DAVID FLITCROFT believes former Barnsley striker Craig Davies should not be a target for the Oakwell boo-boys tomorrow and hopes he will instead be given a generous reception.
The Bolton Wanderers player makes his first return to the club just seven and a half weeks after heading across the Pennines to the Reebok Stadium for £300,000. The 26-year-old signed a two-and-a-half year deal with the Trotters on January 9.
Barnsley were four points adrift of safety and propping up the table when Davies left. The Reds decided to cash in after the former Chesterfield forward turned down fresh terms, with his Oakwell contract due to expire in the summer.
Since his departure, the Reds have enjoyed an amazing renaissance under Flitcroft and are now two points above the relegation zone.
Davies, who hit nine goals in 22 Championship appearances for the Reds prior to heading to Lancashire, remains joint top-scorer for the club in all competitions for 2012-13 alongside Chris Dagnall, but is expected to be given a rough ride by some fans tomorrow.
On Davies’s return, Flitcroft, who faces his hometown club tomorrow, said: “We spent a lot of time developing Davo. He was a great signing for this football club and repaid us with his goals and when he left us we got a fee. It has been good business all around.
“He did well for us, he really did. We got him on a free transfer from a League Two club, not League One, and he built himself as a Championship player and the club made money on him to spend in other areas.
“He has now moved on to do something different and he is trying to do the best for his family.
“Personally, I will be welcoming Davo here because, for me, that is what every man should go to work for – to better his family.
“Davo thinks he has done that and he should get a positive response.”
After a dream run during his early spell as full-time manager, which saw the Reds go unbeaten for eight games – winning an amazing seven of them and reaching the quarter-finals of the FA Cup in the process – Flitcroft tasted defeat for the first time in last weekend’s 5-3 loss at relegation rivals Bristol City.
While wise enough to appreciate that his golden streak was not destined to last for ever, the 39-year-old’s sole concern is in the reaction of his players, having acknowledged that the true barometer of his side’s evolution would come in the aftermath of a defeat.
Ahead of a potentially decisive schedule of three games in seven days, culminating in the club’s eagerly-anticipated glamour cup assignment at Manchester City, Flitcroft took his side to the Costa del Sol for a warm-weather training camp earlier this week.
Having invested so much energy, physically and mentally, into generating such a remarkable upturn on the pitch, the change of scenery and chance to recharge their batteries came at exactly the right time, according to the Reds chief, who is mindful that many battles still need to be won before the Reds can look forward to an eighth successive season of Championship football.
Flitcroft, beaten by Birmingham in the race to sign Newcastle defender Shane Ferguson on loan this week, but still in the market for a Premier League left-back, said: “The reward of getting through to the next round of the Cup and getting a big-money tie meant we could get to Spain and spend some time together.
“This time was about work time and reflection, but moving forwards and not backwards.
“It enabled us to chat a lot and find out what would happen when we did get beaten.
“We have spent a lot of time together and the players want to get back to the feeling of winning games. They feel like they let themselves and a lot of people
down (at Bristol), but they have got to forgive themselves and move on quickly.
“We spent the night in the hotel after the game and we talked about it and the lads were flat and low, but we have been able to pick them up over three or four days.
“I do actually think the lads wished we’d had a game on Tuesday so we could rectify Saturday. Instead, we spent some good quality time reflecting on performance.
“We had a brilliant time together and it was massively important for players to be able to clear their minds.
“The schedule had been relentless and they haven’t really seen a lot of their families. But I asked them to sacrifice everything to find answers this season.”
Flitcroft – who recently loaned out youngster Jordan Clark to Chesterfield for a month’s spell – has confirmed highly-rated midfield starlet Paul Digby will miss the rest of the season through injury and will travel to the US in early summer for some specialist fitness work ahead of the start of pre-season in 2013-14.
The teenager recently underwent a hip operation after been plagued by the problem this term.
Six key encounters for the Reds
Barnsley v Bolton Wanderers – Tomorrow. Flitcroft will be seeking to down his home-town club and get the Reds back on track after the first league defeat of his tenure as permanent manager in a game with the added spice of Craig Davies’ Oakwell return.
Barnsley v Burnley – Next Tuesday. Just four days before Barnsley’s FA Cup quarter-final date with Manchester City, Flitcroft will be keen to head into the test on the back of a positive result at Turf Moor.
Sheffield Wednesday v Barnsley – Saturday, March 30. Promises to be a pivotal South Yorkshire derby for both sides, with Barnsley having taken four points from their last two visits to S6 and eyeing revenge after a 1-0 Oakwell defeat to the Owls in December.
Barnsley v Leicester – Monday, April 1. Second part of a key Easter double-header for the Reds, who were denied at the finish by a last-gasp goal from Jamie Vardy in a 2-2 draw at the Kingpower Stadium in December.
Barnsley v Hull City – Saturday, April 27. A big crowd will be expected in the Reds’ final and potentially crucial home encounter of the season, with the promotion-chasing Tigers set to be backed by a sizeable travelling army from East Yorkshire.
Huddersfield Town v Barnsley – Saturday, May 4. Final-day Yorkshire derbies do not get much bigger and the game could prove to be a winner-takes-all ‘cup final’, with the prize being Championship safety.