next few seasons, hopefully much closer to the middle of the table than the bottom.
Nevertheless, they will have some work to do – their current ranking would have them as the second-worst club in the Championship next season, ahead of only Reading – but for now, they will be happy to be back in the same league as rivals Sheffield Wednesday, Huddersfield Town, and potentially Leeds United (depending on who wins the various promotion playoffs).