Now that the dust has settled and Flicker has been given the job I thought the time was right to look back over Keith Hill`s time in charge of Barnsley.
Hill was appointed at a difficult time for the club. The board had made the decision to drastically cut the funding to the team. The new philosophy was to stick to the financial fair play situation ahead of schedule. This meant trying to build a team that was capable of Championship survival by finding players from lower leagues and youth team.
The boss at the time was Mark Robins. He didn`t like the new direction of the board and possibly felt that they were asking for the impossible so promptly quit leaving the club to find a new manager.
In Robins` time at Barnsley lots of money had been made available for loan signings from the Premier League, this was all to stop. His predecessor Simon Davey had spent millions on players, this was all to stop.
On a side note can you blame the board for where the club is currently at or is it only sensible to go down this route? The millions wasted on sub-standard players by Simon Davey is probably the reason we are where we are but is that Davey`s fault for not being up to the job or the boards fault for giving him the job in the first place?
Over £2 million was spent on strikers alone – Hume, Mostto, Odejayi, Christensen. We would by a squad with that now.
Anyway back to the main point of the article. Barnsley found themselves without a manager and had a specific type they needed. Someone who could work with a budget, develop players and sniff out bargains. But who would they be able to attract with such restrictions? No established Championship manager would want the task so they would have to look to the lower leagues and so the search took them to Keith Hill.
Hill`s CV looked very good indeed. He was manager of Rochdale a club with no fan base and who have never had any money. They had not been out of the bottom division in about 40 years and when he took over the club would have been happy with consistent top half finishes.
Hill oversaw promotion and followed that up with a top half finish in League One. He had done this the smallest of budgets and trying to play football. In short he had all of the ingredients Barnsley were looking for apart from having managed at Championship level previously.
Hill initially refused to come unless Barnsley let him bring Flicker with him and once the club back tracked then Hillcroft was appointed.
Hill then spent the summer wheeling and dealing and signed a lot of players for little money. Most of which were unattached or from the lower divisions.
The first two home games under Hill were possibly the worst performances I have ever seen in all of my years watching Barnsley. It looked like a team of lower league players punching above their weight and a manager trying to play a style of football that the players weren`t good enough to play.
Hill however stuck to his guns and from then until Christmas it was certainly the best football we had seen at Oakwell since Danny Wilson was in charge and at one point we even found ourselves in the dizzy heights of eighth in the Championship.
At this point Hill was a big success playing attacking, passing football and doing so with hardly spending a penny.
The big plusses at this point were many. The signings of Vaz Te, Drinkwater, Davies, Perkins and more and what he had done with the players currently at the club.
He brought in Vaz Te for free when no one would touch him and turned him into a Premier league player.
He signed Drinkwater on loan from Man Utd and gave him the platform to progress his career forward.
He signed Perkins from Colchester. No one previously would give Perkins a chance in the Championship due to his height and build but Hill did and he looks far from out of place and is now our best player.
He signed Davies, a striker with no Championship pedigree which is always a gamble. But he scored goals at this level and we able to sell him on for a profit.
Of the players already at the club the most noticeable difference was in Jim O`Brien. After a poor season under Mark Robins he was a revelation, he had been transformed into a footballer from someone who just used to work hard up and down the line and give the ball away a lot.
Hill also did one thing that previous boss Mark Robins should have done and that is to play Jacob Butterfield on a regular basis. Butterfield was a revelation and I think he was more than ready to play under Robins as well but Robins had something against him which is why he wasn`t offered a new deal and ended up leaving the club how he did.
Another player that improved under Hill which may have gone unnoticed by many fans was Luke Steele. Steele was always a great shot stopper, probably the best in the division but his all round game came on leaps and bounds. He now commands his box much better and comes and collects crosses much more comfortably. Unfortunately for us Barnsley fans he will be sold in January for a fraction of his worth.
Unfortunately for Hill January came along and with it saw the departures of our three best players Vaz Te, Butterfield and Drinkwater. Butterfield to injury in a deliberate dirty tackle against Leeds – who else? Vaz Te was sold to West Ham for a half a million profit. And Man Utd sold Drinkwater to Leicester despite an agreement already being in place for him to remain at Oakwell for the rest of the season.
Unfortunately for Hill his team was ripped apart and 2012 was nothing short of a disaster. All the good he had done in the first few months irrelevant as the club inevitably struggle and not much more good points to follow.
So on now with the bad and the ugly and quite a lot of it. The wins to losses ratio of 2012 was as poor as any club anywhere ever.
The few plus points of 2012 were the introduction of the academy lads to the team. The main hope for our future are this set of lads. Whether it is in the team or sold for some decent money. Barnsley are going to rely a lot on what becomes of Stones, Digby, Rose, Clark and Noble-Lazarus.
The other one was the 5 – 0 win at Birmingham which gets you thinking how on earth can you play like that in that game and have such a terrible record the rest of the year?
One of the lowest points for Keith Hill I feel was the trip to Coventry last season. After a run of poor results he decided to play for a 0 – 0 draw and picked about eight defenders in the team. There was only one thing going to happen with that and it happened, yes we lost 1 – 0.
This was a big sign that the pressure was getting to Hill and he had lost the plot for this game in particular and this was the beginning of a lot of strange and irrational decisions.
After surviving courtesy of Portsmouth being reckless with their finances yet again now was the time to build again in the summer and develop a squad capable of staying in the Championship despite the limitations of our budget.
The season started off quite well and we had some good wins early on. The problems began with injuries to key players as beyond our first 12 to 14 players you would say competition for places was slim.
Injuries to key men such as Perkins, O`Brien and Mellis took their toll on a reds team in need of their best players to have a chance of nicking results at this level.
My assessment of Hill as manager is this. He got the team playing decent football and putting in decent performances and when everyone was fit the results came. When things weren`t going well the performances in general were still good but the results weren`t and this is where you need your manager to be able to get the team to dig in and get results and forget performances and this is what cost Hill his job.
When things were tough I think the pressure got to Hill a bit too much and affected his decisions. Most of the pressure put on him and the team was probably uncalled for but never the less he let it get to him.
A number of bad decisions contributed to his demise and the Coventry game already mentioned was one of a few that I will mention now.
Not bringing Steele back into the team when he returned from injury was one and it cost us points that we should have had on the board. I have nothing against Alnwick who did well for the most part but you need your best keeper between the sticks.
Constantly chopping and changing the team and formation. He didn`t really seem to know the best system to play and his best team. In contrast now Flicker has settled on system and what he considers his best team for that.
I`m not going to mention the defending at set pieces as our previous Championship managers Robins, Davey and Ritchie couldn`t sort that out either but obviously it is a problem.
For me as well he seemed to blame the defence when we had a defeat and made the most changes in this area and more often than not dropped the wrong man as Foster had been our best central defender all season.
I`m not having a go a Scott Wiseman here as he is a good player harshly treated by the fans. He filled in well at centre back early in the season when there was no one else and I didn`t hear the fans complaining when we kept coming away with 1 – 0 wins.
However has performances dipped and defender was poor Wiseman should have been the one to make way not Foster.
Many fans think that picking Wiseman altogether was a negative point of Hill`s management. This is not one I will highlight and many fans only think this because they see him as keeping Bobby Hassell out of the team.
I love Bobby Hassell as much as any Barnsley fan but on his performances at right back at the end of last season I think Hill and Flicker could be right and his best days are behind him unfortunately.
In summary despite results I see more good than bad for Keith Hill and I`m sure he will learn from his time at Barnsley and be a better manager for it.
I think a lot of the problems were out of his control and almost any manager would have struggled for results given the same restraints that Hill had. Having said that he didn`t need to remind the fans about it every day on the radio.
Was sacking him a good decision? Most fans think so but only time will tell. I always said that there was no point sacking the manager unless they could get someone better in and the clubs search for a manager got me worried.
With the timing of it I thought the club had tapped up O`Driscoll so I thought fair enough but this wasn`t the case.
I then became frustrated and thought what was the point in sacking him? However I like the noises coming from Flicker and I live in hope that the initial Hillcroft appointment was the wrong way round and Flicker will be our saviour.
I liked Hill and would like to wish him all the best for his future career. I feel many fans got the wrong impression of him when listening to interviews and I think that played more of a part in the fans disliking to him than the actual results.
Click here for my thoughts on Hill when he was in the job
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