LEE JOHNSON has challenged his Barnsley prospects to put themselves in the shop window in tonight’s glamour Capital One Cup tie with Everton at Oakwell.
The intriguing subplot to the second-round game, screened live on Sky Sports, could see Reds academy graduates John Stones and Mason Holgate line up against their former club, whose ranks include a host of other promising young players.
Johnson is eager for his youthful side – just one player who lined up against Bradford City on Saturday was aged over 25 – to showcase their talents in front of a big TV audience.
The Oakwell chief said: “There is not one player in our squad who is over the hill and all of them have a potential move in them. That is what we have tried to build and they are hungry, committed and full of enthusiasm.
“I think we have a lot of young players who are keen to prove they can play at this level.
“We have got people like Pearson, Rothwell and Crowley, who have come down from Premier League clubs and young James Bree who has got a point to prove because there’s a lot of people interested in him.”
Johnson – one of the league’s youngest managers at 34 – says tonight’s marquee occasion will be one of the biggest during his time in management and he is not discounting the Reds’ hopes of causing an upset if the visitors’ mentality is not right.
He said: “It’s right up there, that is for sure. But really, it is about the players enhancing their reputation and the club having a good day.
“We have seen many great cup shocks and, make no mistake, if we do manage to get a result, it will be a great day for the history of Barnsley.”
Penistone lad Stones, 21, who moved to Everton from Barnsley for £3m in January, 2013, has been at the centre of a transfer saga with Premier League champions Chelsea having seen three big-money bids rejected.
The most recent one was understood to be around the £30m mark, with any move having big ramifications for Barnsley, who have a sell-on clause of around 15 per cent for the England international.
Chelsea are being tipped to table another beat-the-deadline bid, with some reports suggesting Stones will submit a formal transfer request in a bid to clinch a move south.
Barnsley are likely to pocket several million pounds if Stones leaves, although not in a big lump sum.
But Johnson is not losing any sleep over the situation, which is out of his control.
He said: “I am relaxed about it, to be honest. It does not really alter the plan for us.
“I do not want to be energy-sapped by the process of what two other clubs might or might not be doing.
“Whatever happens with John Stones, one thing I do know is that he is a fantastic player and a lad who is held in very high regard by everybody I speak to at Barnsley.
“I am sure the clubs, his advisors, himself and family will come to the right decision for him.”
Last six games: Barnsley WLDWWD; Everton LWLDWL.
Referee: S Hooper (Wilts).
Last time: Barnsley 2 Everton 2; February 7, 1998; Premier League.