Barnsley boss Paul Heckingbottom says there’s still plenty of work to be done on and off the pitch as he prepares to send his side into Championship action in three weeks time.
The Reds face Ipswich on the opening day of the season, Saturday August 6, in what will be Heckingbottom’s first game in charge in the Championship.
The 38-year-old led the club to duel Wembley honours last season as they won the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and secured promotion back to the English second tier through the play-offs after former manager Lee Johnson left for Bristol City.
Heckingbottom’s side have picked up from where they left off last term and are unbeaten in pre-season so far with victories over Stalybridge Celtic, Guiseley AFC, Cheltenham Town and Weston-Super-Mare.
But it’s the next three games that will really show the Reds’ boss how his side are shaping up ahead of their return to the Championship.
They face Everton in the first pre-season friendly at Oakwell before taking on Hull City and Peterborough United next week.
Heckingbottom has been delighted with the Reds’ start to pre-season but he knows exactly what they’re up against with the Toffees this afternoon, who have a full-strength side to choose from after their European Championship players returned to training.
“I’ve been really pleased with pre-season so far,” he said.
“We’ve been bedding in the new players ahead of the first game of the season and there’s a lot of positive energy with lads who’ve come back.
“It’s now about getting everybody up to speed and going beyond that.
“There are tactical things we’ve done but there are areas we need to brush up and we need the mentality of getting better all the time.
“The next three games have come at a really good time and we’re getting minutes under belts. Players are ready for 90 minutes and we’ll be tested and stretched but we have to be ruthless.
“We have to try and come up with and execute a plan to win the game and we’re practicing keeping good habits against a really good quality side.”
“The last few games Everton have played all the players that were left behind from the European Championships, now everyone is back so it depends on who they see fit to play, but we’re expecting a tough test.”
Heckingbottom knows he has to keep motivating his players to perform like they did at the backend of last season.
He added: “Every player has a reason to play their best but some like the carrot dangling, whether that be the opportunity to impress in the Championship or get that bit of exposure.
“It’s important for us to use that and we can keep driving players forward if we know what makes them tick.”
Meanwhile, Heckingbottom’s assistant Tommy Wright has extended his stay at the club.
Wright, who was instrumental in the Reds’ success last season, is now on a 12-month rolling contract at Oakwell.
The 50-year-old was previously linked with joining up with former Reds’ manager Lee Johnson at Bristol City.
And Wright is delighted to extend his spell with the Championship club.
He said: “I am very pleased, especially after the magnificent season we just had and I am happy here, so I’m pleased to sign.
“The main reason in signing was the players. The relationship I’ve got with the players and what we came through last year, the ups and the downs! I’ve got a good relationship with Hecky and all the staff so I was very happy.
“We’re trying to progress as a Club, we’ve got promotion to the Championship and I want to do well. I trust the players and they’ve got a good chance to further their careers at Barnsley.”