What do you get when two teams who were battling for survival this time last year get relegated? Well, it turns out, you get both clubs getting sold to refreshing new owners and fans who begin to enjoy themselves again. At least in the case of Sunderland and Barnsley, that is.
Remember that freezing, hungover, “Christmas is over and we now have to stop boozing and work full weeks again” New Years Day that was the last time we played Barnsley at home? Well forget about that because now we enjoy the football and we’ve got Christmas to look forward to! All of our hopes and dreams are still alive as we host the Tykes in tonight's table topping clash.
So I guess we better find out what the travelling Barnsley fans think about the match. As I mentioned before they have new owners too, one of whom has been depicted by Brad bloody Pitt in a Holywood film! That’s a bit more glamorous than Stewart Donald’s insurance company (who, to be fair, I hear offer a cracking deal if you’ve got no claims). They also have one of them cool, shiny German managers and just like Jack Ross, Daniel Stendel has his team playing some decent stuff.
So without further ado, let’s see what Ken Douker of fanzine EyUp & Down has to say for himself...
RR: Before the start of the season I expected you to be up near the top of the league, given the strength of your squad. Did Barnsley fans think the same or has your strong start been more of a surprise to those closely associated with the club?
KD: As the season started and given we’d kept the squad together over the summer, I was fairly confident we could be in the mix.
Talking for my fellow Reds, I’m sure most would have expected a top 6 finish as a bare minimum. So things are going well to date.
RR: The club changed hands almost exactly one year ago as well of course. Paul Conway & Chien Lee lead the way with people like Billy Bean also involved at Barnsley now! What are the fans making of the new owners so far?
KD: The new regime made it very clear from day one that they wouldn’t be splashing the cash in terms of player recruitment but we’ve had a few shrewd additions to the playing squad.
We have the youngest squad in all 4 divisions and have only really lost Tom Bradshaw. A few squad players moved on but the core is still there.
The remit at present seems to be tying the current team down to longer contracts, hopefully avoiding previous instances where we lost Hourihane, Bree, Winnall, Mason, Scowen, Roberts within what seemed like a few weeks.
RR: I know It’s still early days but how do you see the race for promotion going this season? Feel free to be as biased as you like!
KD: I can see you, Pompey and ourselves battling for the automatic places for the remainder of the season.
I’m still confident that as we enter 2019 we’ll still be in the top three. After Saturday I’ve got to say Donny are the best I’ve seen against us thus far and Luton are flying. Peterborough have dipped a bit lately but I wouldn’t be surprised if the aforementioned make up the top 6 come the season’s conclusion.
RR: Brad Potts dominated us in both games last season and I’ll be keeping a close eye on him. Is he the standout in your side or is there anyone else you would single out?
KD: Pottsy is always more effective in a 4~4~2 and he’s having a really good season, with half a dozen goals from midfield.
Big Kieffer is always a handful and is already in double figures, along with Cauley Woodrow who looks a real talent and forging a promising partnership with Big K.
We’ve a really creative midfield and a tight knit defence, meaning we’re more about the team rather than individuals.
RR: How about the Sunderland side? Anyone you’re worried about causing Barnsley some damage?
KD: Kevin Phillips isn’t playing is he? Always scored against us!
I’ve a Sunderland supporting mate who says similar to us, it’s the team unit. Got the top scorers against the best defence. Bring it on.
RR: How do you expect Daniel Stendel to approach this game, and what’s your predicted starting line up?
KD: We only know one way to play. We’ll go for it.
I can see us going back to 4~4~2 after a 4~5~1 on Saturday, so I’d say: Davies, Pinnilos, Pinnock, Lindsay, Cavare, Mowatt, Moncur, Potts, McGeehan, Moore, Woodrow.
RR: To finish off, can we have a prediction please?
KD: You certainly can. A thoroughly pulsating 2-2 draw... unless Phillips does play, then you’ll hammer us 5~0! I’ll also predict it’ll be absolutely baltic and I’ll fall asleep on the coach journey home. Enjoy the game!