Barnsley boss David Flitcroft is confident his squad have enough flexibility to counter whatever is thrown at them in what promises to be another rollercoaster Championship season.
The Reds narrowly avoided relegation on the last day of the season last term. It was a close call but survival seemed justified after an admirable run of form under new manager Flitcroft, handed the responsibility of the managerial reigns after his good friend Keith Hill was sacked.
Roll on three months and the Reds - and a good deal of their supporters - are looking forward to the new campaign with plenty of optimism.
Not a bad way to be for a club who are usually tipped for relegation before a ball has even been kicked.
And there are grounds for an improved showing this term, providing of course Flitcroft’s side can reproduce some of the commendable form which saw them avoid the drop by the skin of their teeth.
“We’ve got good options throughout the squad; we’re quite flexible,” Flitcroft told The Star on the eve of tomorrow’s opening fixture, at home to Wigan Athletic, last season’s FA Cup winners.
“There’s a great balance to the squad. We’ve got 20 or so senior professionals and had some kids on the bench.
“We’ve got two or three options we can play, which means we can set up differently depending on who we play.
“Out fitness levels are great and the games have been brilliant. They’ve been good challenges and ones where I’ve learned a lot.
“We showed tremendous strength of character to stay up in dramatic circumstances last season and I was proud of all the lads who contributed, but we don’t want to be having to endure those sorts of nerves again.
“We have strengthened the squad and the players are raring to go. Individually and collectively we have worked hard to be ready.”
Wigan might have been relegated from the Premier League last season and lost their long-serving manager Roberto Martinez to Everton, but new boss Owen Coyle has assembled a strong squad as the Latics look to push for an immediate return to the top flight.
Grant Holt, signed for £2milllion from Norwich City, will be a major threat for the Reds, while new recruits Scott Carson, James Perch, Chris McCann, Stephen Crainey, Thomas Rogne, Marc Antoine Fortune and Juan Carlos Garcia proves the Latics have experience all over the pitch.
“My biggest problem this Saturday is picking my starting XI because everyone has been brilliant in pre-season,” admitted Coyle.
The two clubs have only ever played each other seven times and their last meeting, in May 2003, yielded a 1-0 home win for the Latics.
The Reds have never beaten the Latics away from home or in the league, but this weekend’s match is likely to be a competitive affair.
Flitcroft will be without midfielder Kelvin Etuhu who is sidelined with a hamstring injury, while midfielder Paul Digby (thigh) and striker Danny Rose (foot) are nursing injuries. Jason Scotland staked his claim for a starting berth by notching a second-half brace in last weekend’s 2-0 pre-season victory over Frickley Athletic. Flitcroft is hoping to bring in another striker to increase competition for places at Oakwell and Hull City’s Aaron Mclean remains on his radar.
Ex-Celtic and new Norwegian defender Rogne is struggling with a back spasm and is a doubt for the Latics.