BARNSLEY finished the season with a battling draw against Brighton, but manager Keith Hill doesn’t expect next season’s Championship challenge to get any easier.
The Reds finished the season in 21st place after an alarming dip in form during the second half of their domestic campaign.
But Hill is confident the Oakwell outfit will benefit from having learned some tough lessons this season.
By his own admission, Hill admits he’s made mistakes as well as being successful.
However, a year wiser after taking over the managerial reigns, the 42-year-old is encouraged for the future.
“I’m looking forward to next season,” said Hill. “We’ve gone through a lot this season. It’s been a real education from a football perspective, but also from my expectations and dealing with a Championship football club.
“I’ve really enjoyed it, it’s the best decision I ever made to come here. The plan now is to develop and to increase our opportunities to be successful.
“Our remit was to retain our Championship status. We’ve done that, but it’s been a really, really difficult nine months.
“It was our intention to finish higher than we did, but we haven’t done. At one point in the season we were really thinking we could make a push for the top ten.
“But we didn’t and that’s water under the bridge now. Next time we look at the league table we’ll be alphabetically top.
“I’ll never forget the last few months, but I’ll forgive. I’ll forgive myself, I’ll forgive the players and I’ll forgive the circumstances we found ourselves in.
“But I’ll never forget what’s happened this season because it will always remind me of how difficult it can get during the times without success.”
And for Hill, who was so used to winning and success at his former club, Rochdale, the challenge at Oakwell remains another problem which needs cracking.
“All I’ve experienced as a manager is success, but dealing with losing football matches has been hard,” added Hill.
“The summer brings a new enthusiasm and it brings with it a clean sheet. Everything that we do now is looking forward.
“You soon forget and are forgiven for what’s happened this season. There’s going to be a freshness and newness about a new season starting.
“The players deserve a good summer, but they’ve got work to do over the summer in preparation for next season.
“I’ve got a lot of enthusiasm going into next season. It will be a little bit more difficult, so it’s really important we get our recruitment right.
“It’s not job done. though. As a manager it’s just job continuation, there’s no real time off.
“I don’t think people understand the demands that managers are under. Just look at Pep Guardiola. He’s the best manager/coach in the world at the moment and he’s saying the pressures are too much.
“It will probably be harder in the Championship next season, it’s getting increasingly more difficult to stay in this division. Just look at the clubs that have been relegated this season, like Doncaster and Coventry.
“There’s also a lack of an invitation into the Championship when you consider some of the parachute payments [some clubs are getting], which basically creates a Premier League [mark] Two.
“It’s unfortunate because there’s a real honesty about clubs like Barnsley and they deserve their opportunity to retain their Championship status.”
Hill handed promising youngsters Jordan Clark and Danny Rose welcome starts, with the club’s new Academy Player of the Year, John Stones, included on the bench.
Midfielder Clark made his first team debut and Rose was given the chance to partner Craig Davies, the club’s leading scorer, up front.
And defender Stones also got his chance late in the action - and he should have won it for the hosts in injury-time.
The right-back rose well but headed Jim O’Brien’s right-wing cross agonisingly wide of the far post. Three points would have seen the Reds climb three places in the table to 18th.
But it wasn’t to be for Hill’s battling charges despite having dominated possession against their high-flying opponents.
“I was reasonably pleased with the performance, it’s given me encouragement going into next season,” reflected Hill. “It was great not to be beaten and, in the end, we could have won it.”
Tottenham Hotspur loan shot-stopper David Button pulled off two fine saves to thwart the Seagulls to give the Reds a great chance of winning the game, but the hosts were once again not clinical enough in front of goal.
O’Brien and Davies, the latter who finished with 11 goals in his first season in the Championship, both had good chances but couldn’t finish the job.
And Button came to their rescue with a fine fingertip save to deny Gary Dicker and to also prevent teammate David Perkins from scoring what would have been an unfortunate own-goal.
But chances were few and far between in this end-of-season tussle which saw both teams having had little to play for with the play-offs missed and relegation avoided.