Barnsley boss Valérian Ismaël says the Tykes’s unexpected push for the Premier League can be traced back to his first two games in charge.
Hampered by the news that manager Gerhard Struber would leave to go to New York Red Bulls, Barnsley were winless in six matches and a point above the drop zone when Ismael arrived back in October.
Then back-to-back wins over QPR and Watford sparked an astonishing revival that has carried the south Yorkshire side all the way into the top six and into the play-offs.
“When I came in it was a very different situation,” said Ismaël, who played for Strasbourg, Lens, Werder Bremen and Bayern Munich during an illustrious playing career.
“The guys hadn’t won a game and confidence was not so high. That’s why it was great to have two straight wins, because that put the belief straight into them. It made them see what was possible.
“Me, I knew before I came. I saw some clips, what they were able to do. I saw a lot of quality, a readiness to run and perform. The discipline they put into games was obvious.
“For sure it is a big surprise to be where we are. It was not the expectation, and that is clear for everyone to see. But it is not luck. We have worked very hard for everything we’ve got.
“My message all along was that if you believe in yourself and your strength, with a big team spirit, it is possible to achieve a lot of things. Now it is about the last few per cent, to get over the line and get the job done.”
After gaining an understanding of the challenges that the Championship possesses and armed with this insight, Ismael set about implementing a four-step philosophy based around a high press and direct style.
“The first step was to implement the philosophy,” added the 45-year-old.
“The second was to be ready to compete. When you play against top, when you play against bottom, the challenges are very different. But you have to adapt within your style and you find a way to impose yourself.
“The third thing was to win games and the fourth was to win with consistency. Can you win two, three, five, seven? Then, when you lose, can you do it again?
“We have learned a lot of things about what is needed to stay at the top level. Now we want to stay there.”