The Championship is well known as being one of the most competitive and unpredictable divisions in the world.
"Anyone can beat anyone on their day, it’s so unpredictable,” Barnsley captain Alex Mowatt confirmed, speaking at the 2020/21 EFL Season Launch.
It’s true, no result is guaranteed in the Championship. Its unpredictability and excitement makes the division like no other, and season 2020/21 is sure to be no different.
"Last season the Championship was so competitive,” Mowatt continued.
"I think it was always going to be a challenge and a tough job for us, we lost a couple of big players at the start of the season, but we ended up performing better against the better teams and those that were up there performing well themselves, rather than the teams that were down in the relegation scrap with us, so it really does show how tough it is.
"One week you’re beating Fulham 3-0, the next week you can be losing against bottom of the league. You can never bet for or against anyone because literally anyone can beat anyone on their day."
Despite spending the majority of the season in the bottom three, Barnsley produced the great escape on the final day of the 2019/20 campaign, securing an unforgettable result - including a last minute goal to seal the win - against Play-Off Finalists Brentford, to survive another season in the Championship.
An injury-time winner from Clarke Oduor saw Gerhard Struber’s side leave Griffin Park with three points, on what was one of the Championship’s most dramatic final days in recent years.
"It’s definitely up there with one of the best feelings I’ve ever had with Barnsley,” Mowatt said, reflecting on the final day of the season.
"There was a game the season before, Blackpool at home I think it was, and we sealed promotion to the Championship that day. That will go down as one of my favourite-ever days, but I’d say the Brentford game is a close second for me since I’ve been at the club.
"Brentford were one of the best sides that we played last season, and going into that last game of the season we knew we had to win, there was nothing really to lose from our side.
"Everyone went into the game with the mindset of focusing on our own job and winning the game. We knew it was a case of ‘what will be, will be’, and fortunately for us we got the result we needed and survived to stay in the division."
Reflecting on the campaign - and indeed his time with the South Yorkshire club - Mowatt’s experiences with Barnsley are altogether positive.
Having relaunched a promising career that had a mixed start at Leeds United, Mowatt signed for the Tykes in 2017 and made an early name for himself in the Championship with his long-range efforts.
Now captain of the South Yorkshire club, Mowatt has developed into a more rounded and technical midfielder who provides both energy and ability to Struber’s side. Having helped them to promotion to the Championship in the 2018/19 season, his three goals and eight assists in the 19/20 campaign also saw him rewarded with the Tykes’ Player of the Season award.
Last season could have ended differently however, as Barnsley spent the best part of eight months in the relegation zone, but following a three month break due to COVID-19, seven points from their first three games after the restart boosted the club’s survival hopes. Two wins from their final two games then ensured survival, and as captain, Mowatt is hoping to take both confidence and momentum into the new season following the club's positive finish.
"I think we’ll take a lot of confidence from staying up last season, given where we were for most of the season - it definitely gives us confidence as a side, especially when we look at how we played after the restart.
"We’ve discussed it in our team meetings, it’s been a key focal point. We know how well we did after the lockdown when football restarted; we got some good, important results and we want to take that form into the new season.”
"There's a confidence in the squad now that if we’re on it, we can do well and get results, we just need to be consistent in games as a squad and consistent as individuals in performances. If we do that we look a really good side and we’ve beaten some of the best in the division. That’s the main thing for us going into this season and we want to start well.”
Mowatt was also quick to praise Struber’s impact on the side since his arrival to the club in November 2019, saying his style of play very much ’suits' the current squad.
"The way the gaffer wants to play, it’s a different style to what we had before. He’s different and naturally he has a different style of play.
"He likes to press high and that suits the squad that we’ve got and our players. We’re a young team, we like to press and he wants us to get on the ball more which is something we’ve been practicing the last couple of weeks. We’ve looked a lot more comfortable having the time on the training pitch to practice those things"
Barnsley’s league campaign begins at home to Luton Town on Saturday - another side who narrowly avoided relegation last season - and after only a short break, games will come thick and fast again this season. And with new sides in the division, it’s likely to be as competitive as ever.
"It hasn’t been a pre-season like normal, but we hope that will benefit us. Everyone came back in good shape with good fitness levels, people are fresh and we just want the season to start again.
"It’s starting to feel more like a normal training week now with our pre-season games on a Saturday and then back in training on a Monday. We’ve got our first fixture in the Carabao Cup this weekend so it’s very much back to normal.
"There are some big clubs coming down from the Premier League next season. You look at Watford, Bournemouth and Norwich - you’d think they’ll definitely be up there come the end of the season, so it’ll be tough but you just never know.
"We’ve seen big clubs struggle in the division and others thrive, it’s unpredictable and I believe that anyone can be up there come the end of the season, so we hope that we can be as well.
"We’ve had a good pre-season, so hopefully we can hit the ground running with the games coming up and start the season strongly as we finished last season."