Big-game pedigree enhances Barnsley confidence

Barnsley's Sam Winnall (left) celebrates scoring their first goal at Wigan on Sunday, alongside Conor Hourihane. (Picture: Nigel French/PA)
Barnsley's Sam Winnall (left) celebrates scoring their first goal at Wigan on Sunday, alongside Conor Hourihane. (Picture: Nigel French/PA)
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AHEAD of their play-off campaign getting under way this weekend, Conor Hourihane believes Barnsley have already proved their appetite to deliver in the big games.

The Reds will meet Walsall over two legs, the first taking place at Oakwell on Saturday at 5.30pm.

Bradford City or Millwall await the victors at Wembley, a venue Paul Heckingbottom’s men are familiar with thanks to last month’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final win over Oxford United.

“I look at the big games we have had this year and there have been a few,” said Hourihane, scorer of the third goal in the final-day win at champions Wigan Athletic that kept Scunthorpe United at bay in the scrap for the final play-off place.

“Fleetwood at home and away (in the Trophy Northern Area final) were others along with Wigan in the JPT (northern area semi-final) and then on the final day. Then, there is the JPT final itself. Plus, at Sheffield United the other week. In all those games, we turned up and performed. Hopefully, that will leave us in a good state going in these very big games.”

Barnsley and Walsall will go into Saturday’s first leg in buoyant mood after resounding wins on the final day. The Saddlers triumphed 5-0 at Port Vale, while Heckingbottom’s men inflicted Wigan’s first home loss of 2016, a 4-1 reverse.

“It was fantastic to qualify like we did,” added Hourihane. “We set out to do that. I thought we should have had it wrapped up a few weeks earlier.

“But we didn’t and that left us with a tough job against a good Wigan side. We went about it in the right way, showed a good attitude and wrapped things up. We gave the early goal away but responded brilliantly.

“Once we got to grips with the game, I thought we were the better team throughout. It is fantastic to go into the play-offs on the back of this result.

“Scoring four goals against Wigan gives everyone confidence.”

Barnsley’s clinching of a play-off place continued the amazing turnaround that saw the club rise from bottom of the table as recently as December 12 to a sixth-place finish. Asked if he thought such a turnaround was possible, Hourihane replied: “Of course not. When we were bottom of the league, it was all about staying up. But we went on a crazy run and look where it has got us. We have nothing to lose now. It will be fantastic if we can go to Wembley twice.”