On the opening day, there’s always a possibility that a rogue result will spring up out of nowhere.
Barnsley’s 7-0 win over Port Vale was one of those, a bolt from the blue in South Yorkshire.
Prior to the first fixtures taking place of the new League One season, many had suggested that Barnsley could well struggle. It’s a prediction that seemed to have some weight behind it, the Tykes appointing a relative unknown entity in Neill Collins when it comes to managing in the EFL.
Collins had earned his stripes as a manager out in America, the former Sheffield United defender turned first-time boss excelling with the Tampa Bay Rowdies. In his five years out in Florida – which saw Collins end his playing career with the Rowdies before transitioning to a coaching role – the 39-year-old masterminded 97 victories from 176 games in charge.
There were some bewildered Barnsley fans and neutrals alike still when Collins strolled into the managerial hot-seat at Oakwell, concerns fielded by Barnsley supporters about his credentials for the position.
He’s been arguably a victim of the success before him, Michael Duff leading the Tykes to a League One playoff final after a devastating relegation down to the third tier. Duff would then leave for pastures new in Wales with Swansea City after a great year, a choice that had left many Barnsley fans understandably down in the dumps.
Therefore, many perceived Collins’ appointment as a stab in the dark as opposed to a well-thought out decision – a punt after Michael Duff’s exit from South Yorkshire. Yet, many might now be reconsidering their initial harsh treatment of the brand new Tykes boss.
Barnsley’s display on the opening day was nothing short of electric, a barnstorming display to win over the patches of dissenters in the home crowd.
They were helped along the way by pitiful Port Vale defending, the Tykes registering eight shots on target and somehow scoring seven of those in a comprehensive 7-0 drubbing.
Vale couldn’t deal with Barnsley’s relentless tactic of peppering the opposition box with cross after cross, Devante Cole and Andy Dallas benefitting from lacklustre Valiants marking to score on the day.
Cole would even get his first senior hat-trick on the day, a personal milestone he would be grateful for as a result of the charitable display by Andy Crosby’s defenders and team as a whole.
On another afternoon, this game could well have been far more even than it was. Vale even had more possession at Oakwell in this crazy opening contest, but after Devante Cole secured his hat-trick courtesy of a quick-fire double early into the second 45 minutes, the away side pressed the self-destruct button.
It felt as if the Tykes were taking out their anger on Port Vale, taking out all the negative media attention they had received on Port Vale with Neill Collins coming in, the Americanised star strip they now wear and key players such as Mads Andersen and Harry Isted moving on.
Collins had set down a marker with this display, underestimate his side and you could well be made to look very foolish.
Barnsley’s official Twitter account even tweeted in a mocking fashion after the unbelievable display, suggesting that all was fine with the current crop of Tykes talent despite prior grumblings.
sIgN a StRiKeR 😆 pic.twitter.com/MJwy7V8XXh
— Barnsley FC (@BarnsleyFC) August 5, 2023
Regardless of the nature of this emphatic win, Barnsley aren’t now suddenly champions elect because of one stand-out performance.
The Tykes will have to show what their made of in the fixtures to come and the months to follow to prove they could be in the promotion reckoning, Barnsley fans will know this and won’t get openly carried away.
But, Barnsley do have a decent track record when it comes to appointing managers who then go on to achieve great things at Oakwell despite being seen as unknown entities when arriving to South Yorkshire.
Daniel Stendel and Valerien Ismael are the two glaring examples that immediately come to mind, Stendel spearheading a promotion campaign up to the Championship after joining Barnsley as an unestablished head coach.
Ismael nearly went one better than the German, the Frenchman making the Tykes hard to beat in the second tier which nearly resulted in an unlikely promotion up to the Premier League. This didn’t quite materialise – Ismael leaving for West Brom after Barnsley bowed out in the Championship playoffs – but he joined the club after succeeding in far-out Austria.
The hierarchy at Oakwell will hope the same magic of these two past left-field managerial decisions repeats itself with Collins’ arrival from Tampa Bay, Barnsley hoping to succeed again with their underdog label on proud display.
Barnsley manager Valerien Ismael is the real deal.
After leading LASK Linz to the Europa League Round of 16 last season, he took over at Barnsley in October 2020 — the club sitting 23rd in the Championship.
Since, he's won 11 of 19 games, leading Barnsley all the way to 11th 🔥 pic.twitter.com/OtzUbyigCf
— Matchday365 (@Matchday365) January 22, 2021
There’s still plenty of talent coursing through the Barnsley squad even if notable departures such as Harry Isted and Mads Andersen have hurt the third tier Tykes, Callum Styles re-entered the fold at Oakwell on Saturday in the centre of the park after his Championship excursion with Millwall on loan.
If they can keep hold of Styles – who is still attracting interest from Championship suitors – he could well be a key player for the Tykes under Collins.
A player that’ll be definitely sticking around in South Yorkshire is Liam Kitching, the centre back is of added importance to the Tykes’ mission this campaign since Mads Andersen’s exit to Premier League Luton Town.
He even had the goalscoring touch versus Port Vale, finishing off an inch perfect Herbie Kane pass like a seasoned striker to make it 5-0.
His centre-back partner Kacper Lopata is also tipped to have an impressive, breakthrough season – the Polish defender joining the Tykes from cash-strapped Southend United.
Other players in the Barnsley set-up will also be eager to succeed to prove doubters wrong, namely Devante Cole’s strike partner Max Watters.
Struggling to ever replicate his Crawley Town heights higher up the EFL – scoring 13 times in just 15 appearances for the Red Devils – he did show glimpses of his best last season on loan with the Tykes.
He will be raring to go this campaign, especially with the news James Norwood has departed for Oldham meaning he’s considered a starting player.
Nobody in their wildest dreams could have expected a 7-0 win for Barnsley to kick off the new third tier season, not even the most optimistic fan at Oakwell would have predicted that. But, it’s a sign that Barnsley could well be an underdog when it comes to the promotion race.
We’ll have to wait and see how they do in their next few matches in League One to make more of an assessment, but write the Tykes off at your own peril.