Preston's Ben Pearson is ready for festive return to Oakwell and former club Barnsley
Plenty has changed at Oakwell since Ben Pearson played his final game for Barnsley.
Then on loan from Manchester United, the combative midfielder completed the full 90 minutes of a 2-1 League One win over Millwall on January 2 2016.
It was an impressive Tykes side looking back, the majority of whom have since been cherry-picked by bigger clubs.
Pearson made a permanent departure from Old Trafford nine days later as he completed a switch to Deepdale for an undisclosed fee.
Also in that Barnsley side that saw off Millwall were Alfie Mawson, now with Swansea, Marley Watkins, currently plying his trade with Norwich, and Conor Hourihane and James Bree, both at Aston Villa.
Manager Paul Heckingbottom has performed an admirable rebuilding job, with PNE’s hosts on Boxing Day arguably punching above their weight in the second tier at the moment.
“The team which I was a part of has just about all left,” said Pearson.
“There’s only the keeper Adam Davies there from my time and that’s in the space of two years.
“I think with the success that they had a lot of teams fed off that and took the players.
“Financially they’ve needed the money there.
“The manager’s rebuilding again and they’ve picked up players who are young and I’m sure they’ll go again.”
That rebuild might be helped by the news of a real Christmas present for Barnsley fans after a takeover by a consortium led by Chinese investor Chien Lee, with baseball pioneer Billy Beane also investing in the club.
They have assumed control from long-time owner Patrick Cryne, who revealed he is suffering from terminal cancer back in September.
Beane’s arrvival is likely to catch the imagination, the American having made his name using statistical analysis to pick up players on the cheap and turn around the fortunes of the Oakland Athletics.
“I think it’s something that they probably need,” said Pearson after hearing the news.
“I don’t know how much money is involved but Patrick Cryne was a local businessman and they needed that financial backing.”
North End will catch Barnsley before any transfer boost that may come Heckingbottom’s way in January.
Pearson is looking forward to heading back to Oakwell, having played 45 games and scored three goals during his time with the club at the end of the 2014-15 season and in the first half of the following campaign.
“It was my first loan there so it was a big part of my development,” PNE’s No.4 said.
“The managers I played under there were all good with me coming in at such a young age. The fans were brilliant and I did enjoy my time there but on Boxing Day we’re against them so we’ll be looking to go there and win.”
It will be the second game of North End’s hectic Christmas schedule with a trip to Neil Warnock’s Cardiff City to come on Friday night before Middlesbrough are the visitors to Deepdale on New Year’s Day for the first game of 2018.
The festive period is one relished by fans and seen as a real highlight of the English football calendar.
It poses problems for those involved however as they try to balance training, games, recovery and of course, time with their families.
It is something however that Pearson takes in his stride. “It’s the norm for me now,” he said.
“The past three of four years I’ve been playing and we did have Christmas Day off last year.
“Each manager’s different though.
“You can be in and lose, you can be off and lose. You can be off and win.
“We’re in this Christmas Day and it’ll be about getting in, getting the training done with and going back to the family.
“It’s fine, it’s part of parcel of being a footballer.”
A good run during a stretch that overall covers four games in nine days could really see PNE in the shake-up as we enter 2018.
Anticipation is growing that this current crop – Pearson at 22 one of the key figures – is developing into a side that could be in the mix come May.
With Jordan Hugill the subject of transfer speculation and others having attracted interest Pearson believes the top six should be the target for a squad full of promising talent.
“The squad we’ve got here is probably a play-off squad,” he said.
“I think it’s probably underestimated how good the players are here.
“We’re probably on course for what we should be looking to achieve at the minute and we’ve just got to be consistent with it.”