Ben Pearson will make his FA Cup debut for Barnsley today on his old stomping ground.
The 20-year-old midfielder – on loan from Manchester United – has played at Moss Lane on numerous occasions, with the Red Devils’ reserves playing their games at the home of Altrincham.
Throw in the fact the Conference stadium is just 20 minutes away from Pearson’s home, and he could not have a better setting for his FA Cup bow.
“I have never played in the FA Cup before,” he said. “It will be a good experience.
“We used to play all our home games there, so it is very familiar.
“It’s a small pitch, the training rooms are a lot different to what we are used to.
“I know some of their players, and I do know the ground as it’s only 20 minutes away from my house.
“The lads I know told me they are strong and they will be well up for it. It’s probably the biggest game of their season.”
Pundits will be looking at today’s game as a potential Cup upset, with Barnsley currently on a seven-game losing streak in League One.
But with Tuesday’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy game against York City next on the horizon, Pearson believes a cup double-header could be just the tonic to forget their league troubles.
“If we get the win it’s something to build on and we need that,” he said. “We have York on Tuesday so if we win this one it will put us in good confidence.
“The game has come at a good time. We’ve had a torrid time of it the last few weeks, but now we’ve got two cup games in which we are favourites so we should win and gain in confidence for the Port Vale game.”
Pearson impressed on loan at Oakwell last season, so was delighted to return to South Yorkshire this term.
He has been one of the standout performers in a midfield decimated by injuries to Marley Watkins, Conor Hourihane and Ryan Williams.
Today offers the chance to boost confidence in a team which has suffered in recent weeks.
“It’s hard to put your finger on one thing,” said Pearson, when asked to assess their current plight. “Players missing is a big thing – Marly, Conor and Ryan Williams – who are all big players for us.
“Individual mistakes have cost us, we have probably conceded five to 10 goals from individual errors in the last seven games.
“Belief too, as we have lost games, the confidence has gone.
“On Tuesday (in a 4-3 loss to Coventry City), when we concede early, it saps you even more and becomes even harder.
“All of these things have accumulated really and become a bit of a nightmare.
“We just don’t seem able to pick up points, but these two games coming up give us the perfect chance to progress and build confidence.
“I have never been involved in a losing run like this. Obviously, I haven’t played many games, but in my career as a reserve player. I have probably never lost three games on the bounce before.
“It’s new for everyone. The gaffer’s never experienced it, and it’s hard to take. Everyone is frustrated, annoyed.”
Pearson has an obvious affinity for Barnsley, so talk among some fans that loan players – and the Tykes have their full quota of five – care less than those on permanent deals is given short shrift.
“I get that some people think as a loan player that if you get beat you don’t care,” he said. “For me, not just for Barnsley, but in any game if I get beat – five-a-side with my mates – I get frustrated and it ruins my weekend.
“Loan players do care, they want to better themselves, go on and play at the highest level.
“If I have a bad game that’s ruining my chances. I get frustrated as much as anyone else.”
Any manager who loses seven successive games would be under pressure, and Johnson is no different.
But Pearson believes the Reds would be “stupid” to sack Johnson.
“The gaffer has been great to all the players,” said the England Under-20 midfielder.
“You can see on the training ground what he does, his tactics are really good.
“Each game we have a different game plan.
“I think it would be stupid to make a decision like that now. It’s only November, we have gone on a bad run, but all it takes is for us to win these next two games, build confidence then, with players coming back to fitness, we will be fine.”
Johnson, himself, insists nobody has “thrown in the towel” and believes once key players return from injury – plus a couple of additional signings – Barnsley can turn their season around.
The Reds’ chief believes none of the seven defeats have been one-sided affairs.
“There have always been signs of life, not one game has anybody thrown the towel in or given up,” said Johnson, who will check on the fitness of Watkins and Hourihane before kick-off.
“We went to Coventry weakened due to injuries, it’s no secret.
“To get your best XI fit and playing is really important at any level, but especially in League One or League Two levels,
“It will pick up, the spirit is there.
“It’s difficult for me to sit here and talk because we have just lost seven on the spin.
“But, we haven’t been battered by anybody. The spirit is still there; okay the quality hasn’t always been there, but there have been signs.
“I am actually buzzing for this game, it can’t come round quick enough. It’s going to be a tough game, as FA Cup games always are. I love the FA Cup.
“As a player I played for Yeovil, who were famous giant-killers.
“I love cup competitions. We are in the JPT and FA Cup, so it’s a nice separate challenge away from the league. Something the players can feel like they are on the front foot with.
“We should go into this game excited. If we can put in a good performance and get a good result, it can be the catalyst for us to pick up our form.”