Barnsley head coach Paul Heckingbottom insists the club are in a weaker position heading into next season than they were last year.
After securing promotion back to the Championship, via the play-offs, the Reds lost the loanees who got them there - and Alfie Mawson left just five games into the season.
The club have since seen talismen Sam Winnall and Conor Hourihane move on, with promising right-back James Bree also departing Oakwell.
“We’re in a position where, as we stand now, we’re behind where we started last season. We can’t get away from that,” admitted Heckingbottom.
“If you look at the poster of the 18 players when we got promoted, there was already half of them gone by the time we’d started the season.
“We knew where we were and then we lost those players in January and all those loans now so we’ve taken an even bigger step back.”
However, Heckingbottom knows the club have a chance to put themselves in a stronger position ahead of their second term in the league depending on their summer business.
The former defender added: “If we get those players in and get them up to speed quickly then we’ll be in a stronger position.
“It’s a clean slate. If we’re signing players now and, this is my whole point, if we’re going to earn our corn then we have to build and we have to make people better.
“I think we’ve got good staff here. We’ve got an opportunity now to go forward in mini steps and that’s what I’m looking forward to.”
After completing the signing of Stevie Mallan last week, the Reds are still looking to add to the ranks at Oakwell.
Out-of-favour Brighton midfielder Rohan Ince has been heavily linked with a move to South Yorkshire, while Fleetwood Town defender Conor McLaughlin is also on the radar.
The club will play Rotherham United in pre-season.