Barnsley v Bristol City: James Bree aims to be next kid off the block at Oakwell

Bristol City's Tammy Abraham
Bristol City's Tammy Abraham
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Barnsley defender James Bree is hoping to follow John Stones, Mason Holgate and Alfie Mawson all the way to the Premier League.

The 18-year-old defender is one of the latest to emerge from the Oakwell Academy to rave reviews in the first team.

James Bree is overcoming his growing pains and aiming to cement a place in the Oakwell side and follow the likes of Alfie Mawson, inset, into the top flight.

James Bree is overcoming his growing pains and aiming to cement a place in the Oakwell side and follow the likes of Alfie Mawson, inset, into the top flight.

He played 24 times for the Tykes last year to help them to a league and cup double, winning the Football League Trophy before success in the end-of-season play-offs.

He has quickly adapted to life in the Championship, despite a niggling hamstring injury which has restricted him to just seven outings this term.

But he has played in Barnsley’s last three games, including a 2-0 win at Brentford last weekend, and the full-back could be pushed into midfield today for the visit of Bristol City to Oakwell.

“I have set myself such high standards, playing at such a young age, that I want to play in as many games as I can,” said Bree.

“If I am left out, I still need to remember I am only 18. If I am on the bench it’s not a bad thing. There are a lot of 18-year-olds who would love to be ‘just’ on the bench.”

Oakwell has been a popular destination for Premier League scouts over the years, Manchester City’s Stones and Everton’s Holgate are former Tykes.

Even this season, Mawson was lured away by Swansea City in August and the 22-year-old defender made his Premier League debut last weekend in a scoreless draw against Watford.

Bree continued: “There is a clear path (to the first team) at Barnsley, there always has been.

“You only have to look at the history to see who they have brought through and how well they have done.

“Alfie made his debut in the Premier League at the weekend, must have done all right, they got a clean sheet. Hopefully, If I keep playing well, I can push on and get there one day, too.”

Bree will be hoping that can be with Barnsley, who are only four points off the play-offs.

The teenager, though, is just looking forward to an injury-free spell now to cement his place in Paul Heckingbottom’s team.

“It’s been another up and down season so far for me,” he said.

“It was a great start to the season for all the lads, doing so well, and I had a little bit of a run before I picked up an injury.

“That set me back a little bit. I am used to it now, being young and having a few niggles. It’s been quite annoying, but I have been working hard and have now got to a place where I feel quite strong.

“I am back in the team the last couple of games, so long may it continue, and I hope I can stay there as long as possible.

“I have had a few problems with my hamstring since I was younger, it’s just one of those things. It’s because I am still growing, nothing serious.

“I am constantly working on my hamstrings’ strength now, making sure I am fit, and can play.

“Hecky has spoke to me about it, managing my games. Being a player, I want to play week-in, week-out, every single game I can.

“But, obviously, from previous experience I just can’t do Saturday-Tuesday every week.

“When Saturday-Tuesday games start coming, then rotations might start. I can’t play every game and just need to know how to manage my body. I feel strong now, but there will come a time when I do feel a little bit weak. If I can’t play every game, they will definitely take me out.”

His main target this season is to better the 24 appearances he picked up last term.

“I just want to play as many games as possible, I don’t really look at the stats,” he admitted.

“I guess I just want to beat that every single season, play more every time. Get more starts and play 90 minutes.

“I will aim for that target. I know we have come up a league, so it would be nice to get 25-30 appearances if possible.

“It’s nice that the fans want me to be playing, because I have come through and I am a local lad from Wakefield. It’s great to have an Academy player come into the team, I want to play and progress my career.”

After a flying start to life in the Championship – Barnsley won five out their first seven games – a six-game winless run followed.

Goals from Adam Armstrong and Sam Winnall last weekend at Brentford secured a 2-0 win and halted their mini slump.

“It was a great win, we all needed it,” said Bree. “It’s uplifted the camp in the dressing room, we had been playing well, just making a few mistakes at the back and not being as solid as we have been.

“On a personal level, I wanted to get back in the team. Now I am in, I just want to try and keep my spot. There’s good competition to even get on the bench when everyone is fit.

“The Championship has been an obvious step up, the tempo of the game is a lot quicker. When I have been out there, it’s been great. Hecky has come through the Academy with me, he was my manager at Under-14s.

“It’s nice to have someone there who I am used to and know. He knows me as much as I know him.

“He knows what I am good at, what I can and can’t do. He really manages me well.”

Today sees the return of Bree’s former head coach, Lee Johnson, who quit the Reds in February to join Bristol City.

He helped lay the platform for Barnsley’s success last season, a job which Heckingbottom completed.

“He managed me well and it will be great to see him,” said Bree.

“We went on a bad run, and obviously he was still here when we started the good run. He got us to the JP Trophy final and kick-started the run in the league. Then Hecky came in and finished the job off.”