THE often dispiriting Monday morning feeling associated with the start of the working week has rarely pervaded Oakwell during Paul Heckingbottom’s time in charge.
Positive elements garnered from the weekend’s events – win, lose or draw – have invariably informed the Reds’ training sessions when their head coach has reconvened with his players.
That was until yesterday at least, with Heckingbottom candidly admitting that there was a dearth of plus points to take from the 2-0 weekend setback at Brighton & Hove Albion.
While representing a typically honest admission from Heckingbottom, it also amounted to a registration of surprise – and a cajoling and instructive message to his players to rediscover their old selves ahead of tonight’s encounter with relegated Aston Villa.
In terms of allure, the fixture carries considerable weight.
It is just the sort of glittering occasion that Barnsley were striving for during their remarkable rise to promotion in the Spring – the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
But Heckingbottom’s primary concern is to witness a pumped-up reaction from his charges after a flat weekend performance that was wholly out of character – certainly during his reign.
The Reds’ chief, who has presided over back-to-back league losses for the first time in his tenure, said: “Getting beaten is not the problem.
“We will play well in some games and sometimes there will be nothing we can do and we will lose the game.
“But as long as we keep performing and trying to do what we can do, that is the main thing.
“We are disappointed with the performance more than the result on Saturday.
“We could have played fantastically well and got beaten. We would have done our part then, but, on Saturday, we did not bring our game and there were lots of things missing.
“It is just about us looking after ourselves and our performance and pushing each other on.
“There were lots of things that were not us (at Brighton) with and without the ball in terms of how we pressed and organised.
“We will not have a go at someone for making a mistake, but will have a go for them not getting on the ball and not playing with a drive, energy and effecting the game. As long as we do that, we will be all right.”
Heckingbottom admits that this latest run, which sees a game with one of the pre-season promotion favourites in Villa sandwiched between exacting trips to Brighton and Leeds United, was something that struck his attention upon scanning the full list of Championship games in June.
Equally, the Yorkshireman is entitled to be consoled by the knowledge that midweek occasions have served Barnsley rather well this year, with the Reds unbeaten in seven league matches, winning an eye-catching six.
An extension of that sequence with victory over Villa would arguably top most of what has preceded it.
Heckingbottom is the first to acknowledge the game’s status as a marquee one with the Midlanders visiting Oakwell for the first time in 19 years.
On the game with Villa, without a win in seven league matches with their only Championship victory of 2016-17 coming against Rotherham on August 13, he added: “I know we have generally done well on a Tuesday night and really enjoyed games home and away and long may that continue.
“Everyone realises what a big club we are playing and they will bring thousands and a big support and our fans will know a lot of their players and it should have a different feel about it.
“I hope that they have sold their allocation and that we have sold 12,000 to 13,000 tickets to our fans as well – that would be great. I hope the performance from both teams matches it and that we have got a real high-tempo, loud, energetic and noisy atmosphere.
“I have been down there (Villa Park) to watch a couple of their games this season and it is a great set-up and really nice.
“I took my kids to both games – my little girl once and my little boy for the other – and they are spoiled now. They are thinking every ground is like that.
“Villa have the players and staff to match. There’s lots of experience and quality and they can score a goal in the blink of an eye.
“Regardless of how well teams have played against them, they are always going to pose a goal threat with their players.
“That makes it more enjoyable with the challenge it brings. It is a ‘right, let’s see if we can beat them’ type of mentality that we are after.
“We want them to leave our place knowing that they have been in a game and talking about our players.”
Last six games: Barnsley LWWWLL, Aston Villa DLDDDD.
Referee: J Adcock (Notts).
Last time: Barnsley 0 Aston Villa 3, September 13, 1997, Premier League.