By Richard Wright
Barnsley supporters have been left wondering whether they can still fight for a Championship play-off spot without key players in the squad.
Sam Winnall and former captain Conor Hourihane, a perfect pairing, have both left – Winnall to Yorkshire rivals Sheffield Wednesday and Hourihane to Aston Villa.
Hourihane is considered something of a Barnsley legend, after he helped turn the club around from relegation battlers to play-off hopefuls.
Jake Cleary, a lifelong Barnsley fan and former presenter on the We Are Barnsley radio show, said: “I’ve been watching this team for 11 years and I haven’t seen a player like Conor Hourihane wear the red shirt. He’s someone that I’ll be telling my kids about for sure. A true hero and a true legend.
“Of course it’s a big loss for the club to lose a player with his quality, but nobody is bigger than the club and every player is replaceable.”
However, Winnall left with less respect from the fans. Some Barnsley fans turned to Twitter to show their disappointment at his departure. And then, so did Wednesday fans, after Winnall’s poor debut for the Owls.
— cookie (@Reds30082) 20 January 2017
Barnsley manager Paul Heckingbottom has brought in two midfielders since the departure of Hourihane – Alex Mowatt, for an undisclosed fee from Leeds, and a loan from Premier League champions Leicester City, Matty James.
“I’m totally confident we’ll still be able to perform well without him” Cleary said. “Despite having only eight players left from the promotion-winning team, I agree with Hecky’s statement that it’s ‘Time for new heroes’.
“I feel these new signings will perform brilliantly under the guidance of Heckingbottom and the system the club tries to implement.”
So far, the club has showed little damage from the loss of these players, beating two Yorkshire rivals within a week of each other. They won at home against fellow play-off hopefuls Leeds United 3-2, and then away at Rotherham 1-0 in a closely contested match.
However, with 12 league games to go and with three of the top five to come, the pressure is on for Barnsley, Heckingbottom and the new signings to keep in a solid position in the table and maybe even creep into the top six.